Von der Leyen accused of hypocrisy following short private jet trip revelations

Von der Leyen accused of hypocrisy following short private jet trip revelations
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Credit: Belga

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been criticised after it came out that she took a private jet for a 50-km trip as climate change talks are ongoing COP26.

Just days after von der Leyen spoke during the climate summit's opening talks in Glasgow, urging "all of us to do whatever it takes now to limit global warming to 1.5°C, British newspaper The Telegraph revealed she used a private jet for more than half of her official visits (18 out of 34) since taking office in December 2019.

As she told world leaders that "humans can do something about climate change, because it is man-made," it came out one of those trips included a 31-mile (50-km) journey between Vienna and Bratislava, a trip that would take just over one hour by car or train. She also relied on private jets to travel to between other nearby destinations such as Paris and London.

Although commercial flights are already hugely damaging for the environment, the effect of a single private jet is much worse. In just one hour, a single private jet can emit two tonnes of CO2, according to Europe's leading NGO campaigning for cleaner transport. To put this into context, the average person living in the European Union emits 8.2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the course of an entire year.

In response to the revelation, one spokesperson for von der Leyen said these trips were "not feasible with commercial flights," adding that “an air taxi is only used when necessary, to enable presence at meetings in various places on a very packed schedule."

Reportedly, the jets usually fly on "biokerosene," currently the only short-term solution to reduce the amount of CO₂ emitted by an aircraft.

Accusations of hypocrisy

The revelations made about von der Leyen have been particularly criticised in the context of the ongoing climate summit, to which many global leaders travelled by private jet, although some did opt for more climate-friendly transport modes, including the Climate Train which passed by Brussels to bring participants to the UN Climate Change Conference.

Users on social media also expressed their anger in the wake of the revelations, with most posts including accusations of hypocrisy.

"This is the mentality of politicians. 'But it runs on Biofuel...' Biofuels are a greenwashing scam pure and simple," wildlife, ocean and landscape cameraman Mark Thorpe said.

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