climate change transport wealth

Where are all the private jets?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the outsized damage that private jets do to the climate. Because private jets carry fewer people and often do short journeys, they have a far higher footprint than other forms of aviation. Since it is only the richest that fly in them, and they are able to protect themselves from the harm of climate change, it is perhaps the single most stark example of climate injustice.

It’s also a problem that is getting worse. Since the pandemic, people have been more reluctant to get on planes. You can’t exactly open a window in a plane, and for those that can afford it, a private jet looks like a better option than sharing the air with a whole tube full of people. So private aviation, the second most carbon intensive activity on the planet, is growing.

What’s the first most carbon intensive, you may ask. The answer is related: private space flight. But that’s for another post.

For today, I wanted to mention the distribution of private jets in the world. In 2019, so this is a pre-pandemic graphic, there were 21,979 private jets registered around the world. 71% of them were in North America, mainly the United States – so many that the US total is more than everyone else combined. (Graphic from Reframe Aviation)

There are private jets even in the poorest countries in the world. Africa’s oil-fuelled elites use private jets, and the energy transition is creating extreme wealth beyond oil too. The book I’m currently reading, Volt Rush, describes a scene in the Congo with “private jets landing at the small green and white airport in the mining town of Kolwezi while all around children and families mined cobalt by hand.”

Despite these notable exceptions, the distribution of private jets is firmly tilted towards the global north, and firmly to the United States.

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