By Anders Lorenzen
The ICAO, the UN aviation body, have landed themselves in hot water after creating a spat on Twitter where they suggested that the rise in emissions from aviation is ‘fake news’. It reacted strongly to comments from in the thread including Jon Burke, a UK Labour councillor who suggested that their own research states an increase in 300-700 % in growth of flights between 2005 and 2050 – a figure which is backed up by the EU. ICAO responded by labelling it ‘fake news’ and threatened to block another commenter Vincent van Oort.
Perhaps more controversially though, was the fact that the statement in the thread from the UN body stated that the annual global CO2 emissions from flying are only 1.3% and that promoting and growing the aviation industry is crucial to meeting the UN’s Global Goals. But that 1.3% stat may, in fact, be fake news itself. According to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), the number is 2%, while the EU says it is 3% and research from the New Climate Institute estimates it might be as high as 4.9% as early as in 2005 and the number will certainly have increased then. A 2010 report from ICAO even says it is 2%.
This suggests that Burke and any others who challenged the information ICAO put out on Twitter were, in fact, correct and ICAO has been publishing incorrect information about global emissions from aviation. A small organisation doing that might have been acceptable, but a UN body not having their facts right and, in addition using threatening and very undiplomatic language, could land the organisation in big trouble. The thread very much indicated it was an individual’s personal opinion rather than that of an organisation. The incident asked questions about who in fact is managing the organisation’s social media accounts.
Worryingly as Burke alluded to, the people managing ICAO’s Twitter account took a leaf out of people like Donald Trump’s book by labelling any fact one dispute as ‘fake news’. This is unlike the diplomatic language you would expect of a UN department.
Several other people on the thread also suggested that ICAO had overstepped the mark of what they should do as a body. Indeed, one could argue that they simply spouted personal opinions and airline industry propaganda such as growing aviation globally might be good for the environment connecting it to the Global Goals. The Twitter account stated that growing aviation is critical for achieving sustainable development. But that message is contradictory and tackling climate change is critical to achieving sustainable development – you cannot have sustainable development and growth of fossil fuels at the same time.
ICAO is still to send out a correction to the false information.