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Hundreds of climate activists stormed Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and blocked private jets on the runway

November 7, 2022, 12:55 PM UTC
Activists from Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace Netherlands hold a peaceful protest at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the second-biggest in the EU.
Greenpeace

More and more private jets are flying in and around the Netherlands every day, and climate activists have had enough.

Hundreds of protesters stormed Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on Saturday and sat in front of the wheels of a private jet aircraft preventing it from taking off, while others cycled around the runway where the private jets were parked, disrupting the usually seamless flow of traffic for wealthy travelers.

Inside the main hall of Schiphol—the third-largest airport in Europe by foot traffic—hundreds of Extinction Rebellion demonstrators also went around carrying signs that said, “Restrict aviation” and “More trains.”

After about three hours of protests, the Dutch border police began aggressively arresting droves of activists, dragging some who passively resisted arrest to nearby waiting buses.

“This protest shows that people are no longer willing to put up with the unbridled growth of the aviation industry,” says Dewi Zloch, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace Netherlands, said in a statement.

She added, “The wealthy elite are using more private jets than ever, which is the most polluting way to fly. This is typical of the aviation industry, which doesn’t seem to see that it is putting people at risk by aggravating the climate crisis. This has to stop.”

The protests targeted only the private jet runway at Schiphol, with Dutch border police spokesperson Major Robert van Kapel saying that no commercial flights were affected by the protest.

Private jets over Amsterdam

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the Netherlands, according to Greenpeace, emitting 12 billion kilograms of CO2 into the air annually.

Climate activists ride bikes at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to protest the use of private jets
Climate activists wave to a Dutch policeman at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

In response to the protests, Schiphol’s CEO Ruud Sondag said the airport aims to become an emission-free airport by 2030 and threw his support behind targets for the aviation industry to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

He also admitted that change needs to happen faster and said he “shared that sense of urgency” with the protests. “It is right that interest groups insist on a cleaner Netherlands and hold the CEO to account for this,” Sondag wrote in a statement.

Private jets have become a sore spot in the Netherlands’ climate ambitions. Mark Harbers, the transport minister, told the Dutch Parliament last month that his office was unable to control the growing private jet traffic, and the government was considering whether to include it in its climate policy, Reuters reported.

And while some Dutch ministers claim to be committed to curbing private jets, the number of ultrashort flights, shuttling businesspeople and government ministers around the Netherlands, continues to rise.

The Netherlands became the first country ever to cap the number of annual flights leaving from its premier airport because of pollution, limiting the number of planes arriving and leaving Schiphol to 440,000 a year by the end of 2023—an 11% drop from 2019 levels.

“Climate chaos”

Climate activists march through a wooded area
Dutch climate activists want a smaller airport, fewer flights, more trains, and a ban on unnecessary short-haul flights.
Greenpeace

In another part of the world, the world’s largest climate conference is taking place. At the UN COP27 in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, 120 world leaders are gathered to make some semblance of a plan to combat the human-made climate crisis.

The telltale signs of the climate crisis have become increasingly more dramatic in recent years, with a significant uptick in heat waves, droughts, and devastating flooding. The past eight years have been the hottest ever recorded, according to a new report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, and the internationally agreed 1.5°C limit for global heating is now “barely within reach,” the report said.

A big contributor to rising temperatures is the global aviation industry, which accounts for around 2.5% of global carbon emissions, although some scientists argue it has a much higher impact on climate change than this figure suggests.

And wealthier people undoubtedly make up a large portion of these emissions. According to Greenpeace, half of all aviation emissions in 2018 were caused by the top 1% of the world’s population. The worst perpetrator of them all is private jets, which emit 10 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a regular flight per passenger and 50 times more emissions than a train passenger in Europe.

Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, is participating in the COP27 conference today, but what mode of transport he took to get there has not been reported.

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