The private jets belonging to seven of the richest Israelis have done more environmental damage in a year than the average Israeli would in 3,368 years. The impact is known, but none of them will commit to putting a stop to it

The carbon footprint of Israeli tycoons' jets soars. And the hell with global warming
The carbon footprint of Israeli tycoons’ jets soars. And the hell with global warming
Credit: Eyal Zered / Josh Uns /

Lee Yaron Avi Scharf Aug 16, 2022

All told, the annual flights taken via private jet by just seven ultra-wealthy Israelis exacerbated the climate crisis to a degree that an average Israeli citizen could only equal in 3,368 years.

In late January, the private jet used by billionaire Amnon Shashua, president and CEO of Mobileye, flew from Israel to Patagonia, a region that stretches along the border between Chile and Argentina. The flight to the snow-capped mountains, enchanting lakes and glaciers took a mere 17 hours. Since very few private jets are capable of executing a nonstop flight of that duration, Shashua’s plane had to land in the Republic of Ghana in Western Africa for refueling. Some 18 days later, in mid-February, the jet owned by Shashua – a man whose wealth is estimated at $1.7 billion – made its way back to Israel.

The cost of the glamorous flight presumably did not empty Shashua’s deep pockets, but the climactic cost that humanity pays for a trip of this sort is totally inconceivable: That one round trip alone emitted pollutants equivalent to 510 tons of CO2-eq (carbon dioxide equivalent, a measure used to compare emissions of greenhouse gases in terms of their global warming potential).

Stibbe info

That’s damage on the scale of what an average Israeli citizen would wreak over the course of 60 years, or after approximately 3 million hours of driving a Toyota Corolla. When you add to that all the other flight hours logged by the jet-setter Shashua in the past year – 248 hours, all together – it emerges that their total contribution to global warming is equivalent to that produced by an average Israeli citizen over the course of 402 years.

Six of the 10 local companies with the highest potential risk of harming the environmental are owned by either the Israel Corporation or Israel Chemicals – both of which are controlled by Idan Ofer

Speaking on behalf of Shashua, a Mobileye spokesperson explained that the jet he was using is subject to the requirements established by three international programs aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions (Corsia, EU-ETS, UK-ETS), as well as by another system that aims to neutralize the hazardous emissions produced by jet engines (carbon offset), which compensates for those emissions in ways that benefit green energy, neutralizing the damage caused by one’s carbon footprint.

In April, widespread public criticism targeted American celebrity Kim Kardashian, who used her private plane for a 17-minute flight in California, and in so doing created damage equivalent to about one-quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by an average citizen of Europe in one year.

For his part business magnate Elon Musk was also castigated for an especially polluting flight he took last month that lasted 9 minutes. Last November, politicians and high-ranking business executives and their entourages arrived from all over the world in about 400 gas-guzzling private planes at the climate change conference in Glasgow – one of whose primary objectives was to forge an expedited draft agreement to end the use of fossil fuels.

David Sapir info

Now, for the first time, an investigation by TheMarker has analyzed information about the flights and environmental damage for which the wealthy citizens of Israel are responsible. It reveals that the private aircraft used by only seven such individuals – Amnon Shashua, Eytan Stibbe, Alfred Akirov, Noam Lanir, David Sapir, Teddy Sagi and Idan Ofer – caused in one year damage to the environment that would be equivalent to that created by the average Israeli citizen over the course of 3,368 years, based on calculations carried out by scientists on our behalf.

The small group of local billionaires and millionaires thus caused, over the period of 12 months, damage to Planet Earth equivalent to CO2-eq emissions of 28,635 tons of carbon dioxide. And that happened at a time when the average Israeli emits some 8.5 tons of carbon dioxide annually – a statistic that is itself quite high in comparison with the global average.

1% of the population, half the emissions

Dr. Tamar Makov, director of the circular economy lab at the Department of Management of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, and Dr. Daniel Madar of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, calculated a weighted average of data collected by TheMarker on the in-flight hours enjoyed by each of the billionaires and millionaires during a period starting in early May 2021 and ending in April 2022. The researchers carried out two separate calculations, and reached nearly identical results.

In keeping with scientific standards for calculating the effect of private jets on global warming, the calculations included a weighted average of direct carbon dioxide emissions from the jets, but also took into consideration additional effects as a result of the flights. Thus, for example, the emission of sulfur oxides may cause cooling of the atmosphere, but it also creates contrail cirrus clouds at high altitudes, which in turn heat up the atmosphere. All told, the overall effect of jet aircraft on the warming of the atmosphere is 2.5 to 3 times greater than the direct effect of carbon dioxide emitted by jet engines in flight.

Aviation is responsible for approximately 2 to 3.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions as well as for other factors that cause warming. However, the sector of the population that bears responsibility for this is extremely limited and exclusive, since about 80 percent of the world’s population has never even stepped foot on an airplane.

In fact, a mere 1 percent of the world’s population is responsible for 50 percent of global aviation emissions. These figures were recently reported by the Stay Grounded Network organization, which aims to reduce air transport as part of a global campaign to curb the climate crisis. Various studies have already demonstrated that aviation is one of the most harmful activities in terms of this burgeoning crisis that a private person can engage in – right behind bringing another child into the world and having a company car.

Teddy Sagi info

The Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences explains that a single hour of flight in a private jet leads to the direct emission of between 1 and 5 tons of carbon dioxide, without even taking into account all the other factors that lead to atmospheric warming. On average, a single kilometer (.6 mile) of flight in a private aircraft emits 10 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than that resulting from a one-kilometer flight on a commercial airliner. Forty-one percent of flights taken in private planes had no passengers, and those that did had an average of 4.7 passengers per flight.

Soothing the conscience

The list of polluting Israeli tycoons is long. One prominent name which appears on it is of multimillionaire businessman and former pilot Eytan Stibbe, one of four passengers on the first-ever commercial mission into space earlier this year. Last year, his own jet logged 407 hours of private flights, creating emissions of greenhouse gases equivalent to what would result after driving 30,221,052 kilometers in an average motor vehicle, or 76 times the distance from Earth to moon, or 73 percent of the (shortest) distance between us and the planet Venus.

Eytan Stibbe's jet
Eytan Stibbe’s jetCredit: Eyal Zarrad

Does the man who brought along on the spacecraft seeds for an experiment relating to climate change intend to give up his private jet as result of this data? Apparently the answer is still no. A source close to Stibbe, who is also founder of an international investment company, told us that “this is most certainly an important subject, and therefore Stibbe also flies on commercial flights and makes an effort to reduce use of private aviation as much as possible. As part of his business and other activity in the past year, aside from the COVID-19 era that prompted numerous changes in commercial flights as well as much uncertainty, the plane served the company as well as Stibbe.”

A private plane that is used by billionaire Alfred Akirov, founder and controlling shareholder of the Alrov Group, whose family fortune is estimated at $1.9 billion, logged 169 hours last year, equivalent to 263 years of pollution by the average Israeli. Similarly, the two private aircraft linked to billionaire Teddy Sagi (who currently owns one plane, after selling another after just three months) – who amassed a fortune from online gambling estimated at approximately $6.1 billion – chalked up 360 flight hours during the year in question, during trips to Dubai, Monaco, and Mykonos, among other destinations. The amount of emissions that resulted from his airborne hours is equivalent to what the average Israeli amasses in 561 years.

Sagi and Akirov did not respond to this article.

Sagi's private jet
Sagi’s private jetCredit: Eyal Zarrad

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry reported three years ago that six of the 10 local companies with the highest potential risk of harming the environmental are owned by either the Israel Corporation or Israel Chemicals, both of which are controlled by Idan Ofer. In the year under investigation here, he flew no fewer than 217 hours in a private plane. The contribution made by these flights to atmospheric warming would be equivalent to that accumulated by the average citizen over the course of 370 years. Ofer opted not to respond to this datum.

The private jet that services investor and businessman David Sapir spent some 399 hours in flight last year, including during forays to the Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, Congo and the Dominican Republic – generating pollution equivalent to 645 emission years of the average Israeli. Sapir also did not comment on this finding.

The big polluter

>> Businessman and heir Idan Ofer

As mentioned, Idan Ofer controls six of the 10 most environmentally hazardous factories in Israel. This fact arises from the ninth annual Environmental Impact Index, published last October by the Environmental Protection Ministry. According to the index, which includes data from 2019, the six companies that have the highest potential risk of damaging the environmental are subsidiaries of either the Israel Corporation or ICL Group (Israel Chemicals), both of which are controlled by Ofer.

Ranked No. 1, i.e., the company that was worst in environmental terms, was Bazan – the Haifa Bay oil refinery, which recorded an 18-percent increase in the score it received – in terms of the dangers it posed, as compared with 2018. At a hearing held in 2019, the refinery was accused of committing numerous violations, primarily involving deviations from emission standards by use of various pollutants, as well as violations relating to treatment of liquid runoff and hazardous materials. In addition, the plant received “high” scores stemming from the quantity of its emissions and their dominant presence in the atmosphere, etc.

Rotem Amfert, another ICL subsidiary that mines phosphates and manufactures fertilizers, is ranked second on the index’s list – an improvement from 2018, when it came in first. The plant recorded a 3-percent decline relative to the previous index, signifying a small improvement in its effect on the environment, although the quantity of its emissions were still exceptionally high. In addition, the state is now involved in a class action suit, on behalf of the public at large, against Rotem Amfert due to the June 2017 leak of effluents in the Ashalim nature reserve.

In fifth place on the ministry index is Carmel Olefins Ltd., a subsidiary of the Israel Corporation, which showed an improvement of 1 percent in comparison with the 2018 data, and a drop of one slot on the index. In 2019, the petrochemical producer was the subject of a hearing concerning the number of hours its manufacturing facilities operated without instituting air-pollution reduction measures.

Positioned in ninth place is Gadiv Petrochemical, a subsidiary of Bazan, down from its sixth-place ranking in 2018; however, it was summoned in 2019 to a hearing due to its excessive emissions and insufficient monitoring of its chimney. Lastly, ranked in 10th place is ICL’s Dead Sea Magnesium plant, which jumped up from 15th place in 2018, primarily due to harmful emissions, faulty maintenance and improper treatment of hazardous materials.

The Environmental Impact Index is different from the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register, which is published annually by the Environmental Protection Ministry. The index takes into account the polluting emissions of the factories – but takes two other fundamental components into account as well: the level of compliance with environmental directives relating to the quantity and severity of regulatory violations and punitive measures employed against the plants; and voluntary reporting and management of environmentally beneficial operations.

– by Israel Fisher “Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, in 2013.” Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

Entrepreneur Noam Lanir, controlling shareholder and chairman of Livermore Investments, owns a jet used primarily for leasing purposes; it spent 488 hours in flight during the year ending in April, including to Casablanca. That is equivalent to no less than 455 emission years of the average Israeli. Lanir claims that his own use of the aircraft was negligible, constituting less than 5 percent of the flights. “The way that these things are being represented is akin to attributing the responsibility for the pollution caused by this or the other conglomerate as if it were in the personal use of the owner,” Lanir stated in response to this article.


Noam Lanir info

Although their greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the climatic crisis vastly more than those of any other Israelis, the ultra-wealthy men in question do at times pay lip service, boasting about their environmental initiatives or contributions to the struggle against global warming. For example, as part of an experiment, Stibbe, whose jet is responsible for causing pollution similar equivalent to that of 674 Israelis in a one-year period, took with him to space in April seeds of plant species that ostensibly have the ability to adapt to extreme climate conditions. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has issued severe warnings regarding the global food crisis that is predicted to occur in the wake of the climate crisis. Stibbe himself will not suffer, apparently, from repercussions of the food crisis, but his private jet is absolutely liable to contribute to it.

On a similar note, Akirov donated funding for the establishment of the Institute for Business and Environment at Tel Aviv University in May 2007, as a joint initiative of the Porter School of the Environment and other university departments. Some of the most important studies conducted in Israel on climactic inequality and injustice have been conducted by the researchers in those faculties.

A moment before the last moment

Humankind still has seven and a half years, until 2030, to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent in order to head off the most serious repercussions of the climate crisis and the crossing of the average global-warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius – according to the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change.

Exceeding this threshold would bring about a significant increase in the frequency of extreme events, including an uptick in lethal heat waves, flash floods, droughts, waves of refugees, food shortages, diseases and pandemics, along with dire threats to global security-related stability. The UN and the World Health Organization consider these phenomena to be the most severe dangers facing humanity. While the United States and the European Union have committed to reducing their emissions, they are responsible for 45 to 55 percent of them in the present decade. Israel has vowed to reach a lower target, that of reducing emissions by only 27 percent, even though it is particularly vulnerable to climate change and is warming at twice the rate of the global average.

Amnon Shashua info

Even if we succeed in reducing some of the damages wrought by the planet’s environmental crisis, we are no longer able to prevent several of its most severe repercussions. Many of the changes that have already occurred – such as a rise in sea level, glaciers melting and increased proportions of salt in the oceans – will be irreversible for hundreds if not thousands of years. As early as 2019, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were higher than at any point in time in the past 2 million years, and concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide were higher than at any time in the past 800,000 years at least. Similarly, global temperatures have risen faster since 1970 than during any other 50-year period in the past 2,000 years.

What can be done differently? One step would be to relinquish travel on private aircraft and to simply opt for regularly scheduled flights, as normal people do. Dr. Makov, of Ben-Gurion University, calculated how the seven magnates cited above could have reduced their carbon footprint if they had logged the same distances on commercial flights, in coach or business class. She concluded that if they had spent the same number of hours flying coach, for example, they would be responsible for pollution emissions equivalent to only 166 tons of carbon dioxide. That is, less than 1 percent of the pollution they caused while flying on their private planes. Based on this calculation, the seven men alone would have been responsible, during a year of taking scheduled flights, for emissions that the average Israeli citizen would release over the course of 19.5 years, or what a European would release in 21 years, or what the average person in the world would release over the course of 34 years. In other words, the billionaires and millionaires could have reduced by 99.5 percent the damage they actually contributed to global warming if only they had taken ordinary flights. Even if they had flown business class, they could have reduced the damage by 98 percent.

Alfred Akirov info

“The data makes it clear that the wealthiest individuals have an immediate capacity to reduce their emissions by taking flights that are not on private planes,” Makov explains. “The solution lies in taxing the private flights, and in damages the wealthiest people in the world will be required to pay for using private aircraft, and for the damage they cause in terms of the climate crisis.”

Israel’s Transportation and Road Safety Ministry responded that it was unable to provide TheMarker with information related to the greenhouse gases emitted by flights to and from Israel, as that would require the approval of the airline companies. Sources in the bureau of Minister Merav Michaeli and in other ministry offices did not respond when asked if they would take measures to reduce the number of private flights in the country or impose new taxation policies that would take environmental damage into account.

Moreover, sources in the ministry refused to provide a list of Israeli owners of private jets and said they do not gather data on the quantities of harmful emissions the latter produce. “It is not possible to provide details on the owners of private planes, as this would harm the right to privacy. The Civil Aviation Authority does not log the flight hours of private aircraft,” a spokesperson commented.

According to data gathered by the Stay Grounded Network in 2019, 21,979 active private planes were registered throughout the world, 71 percent of them in North America and another 13 percent in Europe.