Helena Bennet, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance, said: “Private jets are a disaster for the climate. A single-one private flight emits two tonnes of carbon emissions, which is a quarter of the carbon produced by the average European in a whole year.
“From presidents and prime ministers jet setting around the world to business people flying to conferences that could be done over Zoom, we need to travel more sustainably.
“There are many alternative modes that can be used by the wealthy and important, including trains and coaches, when necessary, economy class flights, which are responsible for far fewer emissions per person.”
Many of Mrs von der Leyen’s journeys on private jets could have been taken on more environmentally-friendly commercial options, such as a Eurostar train to London or a car to Paris.
EU rules state that eurocrats are allowed to take “air taxis” when there are no viable commercial alternatives, “scheduling constraints” or security concerns.
The Commission said Mrs Von der Leyen flew to Glasgow on a plane powered by “biofuels”. A spokeswoman added: “An air taxi is only used when necessary, to enable presence at meetings in various places on a very packed schedule.”
Mrs Von der Leyen racked up thousands of miles this summer visiting European capitals to sign off on their coronavirus recovery plans, and took an 886-mile round trip to St Ives for the G7 summit.
Last February, the German and her 26 fellow commissioners took a 7,000-mile round trip to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, for a meeting with the African Union.
On a mission to further the EU’s reach, Josep Borrell, the bloc’s top foreign diplomat, travelled by private jet to Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, despite Turkish Airlines running regular flights from Brussels. The Spanish official has also used the “air taxi” system to fly to Berlin, Madrid and Turkey.
“Many flights, particularly in Europe, could be easily replaced by train journeys, a readily available and climate-friendly alternative. We must completely change the way we move, and encourage and enable travel that prioritises sustainability, and the future of humanity,” a spokesman for Greenpeace EU said.
Boris Johnson will fly back to London by private jet when he leaves the conference in Glasgow later this week.
Train journeys from Glasgow to London take just four and a half hours, but Downing Street said Mr Johnson had “significant time constraints” which meant the train was not an option.