As misinformation swirled around the UN's annual climate summit in 2023, social media users shared a clip of a plane in wintry weather alongside false claims the aircraft was bound for the Dubai conference but "froze" on the runway. The users called the situation "ironic", suggesting the cold snap showed climate change was not real. Climate scientists say incidents of snowstorms do not change the consensus that the earth's temperature has continuously risen at an unprecedented rate. Airline records and flight trackers showed the plane was not flying anywhere and instead had tipped over under the weight of heavy snowfall.

"Latest: Ice and snow has frozen the Munich airport, ironically, a plane flying to Dubai for the global warming conference has also been cruelly frozen by the cold front," reads a simplified Chinese post on X on December 3, 2023.

It includes a video that has been shared 200 times showing a plane tilted backwards under heavy snow while emergency vehicles surround the aircraft.

RTL

© AFP

The claim ricocheted across social media in a number of languages, including in Chinese on Facebook and Weibo, as well as in German, English and Serbian.

It spread as 200 countries gathered in Dubai from November 30 to December 13 for the United Nations' annual climate conference, commonly known as COP28 -- eventually reaching a deal that the world should be "transitioning away from fossil fuels" by 2050 to limit global warming.

The summit was accompanied by a wave of climate-related misinformation on social media.

Comments left by social media users suggested they believed the frost showed climate change is not real.

One wrote: "God is honestly telling humans, global warming is just a joke."

"I saw a video a while ago that said it is actually global cooling now," another said.

More than 40 centimetres (16 inches) of snowfall brought chaos to southern Germany on December 2, with air and rail traffic blocked in the Bavarian state capital of Munich. A total of 760 flights were affected, a spokesperson for the city's main airport told AFP.

But there is no evidence the aircraft was ever scheduled to fly to Dubai or that it "froze" in the icy conditions.

Snow doesn't contradict climate change

Climate change sceptics often point to snow as evidence climate change is not happening -- AFP has debunked such claims repeatedly.

For example, an old video of snow in Saudi Arabia -- not uncommon in the country's north -- was shared alongside claims of the "climate change hoax".

But Omar Baddour, head of climate monitoring and policy for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told AFP at the time: "This (snow incident) doesn't contradict what is expected from climate change. Globally, extreme low temperatures are getting less frequent, yet they are still and will continue to be recorded" (archived link)

He added: "On the climate change side, warmer oceans lead to more evaporation and, therefore, more moisture in the atmosphere. Therefore, climate change would play in favour of having these types of events more likely than not."

The UN's IPCC climate expert panel said in a landmark 2021 report it was "unequivocal" that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land, warning the world is on track to cross a key warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in the early 2030s (archived link).

Just days after COP28 ended, the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service said in December that 2023 will be the hottest year on record, with data from ice cores and tree rings suggesting it could be the warmest in more than 100,000 years.

Reporting by AFP on climate misinformation is available here.

Parked jet

Meanwhile, the Dubai climate summit also drew criticism over the use of private jets by attendees, with some false posts calling the plane's predicament "karma".

However, aviation records and news reports found the plane had been tipped over by heavy snow, not frozen, and was not scheduled to fly to Dubai.

A keyword search on Google led to an article from German aviation news portal aeroTelegraph published on December 2, which said the aircraft tipped over under the weight of snow (archived link).

It also says the plane is a Cessna Citation X business jet belonging to Austrian carrier Bairline.

Nico Just, Bairline pilot and sales manager confirmed the jet belongs to the company but said on December 4 it was not scheduled to fly to the climate conference in Dubai.

"The aircraft has been in Munich since November 15, 2023, but is parked there," Just said.

The jet was not frozen, he added, but had tipped over before being set upright again.

Subsequent keyword searches using the aircraft's registration plate found several aviation websites showing it had been stationed in Munich since November 15 (archived links here and here).

AFP found no evidence of any plans to fly to Dubai.

Data accessible only to paying users on FlightRadar24, which tracks air traffic worldwide in real-time as well as flight histories, shows a planned trip by the plane to Togo on November 20 was cancelled.

RTL

© AFP

AFP found no records of the plane flying between November 15 and December 12.

The video of the tilted plane can also be seen in a German-language report by AFP published on December 3.