British Airways begins offsetting domestic flight emissions in first step towards net-zero

The offsetting scheme will complement investments in fuel-efficient aircraft and innovative fuels. Image: P. Masclet/ master films 

The airline’s parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) first announced its plans to offset emissions last October, after setting a 2050 net-zero ambition in line with the UK Government’s legally binding long-term climate target.

Under British Airways’ first step to achieving this long-term aim, the company will pay to offset emissions generated by its domestic flights – of which it operates 75 daily – through verified carbon credit schemes. Such schemes will fund reforestation programmes, rainforest conservation schemes and projects working to install additional renewable energy capacity.

British Airways has said the projects backed by its offsetting will be global but is yet to publicly provide information on their locations.

The company’s chief executive and chair Alex Cruz said the projects funded through its carbon credits will be “carefully chosen to ensure they are proven and deliver real carbon emissions reductions as well as economic, social and environmental benefits”, with third-party verification.

“Solving the complex issue of climate change requires a multifaceted response, and offsetting emissions on all flights within the UK is just one step that we are adopting to reduce our environmental impact while more solutions to decarbonise are found,” Cruz said.

Other solutions which British Airways is backing include aircraft which are more fuel efficient, consuming up to 40% less fuel than their predecessors, and alternative low-carbon fuels. On the latter, the airline is working with Shell to help renewable fuel developer Velocys build and operate a UK facility that could produce 20 million gallons of sustainable jet fuel annually.

Cruz previously told edie that there would be no “silver bullet” to decarbonise the aviation sector, which currently accounts for around 2% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually and is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries. To that end, BA is looking for low-carbon solutions which could come to fruition through 2100, including algae planes.

Is offsetting a flight of fancy?  

BA has been offering optional offsetting for a number of years for its international flights as part of a partnership with not-for-profit Pure Leapfrog. 

It offers international passengers a digital tool which can calculate their emissions based on distance travelled and class selection, and offset them through investment in verified nature restoration and renewable energy projects in Peru, Sudan and Cambodia.

Given the technological and economic barriers to the adoption of low-carbon jet fuel and electric aircraft at present – and taking into account the fact that the aviation sector has recorded huge growth in demand since 1990, with further demand increases anticipated – BA is one of many airlines turning to offsetting to achieve its carbon aims.

The likes of Qantas and easyJet announced large-scale offsetting schemes last year amid a backdrop of climate strikes, whereby key figures in the environmental movement such as Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough have promoted the “flight-shaming” conversation.

Indeed, several NGOs offering carbon offsetting have reported a fourfold increase in investment over the past two years. 

But many green groups continue to be sceptical about the true impact of carbon offsetting, with questions around issues such as the double-counting of carbon offsets and how the projects they support are tackling a broader range of environmental and social challenges being raised regularly. Moreover, the sentiment that companies can simply “buy their way” to net-zero without minimising their carbon footprint is persistent amid broadly weak carbon pricing.

During a recent edie webinar on business leadership in the era of climate activism, participants concurred that offsetting should be approached “with integrity” and only used to complement broader decarbonisation activities. You can read the roundup of that discussion in full here.

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    The Range of an Electric Vehicle Could be Better than a Fossil Fuel One,
    Clean Long Range Transport is a Real Possibility

    Professor John Cushman, Co-founder, IFBattery

    A new type of electric vehicle power using refillable technology has taken another giant leap in advancing alternative energy with testing that shows it could provide enough energy to run a car for about 3,000 miles. The technology employs a novel type of flow battery that is being successfully tested in golf carts.

    The jump that this technology has made in the past two years is a testament to its value in changing the way we power our vehicles, said John Cushman, Purdue University Distinguished Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and a Professor of Mathematics. It s a game-changer for the next generation of electric cars because it does not require a very costly rebuild of the electric grid throughout the US. Instead, one could convert gas stations to pump fresh electrolyte and discard depleted electrolyte and convert oil-changing facilities to anode replacing stations. It is easier and safer to use and is more environmentally friendly than existing battery systems.

    The technology uses a patented technology that is safe and affordable for recharging electric and hybrid vehicle batteries by replacing the fluid in the batteries about every 300 miles through a process similar to refuelling a car at a gas station. Every 3,000 miles, the anode material is replaced, taking less time than is needed to do an oil change and costing about the same with an estimated cost of about $65.

    It is the full circle of energy with very little waste, Cushman said. IFBattery s components are safe enough to be stored in a family home, are stable enough to meet major production and distribution requirements and are cost-effective.

    The used battery fluids or electrolytes can be collected and taken to solar farm, wind turbine or hydroelectric plant to be reused again.

    It is the full circle of energy with very little waste, Cushman said. This makes for a lighter and more efficient EV, and I look forward to a production car coming out at soon as possible. It also means ships and lorries could become clean, and possibly aircraft too.

    Yours faithfully

    Andy Kadir-Buxton


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