Delta Air Lines commits $1bn to become carbon neutral

US-based Delta Air Lines has committed $1bn over the next decade to mitigate emissions from its business to become carbon neutral, with the company pledging to minimise its reliance on the carbon offset market.

Delta Air Lines commits $1bn to become carbon neutral

Since 2005

From March 2020, Delta Air Lines will commence its 10-year transformation to become carbon-neutral, a pledge that will cover the company’s air and on-the-ground emissions. The announcement was made by the company’s chief executive Ed Bastian, who also announced a $1.6bn profit share for Delta’s employees.

“There is no substitute for the power that travel has to connect people, which our world needs today more than ever before. As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment,” Bastian said. “The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver.”

The aviation industry accounts for around 2% of global emissions, and Delta is the latest company in the sector to set a carbon-neutral target. However, companies within the sector have been criticised for an over-reliance on offsets in place of focused carbon reduction targets.

British Airways has begun offsetting all emissions generated through domestic flights within the UK, at no additional cost to passengers, to build on parent company International Airlines Group’s (IAG) 2050 net-zero ambition.

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.

Since 2005, Delta has reduced its absolute GHG footprint by 11% from 46 million metric tonnes to 41 million metric tonnes. Around 98% of Delta’s emissions come from its aircraft.

As such, the company will focus on “enterprise-wide efforts” to decrease the use of jet fuel and increase efficiency. Improved flight operations, weight reductions and the development of sustainable aviation fuels have all been listed in the commitment.

In 2019, Delta added more than 80 new aircraft as part of a target to renew its aircraft fleet with models that are 25% more fuel efficient than the aircraft they are replacing. Delta will continue to invest in this area, including setting up a dedicated fund to invest in vehicles as part of the carbon-neutral ambition.

Offset approach

Delta’s focus on efficiency will attempt to minimise a reliance on carbon offsets. In 2012, Delta became the first US airline to voluntarily cap emissions at 2012 levels, despite growing the company by 20%, but this was largely achieved through the purchase of more than 16 million verified carbon offsets.

The airline will continue to focus on the removal of carbon emissions from the atmosphere by investing in forestry, wetland restoration, grassland conservation, marine and soil capture, and other negative emissions technologies.

In March 2019, a study found that the climate efforts of 20 of the world’s largest airlines will not suffice if the aviation sector is to align with the aims of the Paris Agreement and the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The study, from the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) – a research group at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute – ranked 20 of the world’s largest airlines on their emission reduction actions and strategies, revealing that none of the companies listed has aligned their long-term targets with the Paris Agreement’s 2C trajectory.

The report groups the 20 airlines into six categories, with zero meaning that the company’s management-level staff are “unaware” of climate issues and six meaning that emissions have been embedded in “strategic assessment” activities. These groupings are based on each company’s climate disclosure practices and the emissions intensity of its flights.

Lufthansa, Delta, United Air and ANA Group are all placed in group six, while just one airline – Wizz Air – is ranked as a zero. The TPI noted that Wizz Air has “enhanced” its disclosure and reduced its flight emissions intensity since its research was undertaken but is yet to verify exactly how much progress has been made.

Matt Mace

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