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

British Airways has begun offsetting all emissions generated through domestic flights within the UK, at no additional cost to passengers.

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

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


aviation | transport | low-carbon


Energy efficiency & low-carbon | CSR & ethics | Climate change

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