Virgin Atlantic unveils new carbon targets to help reach net-zero by 2050

Virgin Atlantic has already delivered a 20% reduction in fleet carbon emissions

The airline company has today set interim carbon goals up to 2040 that it believes will enable the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Virgin Atlantic has committed to reducing emissions by 15% per revenue ton kilometer (CO2/RTK) by 2026 through a continued fleet transformation and efficiency programme.

By 2030, the company will aim to deliver a 15% net reduction in total carbon emissions, with 10% of all fuel sources from sustainable aviation fuel (SAFs). By 2040, the company will aim to deliver a 40% net reduction in total emissions.

Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive Shai Weiss said: “We know that as an airline we have a pivotal role to play in protecting the planet, while connecting people across the globe and strengthening crucial trade connections.

“The carbon targets outlined today will help us achieve this as we work tirelessly on our mission to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.  Aviation is a truly global industry, and we can’t tackle this on our own. That’s why we’re continuing to work closely with the UK’s Jet Zero Council and Sustainable Aviation, as well as aligning with innovation and technology partners across the industry and beyond. There is a long road ahead but we’re committed to pioneering change and being transparent on our progress, on our way to a low carbon future.”

Virgin Atlantic has already delivered a 20% reduction in fleet carbon emissions, following a multi-billion-dollar investment over the last decade.

Virgin Atlantic’s commitment to net-zero by 2050 is in alignment with its membership to the UK Sustainable Aviation Coalition. The Coalition this year announced new targets for the industry to reduce absolute net emissions by at least 15% by 2030 and at least 40% by 2040, against a 2019 baseline. This approach is the one broadly followed by the UK Government in its Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

The company has been vocal in its support for SAFs. SAFs can reduce life-cycle emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel. However, most airlines currently only use it in small proportions in blends – partly due to a lack of supply and partly because current international regulations limit biofuel blends to 50%.

The sector has signalled its intentions to champion SAFs to assist with decarbonisation. Last week, for example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) supported a resolution calling for the global sector to reach net-zero by 2050, unveiling plans that rely on SAFs for 65% of emissions cuts.

The resolution, the Association claims, is aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C goal. The IPCC has stated that humanity will have the best possible chance of keeping to a 1.5C temperature pathway by halving global emissions by 2030 and bringing them to net-zero by mid-century at the latest.

The Association’s preferred scenario will see 65% of the emissions which would be generated by the sector on a business-as-usual trajectory in 2050 addressed with SAFs. IATA is estimating that SAF could meet 2% of global demand by 2025, rising to 5.2% by 2030. It expects exponential growth in the sector thereafter.

Green groups had notably criticised the plans of the UK-based trade body the Sustainable Aviation Coalition for relying too heavily on SAFs, given that they accounted for less than 1% of global fuel consumption in the sector last year. Nonetheless, this plan heavily influenced the UK Government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which sets a 2040 net-zero target for domestic flights and for airports, and a 2050 net-zero target for international flights.

Matt Mace

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