British low-cost airline EasyJet is set to become the world’s first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights — by offsetting the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of its flights.
Carbon offsetting means providing revenue to projects that are working to reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, or that take carbon out of the atmosphere.
It essentially means compensating for every tonne of carbon emitted, by ensuring that there’s one tonne less in the atmosphere.
EasyJet, for example, says it will offset its carbon emissions through schemes including forest conservation in South America and Africa; renewable solar energy projects in India; and community-based projects in Uganda and Eritrea, among others.
The airline said the carbon offset programmes — starting from Tuesday — would cost about £25 million a year, according to Reuters.
CEO Johan Lundgren highlighted that the company acknowledges “that offsetting is only an interim measure until other technologies become available to radically reduce the carbon emissions of flying, but we want to take action on carbon now.”
“People have a choice in how they travel and people are now thinking about the potential carbon impact of different types of transport,” he added. “Aviation will have to reinvent itself as quickly as it can.”
The global aviation industry is responsible for around 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), and around 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources.
With it’s origins in Sweden, Greta Thunberg’s home country, the “flygskam” — meaning “flight shame” — movement has swept across the world, as the public interest in protecting the environment has soared in recent years.
Thunberg herself has helped bring the environmental cost of air travel into the public eye — most recently by sailing to the US on a high-profile zero-carbon transatlantic voyage from the UK in August.
But environmental campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) has highlighted that easyJet’s carbon offsets aren’t a solution to the aviation industry’s climate problem.
According to Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at T&E, the world needs much stronger action from governments to tax the climate impact of flying and develop clean fuels.
“Airlines paying others so that they can go on polluting is not a solution to aviation’s climate problem,” he said in a statement. “Decades of airlines’ unchecked emissions growth shows governments need to step up and regulate aviation’s climate impact by ending the sector’s tax privileges and mandating clean fuels.”
The campaign group added that the aviation sector in Europe is “heavily undertaxed” compared to other regions. It said that more than 20 EU states don’t tax international aviation at all, and that no member state taxes jet fuel.
Lundgren also highlighted in his statement that easyJet will continue to support innovative technology — including the development of hybrid and electric planes — to help decarbonise air travel over the long-term.
The hope, according to the airline, is to reduce the amount of carbon it’s having to offset as new technologies emerge.
Since 2000, according to its statement, easyJet has “reduced the carbon emissions for each kilometre flown by a passenger by over a third (33.7%).”
It’s done this through simple initiatives like introducing light-weight carpets, trolleys, and seats; single engine taxiing; and removing paper manuals from planes.
EasyJet also announced on Tuesday a joint research project with Airbus on hybrid and electric planes.
According to easyJet, the project is set to “define the impacts and the requirements necessary for the large-scale introduction of next generation sustainable aircraft on infrastructure and everyday commercial aircraft operations.”