British Airways will offset all domestic flight emissions from next year, after its owner IAG became the first airline group to commit to net-zero carbon flying by 2050.
IAG’s chief executive, Willie Walsh, said that the company would reach the net-zero target largely through offsetting but pledged its airlines, including Aer Lingus and Iberia, would also substantially reduce emissions through sustainable fuels and replacing older aircraft. [sic]
Walsh said offsetting was the only way aviation could promise to carbon net zero and that electric or hydrogen planes would not be an option for most international flights.
Offsetting allows companies to invest in environmental projects to balance out their own carbon footprints but it has been criticised as a get-out clause for highly polluting businesses.
Walsh said: “We will continue to use a carbon-based fuel throughout. We don’t see a credible alternative. It’s going to be some time until we see an electric or hybrid-electric plane … you’re looking at smaller aircraft capable of flying up to 150 passengers up to 1,000km. The technology to cover the entire network is some time away.”
However, he argued that aviation offsetting would invest in regulated, verified carbon-reduction schemes, whereas levies on flying would disappear into general taxation. [Non-sequitur….] He said: “In the past there have been concerns about the schemes. It’s very clear that any offsetting scheme has to be a permanent reduction in CO2, and verifiable.”
The aviation industry has set a general target of a 50% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2050, largely through offsetting in the Corsia scheme set up by the UN aviation agency, ICAO. Aviation accounts for more than 2% of global emissions but its contribution to CO2 levels is forecast to grow rapidly, due to rising passenger numbers and the industry’s reliance on fossil fuel-burning planes.
Walsh agreed flying could become “socially unacceptable” if it did not cut emissions. “For some people it will be, in the same way that a car is. But a lot of activity that is normal and socially acceptable today will not be in future.”
Walsh said BA was offsetting domestic flight emissions as people could choose to travel by train: [sic] “In the UK where there is an alternative, there is a greater focus on making sure aviation is paying its way to address the environmental impact.”
IAG is responsible for about 3% of global aviation’s emissions, which equates to 29.9m tonnes of CO2 per annum out of the industry’s 915m tonnes.
Walsh said BA would not fly its remaining 33 Boeing 747 jumbos, the heaviest consumers of fuel in the fleet, after 2024. [Probably just because they are not economic to fly, rather than any great carbon concern …. AW comment]
Walsh said the new Airbus A350-1000, which has just entered service on the transatlantic route to Toronto, would typically use 43 instead of 70 tonnes of jet fuel to carry a similar number of passengers.
Questioned if it should do more, he said: “We are the first to do it, so if it’s not enough, the world has to do more. We’re aligning ourselves with the government. It’s a huge change from what the industry committed to, so it’s a challenging target, a lot of work and a lot of money.” [Really ????]
The cost of offsetting UK flights, which generate about 400,000 tonnes of CO2, is expected to be about €3.2m (£3m) next year. [That works out at just £7.50 per tonne of carbon, a very low price. It would be ? £1 or so for a domestic flight – which is scarcely a deterrent. AW comment]
BA has pledged to invest £327m in sustainable fuel over the next 20 years, including its recently approved joint venture to build a waste-to-jet fuel plant in the UK. [This waste fuel thing has been planned for about 10 years … bit of a token gesture…. AW comment]
Environmental groups, however, dismissed the IAG initiative. Greenpeace said BA wanted to “have their cake and eat it”. John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “Offsetting is no answer to the climate emergency that we face, where we have to stop business as usual. BA really need to think much more seriously than this.
“What we need is a frequent flyer levy, which would be a better way to go in terms of reducing demand.”
British Airways chief Willie Walsh hits back at ‘flight shamers’
By Oliver Gill (Telegraph)
10 OCTOBER 2019
The boss of British of Airways owner IAG has slammed “flight-shaming” environmental campaigners who want to curb air travel.
Willie Walsh said holidaymakers and workers should not feel ashamed about boarding a plane – and insisted that commercial flying is a force for good which has lifted the horizons of millions of people. [It might have done, but not for a package holiday involving sitting on a sun-bed or beach, dipping in to the pool, eating and drinking in a resort, and doing a bit of shopping. Or a stag party abroad. Scarcely much cultural experience with that. AW comment}
In an attack on campaigners who want punishing taxes on flights, Mr Walsh said it would be “socially unacceptable” to ground ordinary families. [The answer is the Frequent Flyer levy, A Free Ride, giving everyone one tax-free flight per year, with tax escalating upwards, on each subsequent flight. AW comment]
And he insisted that airlines do not need [he probably means do not want ….] any advice from the Extinction Rebellion protesters who have been marching across the world.
The BA chief – one of the most influential voices in the aviation industry – was speaking as IAG pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The FTSE 100 airline group includes Aer Lingus and Iberia as well as BA.
Mr Walsh said: “I think aviation has been a fantastic development.
“People being able to travel, see the world, travel for work; it clearly has generated huge economic value for the world. With that economic value comes to environmental cost.
“The first flight I ever took was in 1979. Flying then was definitely a privilege. In 40 years it has very much changed. The idea that you go back to only a privileged few can experience travel and aviation is socially unacceptable.”
As part of a string of changes, BA will offset all carbon emissions from domestic UK flights from next year by funding green schemes such as tree planting programmes in South America.
The airlines industry is coming under increasing pressure from campaigners, which have attacked its large carbon footprint and urged the public to travel less by air.
Analysis published last month by investment bank UBS found that more than a fifth of people have reduced the number of times they fly over concerns about its impact on the environment.
The global airlines industry has previously pledged to offset half of its carbon emissions by 2050.
Unveiling his pledge to go even further, Mr Walsh said: “We feel it is time for somebody to take the lead in the industry.
“It’s important to point out that this is net. We will continue to use carbon-based fuel through that period. We don’t see that there is a credible alternative at this point to the industry using kerosene or a biofuel.”
The announcement came as climate change campaigners from Extinction Rebellion, which has specifically targeted the industry with protests at Heathrow airport in recent weeks, continued demonstrations in central London.
Mr Walsh insisted that pressure from the campaign group had not made any difference to IAG’s decision.
He said: “I don’t think we need Extinction Rebellion to convince us that this is something we need to do.”
IAG plans to achieve its zero-carbon target by running planes on biofuel, setting aside money for United Nations carbon offsetting scheme called CORSIA and operating more fuel efficient aircraft.
As first reported by The Telegraph, IAG earlier this year invested in a biofuel plant in Humberside that will convert waste into jet fuel.
Around 2-3pc of the world’s global carbon footprint comes from airlines.
Mr Walsh said the sector’s share will rise as other industries develop technology to reduce dependency on fuels that emit CO2 such as electric cars or hydrogen buses.
If left unchecked, some analysts believe airlines could be responsible for a quarter of CO2 emissions by 2050.
Mr Walsh hopes that other airlines will follow IAG’s lead, but admitted it will take time to bring the global industry together the effort globally.
He said: “Because some countries that don’t accept the issue needs to be addressed, there isn’t a common global understanding and acceptance of the need to address it.
“I think there is much greater awareness of it within Europe than in some other parts of the world.”
However, Mr Walsh said that such awareness is more patchy in the US.
“As an industry we’re going to have to do more or else we’re going to face more taxation,” he said.“Taxation isn’t going to do anything for the environment.
“If that £40bn that CORSIA is going to generate went into the central exchequers of government, I don’t think any of that will go (towards) environment purposes.”
The IAG announcement coincided with Credit Suisse analysts publishing a note on the aviation sector’s carbon emissions.
They said: “Despite [its] modest share, air transport is often targeted by environmental groups as a sector where emissions are expected to keep growing, and potentially consume up to 25pc of the global carbon budget in 2050, according to Transport & Environment (an NGO),” Credit Suisse wrote.
“The steady improvement in the average emissions of the fleet (1-2pc per annum) is not enough to compensate for the mid-single-digit annual increase in traffic volumes.”