EasyJet has started spending £25 million a year on offsetting carbon emissions from aviation fuel used on all its flights.
Johan Lundgren, the airline CEO said at the launch this week:
“Climate change is an issue for all of us. At EasyJet we are tackling this challenge head on by choosing to offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of our flights starting today. In doing so we are committing to operating net-zero carbon flights across our network – a world first by any major airline.”
EasyJet’s move goes way beyond actions by other airlines while still drawing criticism from environmental campaign groups. IAG- parent company to British Airways said last month it would be carbon neutral by 2050, with a start on offsetting all domestic flights next year.
And Lufthansa has launched a business fare where European flights are automatically offset for corporate customers from next year.
EasyJet offsets will be through providers EcoAct and FirstClimate, schemes accredited to verification standards Gold Standard and VCS. The budget airline calculates that it emits 3.157kg of CO2 for every kilogram of aviation fuel used.
There is mounting pressure on the sector to address its environmental impact. UN agency ICAO has is offering a limited global offsetting programme, Corsia, where governments have agreed to offset any growth in emissions but this is not enough, according to climate campaigners.
Airlines are under increasing pressure to do more in ameliorating climate change. Aviation accounts for around 2% of global CO2 emissions and the global fuel consumption by commercial airlines has increased each year since 2009. It is predicted to reach an all-time annual high of 97 billion gallons by the end of this year.
According to Lundgren:
“EasyJet is, all in all, doing more than any other major airline within this area. Customers increasingly expect companies to do something about it and it is fundamentally the right thing to do.”
EasyJet said the move to offset flights would make it the first zero carbon airline but confirmed that that offsetting is just an interim measure while the industry hunts for a viable technology to deliver low-carbon flight.
Technologies like green jet fuels and electric planes are in development. EasyJet has signed a memorandum of understanding with manufacturer Airbus to work to together on electric and hybrid electric planes for short-haul European flights. Lundgren said he hoped it would be “an important step towards making electric planes a reality”.
“People have a choice in how they travel, and people are now thinking about the potential carbon impact of different types of transport. But many people still want to fly and if people choose to fly, we want to be one of the best choices they can make.”
He urged governments act as well, by improving airspace efficiency as well as providing tax incentives for efficiency innovation.
EasyJet is also continuing it works with Wright Electric, a US firm that has developed a nine-seater electric plane expected to start flying in the coming weeks.
Despite these positive steps, it is thought that it will be many decades before we see the mass-scale commercial use of these technologies.
EasyJet is taking other measures such as reducing the number of empty seats flown. The proportion of these on the average flight increased to 8.5 in every 100 seats last year. However, as a budget airline, EasyJet’s per passenger emissions are lower than most of its rivals, thanks to its ability to squeeze more people onto each flight.
Offsetting can be problematic and some climate groups argue offsetting simply lets people continue consumption of high carbon activities guilt-free.
It’s also a challenge to make sure that funding goes to schemes delivering effective, ongoing carbon reduction that would not have gone ahead even without the offset funding.
However, Jonathon Porritt, co-founder of Forum for the Future, welcomed EasyJet’s move as “exciting” while adding that carbon offsetting could only be a bridge to future technological developments.
“It will be important to seek out each and every way of reducing carbon emissions. Beyond that, the whole industry needs to come together more.”
In contrast, Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at the NGO Transport & Environment, said:
“Airlines paying others so that they can go on polluting is not a solution to aviation’s climate problem. 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 commitment to carbon offsetting also comes at the same time as EasyJet relaunches its package holiday business as a stand-alone division, with flights planned next year from Gatwick and Bristol.
Despite the collapse of Thomas Cook, the company says the sector is “not in any way shape or form in decline” and that the airline was well placed to succeed in a market worth £60 billion a year in Europe.
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