International Airlines Group (IAG), parent of British Airways (BA), Aer Lingus, Iberia and several other carriers, has become the first airline group worldwide to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The move places IAG at the forefront of contributing to the objective of limiting the increase in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Aviation represents an estimated 2% of global carbon emissions and currently there is no alternative to jet fuel. While accounting for only a small percentage of emissions, the aviation industry is under intense pressure from climate change activists, particularly as it relates to a rising number of cheap short-haul operations. According to a European Commission (EC) fact sheet, if global aviation were a country, it would rank among the top 10 emitters. The EC further maintains that a passenger traveling round trip between London and New York generates roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the European Union (EU) does by heating a house for a year.
By 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70% higher than in 2005 and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forecasts that by 2050 they could grow by a further 300 to 700%.
IAG led efforts to establish the United Nations’ (U.N.’s) first global carbon offsetting program, the market-based Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), that will enable aviation to cut its CO2 emissions by 2.5 billion tons between 2020 and 2035 through a $40 billion investment in carbon reduction projects. While domestic aviation emissions are covered under the Paris Agreement, international flights, which account for approximately 65% of the industry’s carbon emissions, are covered by the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance. Signed in 2016, the agreement has 194 state signatories as well as the EU; 185 states and the EU, representing more than 88% of global greenhouse gas emissions, have ratified or acceded to the agreement
IAG’s new emissions goal will be achieved through a variety of environmental initiatives: British Airways will offset carbon emissions for all its U.K. domestic flights from 2020. The carrier plans to achieve this goal by investing in verified carbon reduction projects equivalent to the carbon emissions it creates for domestic flights. These include solar energy projects, forestation programs and tree planting in South America, Africa and Asia.
The group also will invest $400 million in sustainable aviation fuel over the next 20 years. This includes British Airways’ partnership with specialist company Velocys to build Europe’s first household waste-to-jet fuel plant in the U.K., which will start operations in 2024. The plant will turn household waste destined for landfill into sustainable fuel, which produces 70% less CO2 emissions than fossil fuel.
IAG intends to replace older aircraft in the group fleet with 142 new aircraft over the next five years, valued at approximately $27 billion at list prices. These aircraft are up to 25% more carbon efficient than the aircraft being replaced. BA, which currently operates 33 B747 aircraft, plans to retire those aircraft after 2024. BA will replace B747 aircraft with A350-1000s on trans-Atlantic routes. The Airbus aircraft burn far less fuel than the aircraft being replaced.
IAG is exploring new carbon capture technology by partnering with U.S. company Mosaic Materials via the group’s startup accelerator Hangar 51. The startup has created adsorbent material to take out CO2 emissions directly from the atmosphere.
Management incentives also are being developed, in line with IAG’s new targets, for employees to reduce carbon emissions across the group.