Just three years after launching its plan to offset all emissions through carbon credits, easyJet announced that they would be phasing offsetting out at the end of 2022 and instead reducing emissions by 2050 through investments in more efficient aircraft, sustainable aviation fuel, and improvements to operations.
Was this the right move?
According to Palladium’s Tom Gegg, Nature Based Solutions Technical Lead, it depends: “easyJet are doing the right thing in choosing to prioritise reducing their emissions before offsetting them.” He adds that the airline company recently signed up to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), which defines and promotes best practice in emissions reductions and net zero targets in line with the latest climate science. Once signed up, SBTi provides technical assistance and makes recommendations on how to translate commitments to actions.
“This was a brave move because not many airline or aviation companies have done so, nor is it easy for airlines to make the shift, largely because a lot of the technology for zero emissions flight doesn’t exist yet.”
He adds that for organisations or companies that have either signed up to SBTi or are committed to reaching net-zero, it’s critical to first reduce emissions as much as possible before offsetting what cannot be reduced. For an airline company, the first step is difficult. An airline’s decarbonisation approach is based on carbon intensity and how many tonnes of CO2e are emitted per kilometre flown, rather than the amount of carbon in tonnes they emit.
Because of this, SBTi recommends a focus on reduction, as well as investing in suppliers within an airline company’s value chain that will help them get to net zero eventually, such as by partnering with a supplier that’s developing zero emissions jet fuel. While these technologies are not ready to be rolled out yet, zero emission flight solutions will be critical in the medium term future, and they need funding and support from aviation companies now.
According to easyJet’s plans, this is exactly what they plan on doing.
“There are three main steps for a corporation mitigating their emissions,” explains Gegg. “First, account and disclose; then follow SBTi guidance to reduce value chain emissions; then set a budget to invest in decarbonisation based on the company’s remaining emissions.”
Once an organisation has that budget, they have a few options to invest the funds. They can fund internal projects to further reduce their own emissions over the coming years; they can invest in projects beyond their value chain, such as nature-based solutions to carbon sequestration, represented by carbon credits; or they can play a role in unlocking climate solutions in their sector.
easyJet is choosing the latter option, investing in the nascent technologies we are going to need very soon to deliver zero emissions flight.
According to the organisation’s press release, their ultimate goal is to eventually be flying with zero carbon emission hydrogen-powered aircraft. “easyJet is already working with partners across the industry, including Airbus and Rolls-Royce on several dedicated projects to accelerate the development of zero carbon emission aircraft technology,” the release states. “This is complemented by carbon removal technology to physically remove carbon from the atmosphere and Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) as an interim measure.”
This is a great sign according to Gegg and one he and the team are hopeful will signal to other aviation companies that a net zero future is accessible. “Kudos to them, a lot of aviation companies that have offsetting plans don’t necessarily complete that crucial second step of reducing emissions first,” he says.
“We hope to see more airline companies signing up to SBTi, moving through the three steps, and acknowledging that they have a liability. If they have a budget for that liability, R&D and carbon credits are both acceptable ways to spend it.”
And while at least 23 airline companies have signed up to SBTi, the organisation has only validated and ‘approved’ 5 of those plans, easyJet’s included. It’s a good indication of the shift in the market and a hopeful sign that more airlines will set their sights on an achievable net zero future.
Read about Palladium's commitment to SBTi here, or contact email@example.com for more.