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British Airways Set Short-Term Targets on Zero Emissions Commitment to 2050

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The British Airways sector is setting 10-year and 20-year targets to reduce carbon emissions to reinforce its commitment to achieving a net zero CO2 target by 2050.

Under the auspices of the Sustainable Aviation Alliance, British airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service providers have pledged to reduce or offset their sector’s net emissions by 15% in 2030 and 40% in 2040 compared to 2019 levels.

However, much of that goal must be met through offset schemes or carbon removal technologies that have not yet been fully commercialized.

The pledge, which will be unveiled on Tuesday, comes as the government considers measures to meet its own plans to reduce the UK’s emissions by 78% by 2035 and net zero by 2050. This may include requiring minimum levels of sustainable fuel for all flights.

Aviation emissions accounted for 7% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, according to the Climate Change Commission.

British Airways’ Sean Doyle, Gatwick Airport’s Stewart Wingate and Manchester Airport Group’s Charlie Cornish are among the airline’s chief executives behind this commitment.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s CEO, is one of the proponents of the promise to achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050. © Alamy

But the industry is also warning that governments must move faster to encourage investment in the early clean technologies the target depends on. Support was needed to commercialize carbon removal technology and lower the cost of green fuel, the alliance said.

“If the government does not lag behind sustainable aviation fuel and other technologies, the industry will. . . We had to buy a solution,” said Andy Jefferson, Program Director at Sustainable Aviation. “The industry needs to buy more credits to address residual emissions.”

One of the biggest challenges is supply, says Rolls-Royce, which plans to have all commercial engines in production run on 100 percent sustainable fuels by 2023.

“We need to expand the availability of sustainable fuels and balance economics,” said Rachael Everard, the group’s head of sustainability. “Technology is not the limiting factor.”

The goal is in addition to the net-zero plan unveiled last year. They show that 56% of emissions reductions in 2030 will come primarily from market-based initiatives such as Corsia, a carbon offset system in aviation, and emission trading plans in the EU and UK.

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Carbon removal technologies and market-based measures will account for 47% of savings by 2040. New, clean aircraft will account for around 31% in 2030 and 38% in 2040.

According to the study, the industry will emit 25 million tonnes of carbon by 2050, which will be mitigated by purchasing carbon removal services or using offset schemes.

Matt Finch, UK Policy Manager for Transport and the Environment, said the industry is still trying to get the cake and eat it as it “works to get itself out of emissions poisoning through offsetting. . . The end point for 2050 is to bring total greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible. Instead, we plan to release more than half of what we do now.”

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Curious about FT’s commitment to environmental sustainability? Learn more about science-based goals here.

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