British Airways Parent to Outline Path to Climate Neutrality

British Airways parent IAG SA will outline its plan to lower emissions, including the use of carbon offsets, when the airline group’s new chief speaks at a United Nations summit this weekend.

Chief Executive Officer Luis Gallego, who is set to address the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit on Saturday, will provide a road map toward fulfilling IAG’s pledge of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to a spokeswoman for the carrier.

British Airways Parent to Outline Path to Climate Neutrality

IAG was the first in its industry to make the pledge in 2019, though it has been criticized for relying too much on offset measures such as tree-planting for the reduction. It aims to use carbon offsets and removals to compensate for 43% of annual emissions by 2050, according to its carbon-disclosure report. IAG intends not to use offsets at all by that year, the spokeswoman added.

IAG has argued that there are few alternatives for airlines for the time being.

“For a decade, IAG has been leading aviation’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint,” IAG said in an email. “Unlike other industries, aviation does not have an immediate alternative to fossil fuels but we have a road map to reduce our carbon footprint.”

IAG is investing in new planes that are up to 40% more fuel efficient and said it was working with start-ups to explore hydrogen powered aircraft, it said. It is also investing $400 million in sustainable aviation fuel made from waste which produce 70% less carbon dioxide, the carrier group said.

Standards Test

However, IAG’s target isn’t approved by the Science Based Targets initiative, the leading standard for carbon-reduction plans which encourages companies aiming for net zero to decarbonize in line with Paris Agreement targets before looking to offsets.

Carbon offsets can be hard to trace and assure, and carbon capture, which draws carbon dioxide from the air, is still in its infancy. The target also focuses on IAG’s direct emissions, known as Scope 1 and 2, and not on its entire supply chain.

IAG, whose 2050 pledge was followed this week by U.S. rival United Airlines Holdings Inc., has joined an SBTi working group to review what a pathway toward carbon neutrality should look like for aviation. IAG says it will apply for SBTi approval for its target once these new standards have been finalized.

“We are aware that the SBTi does not currently accept the use of offsets as part of decarbonization plans,” IAG said in its 2020 carbon-disclosure report. “However, we believe high-quality offsets have a valuable role to play.”

Industry Challenge

The aviation industry added more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2019, according to BloombergNEF. While emissions are set to plummet this year because of Covid-19, that drop will be temporary. As growth in air transport resumes and other industries scale back on emissions, aviation is forecast to account for a rising share of carbon pollution in coming decades.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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