The aviation industry has undoubtedly contributed to opportunities for economic progress and the development of social and urban cultures all over the world. However, with the industry contributing to 2%1 of the world’s total percentage of carbon emissions, there is growing recognition that progress cannot be at the expense of our climate. Collaboration remains crucial to accelerate aviation’s pathway to net-zero emissions. There is a need for all parties who benefit from aviation’s progress — governments, businesses, and passengers — to work together and tackle this challenge.

Alex Macheras, an aviation analyst, travel journalist, and a regular on the world’s leading international news networks, speaks with airlines and industry experts to explore how we can fly and emit less through the avoid, reduce, offset framework, and the role nature-based carbon credits play in bringing the industry closer to its net-zero goals.

Avoid, Reduce, Offset

One of the possible ways to mitigate climate change is by avoiding emissions. This means optimising routes, improving energy efficiency of new aircrafts, and flying sensibly. Another alternative is to reduce carbon emissions through using lower carbon fuels such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and enhancing operational efficiencies

However, measures that help avoid and reduce emissions can take time to impact at scale. Carbon offsetting is an integral part of the solution in reducing carbon emissions, and to help close the gap between carbon emissions generated today and our carbon neutral goals, a market-based measure called CORSIA or Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation was developed.

The first step in making a difference

In Macheras’ interview with Adrian Gane, Director of Sustainability & International Affairs at Etihad Airways, Gane shared that Etihad Airways has put in place bold plans for net-zero emissions by 2050, and has introduced several measures to move in that direction. The airline has launched its Greenliner programme to test green technologies on its 787 fleet. In January, Etihad Airways announced that the airline is expanding its offset programme in collaboration with Shell, through the use of high-quality, nature-based carbon offsets. Passengers flying with Etihad Airways will also have the opportunity to be part of the solution as there there will soon be an option for them to purchase additional offsets to compensate for their carbon emissions. Gane emphasised that it is important to have the right measures in place to secure the future of the aviation industry. “We as a company have to show leadership in terms of addressing our emissions. Through our Greenliner programme we encourage partners from across the aviation sector to join and test sustainability initiatives on scheduled 787 operations, with the results and most sustainable initiatives used as a base for improving the performance and decarbonisation agenda of the global aviation community.” Gane said.

Choosing carbon credits that positively impact the future

Macheras speaks with Duncan van Bergen, Former Vice President of Shell’s Nature Based Solutions business, to understand the elements that companies and individuals should look out for when choosing the type of carbon offsets to invest in. On top of ensuring that carbon credits are validated by internationally recognised standards bodies like Verra, Gold Standard and the American Carbon Registry, he cited the relevance of applying an additional, independent layer of scrutiny to assess whether criteria such as additionality, permanence and leakage prevention are properly addressed. He also highlights that on top of carbon sequestration, it is important that projects generating carbon credits create a positive impact on the community and biodiversity.

Macheras concludes that tackling climate change demands a collaborative approach across all stakeholders in the industry. Carbon offsets will not be able to completely address the problem of climate change. However, high quality carbon offsets, when deployed alongside technological measures like Sustainable Aviation Fuel, provides a viable pathway for the aviation industry to take action today. Reducing aviation’s carbon emissions is not a solo endeavour, all parties such as airlines, airports, governments, businesses and passengers have a role to play.

1 Working Towards Ambitious Targets. (n.d.). IATA. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.iata.org/en/programs/environment/climate-change/