Watch: Nature’s role in tackling aviation emissions
Airlines are feeling pressure to curb CO2 emissions today. Until sustainable fuel and technology solutions are deployed to help avoid and reduce emissions directly, the industry will also need comprehensive carbon offset programmes if it is to meet its net emissions reduction targets. The Nature Conservancy’s Chris Webb points to airlines’ opportunity to benefit from the most effective carbon sink “technology” available today: nature itself.
The aviation industry faces a challenge. How can people fly and emit less? Consumers are increasingly demanding that airlines take urgent action to tackle their environmental effect, yet new technologies and sustainable fuels are many years from making an impact at the scale required.
Green Biz’s Joel Makower met with leading Chris Webb, Head of Carbon Markets at environmental group The Nature Conservancy’s Chris Webb, Head of Carbon Markets, to talk about how investing in forests can help solve the problem. He explains that nature-based carbon offsets, such as tree-planting and restoring wetlands, can help airlines tackle the impact of emissions on the environment and address consumer concerns.
Nature’s role in tackling aviation emissions
Title: CHRIS WEBB INTERVIEW
Duration: 4:57 minutes
In this video, Joel Makower interviews Chris Webb about what will it take to make aviation more sustainable
CHRIS WEBB INTERVIEW – MASTER Transcript
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Flightpath: Charting the Route to Sustainable Aviation
This Episode: Harnessing Nature to Tackle Emissions
Interview with Chris Webb
I'm Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com. We're talking about what will it take to make aviation sustainable. Here with Chris Webb, head of Carbon Markets for the Nature Conservancy. So let's talk about aviation. What's the role of carbon offsets in making aviation sustainable?
Director of Climate Markets
The Nature Conservancy Europe
Offsets within aviation have actually been around for a long while now. IATA has had a voluntary scheme that airlines could sign up to for over a decade to enable airlines to offer offsets to their consumers. And over time, we’ve seen more and more airlines actually use offsetting as a tool to help balance the emissions associated with some portion of their flights. That is the realm of sort of voluntary offsetting. There’s also impending the CORSIA scheme. And that scheme requires the sector to a target of net zero growth from 2020. And it’s expected that offsetting, particularly in the near-term which in this sector is probably somewhere between five and fifteen to twenty years, that offsetting will be a key tool that the sector will rely on to deliver that net zero growth target.
Some airline executives are taking a "wait and see" approach when it comes to offsets. They're waiting to see what kind of mandates, regulations or other things come along and also waiting to see what some of the leadership, what their peers are doing before they jump in. What would you like airline executives to know about offsets that they don't seem to quite get?
Consumers and customers are rapidly demanding more of companies by way of taking action to tackle climate change. And given the aviation sector's footprint right now, offsetting could be a really big part in their response to customers. So the first is, I think, customers' requirements and demands of these company are going to change very quickly. Second, is that because of the upcoming CORSIA scheme, offsetting will be a part of how airlines tackle climate change. Our advice to companies, airlines included, is that you know this is coming. We think that those airlines that will succeed once the CORSIA scheme hits are those that have got in early and understood what it takes to generate high integrity, at-scale offset projects and have built the expertise and relationships and networks to do so.
How do we make sure that the trees that we’re planting to offset carbon for aviation, or anything else are going to do what we set them out to do?
in the last decade or so, we’ve learned a huge amount from trying different projects and different tools to help deal with that risk. And there are a number of things that projects do now to help manage that risk. One of those is at a project level where understanding those risks and building that into the design of a program is much more sophisticated than it was even five or ten years ago. The second is at a standard level. So, when you have a number of projects that all follow the same standard, those standards now often use what’s called a buffer mechanism. Essentially, it’s a tool that sets aside a portion of the offsets for events that might result in those trees disappearing for one reason or another – fire, pests, other issues.
How big of a role could offsets potentially play in neutralizing the environmental and climate impacts of aviation?
Offsetting has a large role to play, particularly in the near-term. The CORSIA scheme I mentioned earlier has the bulk of those emissions reductions in the next decade or so coming from offsets. But ultimately over time, that will need to diminish. As we get to 2050, there is essentially a very, very small space for offsetting. While in the near-term, we see offsetting providing perhaps the majority of the emissions reductions required, in the long-term that will have to go to very close to zero.
So we've seen huge growth in the voluntary carbon market and in carbon offsets writ large around the world in recent times. And I think that will continue in the coming future. I think there are a couple of trends that are worth picking out there. One is, we do continue to see nature and nature-based offsets getting more and more important within the offsetting world and I think that will continue. The other is that I think companies will start to see greater expectations around the role that offsetting plays in raising their ambition. They will be held to an even higher bar in the near future than perhaps they were in previous years.
Chris Webb is head of Carbon Markets for the Nature Conservancy. Thanks so much Chris.
Thank you Joel.
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The views, information, or opinions expressed during this video series are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of the Shell group of companies and its employees. Shell Aviation has funded the production and recording of this video to drive sustainability conversations in the aviation industry.
Despite carbon offsetting schemes being established around a decade ago, the uptake has not been significant enough to make a difference to emission levels in aviation. But with passenger numbers set to double by 2037 it’s time to reassess how offsets can help the aviation industry tackle carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions until more sustainable solutions, such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and new technologies can be implemented at scale.
Passenger expectations are growing
In 2019, the world became familiar with the Swedish word “flygskam”, which literally translates as “flight shame”. It quickly became synonymous with a growing anti-flying movement and a call to action.
“Consumers and customers are rapidly demanding companies take action to tackle climate change. And given the aviation sector’s footprint right now, along with decarbonising their core operations, offsetting could be an important part of their response to customers in the near term,” Webb said.
“Over time, we’ve seen more airlines actually use offsetting as a tool to help balance the unavoidable near-term emissions associated with some portion of their flights,” he added. “They will be held to an even higher bar in the near future than they were in previous years.”
The aviation industry is also implementing the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which aims to hold the sector to net-zero carbon growth from 2020. Under CORSIA, most of the reductions over the next decade will come from offsets, Webb said.
Stricter standards and greater resilience
“Concerns about the quality and permanence of nature-based offsets have largely been addressed over time through more rigorous standards and sophisticated programme design," Webb said.
“Those standards often use what’s called a ‘buffer mechanism’. Essentially, it’s a tool that sets aside a portion of the offsets for events that might result in those trees disappearing for one reason or another – fire, pest, other issues.”
An urgent need for airlines to act
Webb warned that airlines taking a wait-and-see approach are in danger of finding themselves left behind by more proactive competitors.
“Those airlines that will likely be placed to succeed once the CORSIA scheme hits are those that have got in early and understand what it takes to generate high-integrity and at-scale offset projects, and have built the expertise and relationships and networks to do so.”
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Offsets alone cannot tackle aviation’s emissions challenge. Sustainable Aviation Fuel must play a major role, but what will it take to get SAF volumes to scale sooner? To address this and other questions, Joel Makower meets with Bryan Sherbacow, Chief Commercial Officer of World Energy, in the next programme in this series. Please sign up here now to receive this and other series updates.
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