While the COVID-19 pandemic hit aviation hard, the industry is charting a path to recovery. As the industry recovers, it will once again face a challenge: How to 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 Chris Webb, Head of Carbon Markets at environmental group The Nature Conservancy, 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.

Despite carbon-offsetting schemes being established around a decade ago, the uptake has not been significant enough to make a difference to net emission levels in aviation. Aviation’s recovery must include reaffirming its work toward its carbon-reduction goals. It’s time to take a look at how offsets can help the aviation industry tackle 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 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.”

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 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.”

Nature: A Scalable and Viable Option to Reduce CO2 Emissions

Cost-effective nature-based projects have the potential to provide over a third of the climate mitigation needed to stabilize warming to below 2°C by 2030. We believe airlines that act today will create a positive impact on the climate while gaining a competitive advantage and improving resilience in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Questions? Need more information? Contact us.

Get more information about Shell Aviation, the future of sustainable flying and how we can help make this happen for your organization. Tell us a little about you and we’ll get in touch.

Watch: What will it take to scale Sustainable Aviation Fuel?

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the aviation industry hard. But as airlines chart a path to recovery, part of their return must include reducing the industry’s contribution to climate change. Bryan Sherbacow, Chief Commercial Officer of biofuel producer World Energy, discusses what it will take to help sustainable aviation fuel scale to the point where it will be competitive with conventional jet fuel.

Watch: How Can Aviation Usher in a “Low Emissions Age”?

The aviation industry is running out of time to deploy carbon-mitigation tools, such as sustainable aviation fuel, and consumers are increasingly demanding that airlines take action today. David Hone, Shell’s top climate adviser has warned that the short window in which to act poses a risk that the sector will fail to hit its goal to halve CO2 emissions by 2050 relative to 2005.