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.

Read: What does the aviation industry need to know about carbon offsets?

Looking to the future of sustainable aviation, Joel Makower and Chris Webb discuss where the industry is headed, and how airlines can unlock consumer demand, stay on top of emerging trends, and position themselves as leaders in the industry.

Read: How can airlines offset their CO₂ emissions?

There is immense pressure on airlines to take immediate and extensive action to reduce and offset emissions. Joel Makower and Chris Webb discuss the mounting challenges airline executives are facing, and how they can demonstrate their actions and commitments to consumers.

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