24 February, 2020
This week, easyJet became the first major airline to announce it will offset all carbon emissions from the fuel it burns, at an estimated cost of £25 million a year. None of this will – according to the airline – be passed on to passengers in higher fare costs. This puts easyJet well ahead of any of its competitors on the path to net-zero (BA, for example, has committed to net zero by 2050, offsetting carbon emissions from domestic flights from next year), and comes with commitments to underlying carbon reduction alongside the headline-grabbing offset pledge.
That said, offsetting does not hold all of the answers for anyone looking to reduce carbon. We question whether you should be able to credibly claim net-zero status if underlying emissions continue to rise (as they are forecast to do in the airline industry), and this is likely to become an increasingly important point of discussion over the next few years – we would like to see claims to be moving towards “net-zero” underpinned by robust science-based targets committing businesses to reductions in carbon emissions. There are also very real ethical and structural challenges around offsets – there are arguably too few good quality offset initiatives around to meet fast growing demand, and those that exist are vulnerable to criticisms that they displace the problem and do little to halt rising emissions.
And in the long run, gross, not net, zero remains the ultimate goal, which means curbing the activities that create emissions or finding zero carbon solutions, as does taking on the thorny issue of historic emissions, as well as future emissions. But in a sector that has historically moved far too slowly on carbon, and has hidden behind a less-than-effective industry initiative, easyJet’s leadership is nonetheless a welcome step.