JetBlue this week said it plans to become carbon-neutral by July, claiming it will be the first major U.S. carrier to offset all emissions from its domestic flights.
The move comes as the airline industry grapples with how to respond to growing calls to curb emissions from climate change activists. As the “plane-shaming” movement has gained momentum, mainly in Northern Europe, airlines are under increasing pressure to declare what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint. Aviation contributes about 2.6% of all global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
JetBlue’s plan is among the most ambitious, and potentially expensive – but the carrier said that it will not raise air fares to cover any of the costs. The company said it will earn carbon credits by investing in carbon-reduction projects that develop alternative sources of energy. The move is “the equivalent of removing more than 1.5 million passenger vehicles from the road” per year, the airline said.
Other airlines have come out with similar plans. EasyJet, a UK budget airline, late last year said it was already operating net-zero carbon flights throughout its entire network. The airline said it achieved this by partnering with forestry projects and other carbon-reducing programs.
British Airways and Air France have jumped on the bandwagon with their own plans, but given their size, it will take longer. Air France, for example, says it wants to cut its emissions per passenger by 50% by 2030. Qantas, which operates a significant number of ultra-long-haul flights, says it intends to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but in the meantime, it will be capping its emissions at 2020 levels, and will match passengers’ voluntary offsets. The airline said about 10% of its customers currently pay extra to offset their flights.
Major U.S. airlines have also come out with environmental goals. Alaska, Delta and United, among others, have carbon offset programs and are also aiming to be carbon-neutral within the next few decades.
But other airlines are emphasizing that sustainable fuels are the way to go, noting that carbon offsets do not really solve the problem. KLM said it is already purchasing sustainable aviation fuel, composed of used cooking oil, for some of its flights out of its Amsterdam hub. In its announcement this week, JetBlue said it will be testing sustainable fuels on flights out of San Francisco. But it could be many years before these alternative fuels are widely adopted; currently they are far more expensive than fossil fuels.