EasyJet plans to ditch its landmark carbon offsetting scheme as it becomes one of the first companies to drop a controversial practice taken up by hundreds of groups around the world aiming to hit net zero emissions targets by 2050.
The low-cost airline will instead focus on investing in new technologies to cut emissions as it stops paying to offset all carbon from its flights by the end of this year.
EasyJet became one of the first major airlines to offset all of its emissions when it launched its programme in 2019.
Chief executive Johan Lundgren said the money would be better spent on new technologies, ranging from more fuel efficient aircraft to switching to greener fuels and untried technology using hydrogen to power aircraft.
This will reduce its emissions by 78 per cent by 2050, with the remaining 22 per cent cut by using nascent carbon capture technology, yet to be used at scale.
“It makes much more sense to invest into direct initiatives that reduce our own carbon intensity,” he said.
“Our carbon offsetting programme has been the right thing to do . . . [but] you need to deal with your own operations, you cannot rely on out-of-sector initiatives,” he said.
Carbon offsetting credits have soared in popularity in recent years as businesses have made net zero emissions commitments and customers have grown more climate conscious.
The credits are each supposed to represent a tonne of carbon removed or avoided from the atmosphere, and are generated by investments in environmental projects such as tree planting schemes.
However, critics say offsets often do not deliver the environmental benefits they promise, and that purchasing the credits, many of which are available for under $5, can be a cheap way to maintain business as usual.
The Science Based Targets initiative, which approves corporate net zero targets, said offsets could only be used to compensate for a small portion of residual emissions that cannot be eliminated in the long term.
EasyJet’s shift contrasts with some other airlines.
US carrier Delta Air Lines spent $137mn to buy and use 27mn offsets last year, while airline British Airways claims that all its domestic UK flights are “carbon neutral” since the company buys offsets to cover the journeys.
With few other technologies commercially available, most airlines are leaning on offsets in their net zero plans, according to a recent report from S&P Global.
Airlines will rely on offsets to decarbonise 97 per cent of their operations in 2025, S&P said. By 2050, that is expected to drop to 8 per cent.
EasyJet said it had offset nearly 8.7mn tonnes of emissions since the launch of the scheme in 2019, and it would continue to offer customers the chance to voluntarily pay to offset their own emissions.
It did not disclose how much it had paid for the offsets since 2019.