Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines have formally announced they will be joining other members of their airline alliances – oneworld and Star Alliance respectively – by committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Both carriers see a mix of investment in new, fuel-efficient aircraft fleet, operational efficiency, the use of high-quality carbon offsets and the adoption of low-carbon technology such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), to achieve the emission reduction goals. These carriers follow in the footsteps of Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Qantas in the Asia-Pacific region to confirm the goal, reports Mark Pilling. Meanwhile, Qantas, which was one of the first carriers to commit to the 2050 target back in 2019, is examining interim emissions reduction targets and what measures it would need to achieve them.
“The unprecedented pandemic has shaken the world and showed us that ‘business as usual’ is not an option when dealing with an imminent global risk,” said Cathay Pacific Chief Executive Augustus Tang, announcing the 2050 commitment. “Climate change, potentially a much more disruptive crisis, calls for ramped-up efforts.”
The Hong Kong-based carrier said it was increasing use of SAF, with the aim of making it viable for mainstream adoption. “To date, more than 200 tonnes of SAF have been used for delivery flights of our new aircraft from Airbus’ Toulouse facility since 2016,” it reported. “In 2014, we became the first airline investor in Fulcrum BioEnergy, a US-based company which is a pioneer in converting everyday household waste into sustainable aviation fuel. We’ve committed to purchasing 1.1 million tonnes of SAF over 10 years, which will cover around 2% of our total fuel requirements from 2023 onwards.”
At Singapore Airlines, Chief Executive Goh Choon Phong said: “We have remained focused on our sustainability goals even as we navigated the Covid-19 pandemic. We know this is also an increasingly important issue for both our customers and staff. With today’s pledge to achieve net zero emissions, we buttress the SIA Group’s leadership position on this topic and reinforce our commitment to finding ways to tackle our impact on the environment.”
Added the carrier: “Singapore Airlines has been an active member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG) since 2011. In 2017, SIA launched a series of green package flights from San Francisco to Singapore that incorporated SAF, fuel-efficient aircraft and optimised air traffic management measures. In 2020, SIA worked with Swedavia at Stockholm Arlanda’s Airport to uplift SAF on flights departing from the city. These activities have helped to improve the Group’s understanding of the logistics and procurement of renewable fuels. SIA is actively working with partners and stakeholders to explore opportunities to scale up the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels across our network.”
Beyond reducing direct emissions, carbon offsetting can play an important and complementary role, believes the airline. “The SIA Group is a participant in ICAO’s CORSIA scheme, which seeks to cap the industry’s growth in carbon emissions from 2020. While offsetting is particularly important in the mid-term, it is also expected to remain relevant in the long run to mitigate residual emissions. In order to secure high quality carbon offsets, the Group will continue exploring pathways through partnerships that will allow us to source high quality carbon offsets.”
Qantas is looking beyond a top-line 2050 target and thinking about how to manipulate the different emissions reduction levers at its disposal to set interim goals. “We were early [in committing to 2050] and a lot of airlines have caught up so we’re now looking at how we get back towards the front of that pack,” said David Young, Executive Manager Sustainability and Future Planet, Qantas Group, speaking at a recent IATA webinar on carbon markets.
“I think one of the challenges, which we’re all seeing, is that 2050 has almost become very old news and we’re all starting to seriously think about what 2030 looks like in terms of interim targets,” said Young. “Increasingly, that will focus everyone’s minds, particularly airlines, as we start to work through what’s going to be available to us between now and 2030 to meet those interim targets.”
For the Australian carrier, the main point of debate on the route to 2050 is whether SAF or carbon offsets dominate, said Young. “Probably in the shorter term, offsets will play a much greater role, certainly in getting us to our interim targets, so it’s quite an important piece of work for us.”
Young told the webinar the strategic use of offsets has been the foundation of sustainability commitments at Qantas for over a decade. He said the airline group is building internal capacity to deliver against voluntary and compliance commitments, and that it is well positioned to manage forward compliance risk associated with CORSIA and stricter compliance obligations.
“We have a constant challenge of deciding at what point the volume of offsets you need to buy become so significant, and potentially such a risk, that you need to have a trading desk set up within the treasury function of the airline,” said Young. “And that’s something I think as airlines start to get bigger, they may well choose to do that directly rather than through partners.”
One theme all agree on is the need for players to team up, as SIA’s Goh explains: “As the SIA Group embarks on this journey towards net zero emissions by 2050, it will continue to collaborate with like-minded partners to develop a robust sustainable aviation fuel supply chain and carbon market. This includes working together with stakeholders in Singapore to develop a holistic decarbonisation plan, which complements Singapore’s goal of strengthening the country’s air hub and maintaining its competitive advantage into the future.”
Image: Cathay Pacific