Following the recent launch of British Airways’ CO2llaborate online platform that enables customers to address the carbon footprint of their flights through the purchase of carbon offsets and/or sustainable aviation fuel, a new third option has been provided in the form of carbon removals. Whereas traditional carbon offsets are created when a project avoids, reduces or removes additional CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, carbon removal credits are issued by nature, biomass or technology based projects that remove CO2 from the atmosphere or from the carbon cycle. The platform offers customers a choice of a combination of carbon offsetting and SAF or carbon removals and SAF, with a slider for each option to select the preferred amount of SAF. Two independently certified carbon removal projects are being supported, one restoring a mangrove forest in the Indus Delta area of Pakistan and the other a biochar project in Oregon, USA. More projects are expected to be added over time, said the airline.
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), also known as negative CO2 emissions, is a process in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered for long periods of time. The carbon removal sector is still comparatively young, but is increasingly being seen by scientists, governments and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as essential to address climate impacts. The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report said the deployment of CDR to counterbalance hard-to-abate residual emissions from sectors like transportation is unavoidable if net zero CO2 or GHG emissions are to be achieved. By the end of the century, carbon removal will be expected to help achieve net-negative emissions and bring temperatures back down from their peak.
CDR encompasses a wide array of approaches, including direct air capture (DAC) coupled to durable storage, soil carbon sequestration, biomass carbon removal and storage, enhanced mineralisation, ocean-based CDR and afforestation and reforestation.
As part of its commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 “or sooner”, with its parent company International Airlines Group (IAG), British Airways says it is supporting research and innovation to help accelerate the development of CDR solutions. “The airline is considering projects that are immediately available and independently verified today, as well as more innovative technology solutions,” it said.
Coastal blue carbon ecosystems are some of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, with an estimated 340,000 to 980,000 hectares being destroyed each year. The nature-based Delta Blue Carbon mangrove forest restoration project claims to be the biggest of its kind in the world, being implemented over an area of 350,000 hectares in total – an area the size of Luxembourg – with reforestation and revegetation comprising 226,000 hectares. In recent decades the mangroves were devastated by large-scale deforestation and used as fuel and fodder, with further damage caused by open-range livestock grazing.
In just six years, tens of millions of mangrove seedlings have been re-planted, restoring more than 73,000 hectares of degraded mangrove forests and tidal wetlands. Over the next 60 years, the wetlands are expected to sequester an estimated 142 million tonnes of CO2e. Studies have found that mangrove forests can hold up to four times more carbon than other tropical rainforests.
The project is one of the first to use Verra’s Blue Carbon tidal wetland methodology, which accounts for the effects of sea level rise over the project’s lifetime. It is certified by VCS (Verified Carbon Standard) and CCB (Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards).
The Delta Blue Carbon mangrove forest project
In the second project, timber company Freres Lumber’s biomass power production plant produces biochar, a carbon-rich charcoal-like material that is created when agricultural and wood waste is used as fuel. The process locks carbon into the solid material and prevents it from naturally decaying and keeping it out of the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Carbon that is stored in the biochar was originally harvested from the atmosphere through photosynthesis of the tree.
Last year, Freres joined international online marketplace Puro.earth, which helps companies reduce or eliminate their carbon footprints. The vehicle used to measure and report the amount of sequestered carbon is called a CO2 Removal Certificate, or a CORC, and buyers retire CORCs in the Puro registry to support their sustainability or net zero claims. Puro certifies suppliers based on the Puro Standard, with removals independently verified by a third party. The Puro Standard is the first carbon removal standard for engineered carbon removal methods in the voluntary carbon market, with carbon removal methodologies aligned with the IPCC definition for carbon removal. Each CORC represents a volume of one tonne of CO2 removal and the Puro website quotes a price of €110 per Freres Biochar CORC.
The cost of choosing carbon removal on BA’s CO2llaborate platform – a partnership with climate tech company Chooose – is therefore more expensive than the carbon offsetting option. As an example, a round-trip journey in economy class between London and New York results in CO2e emissions of just under 700kgs per passenger. The adjustable slider defaults to a preferred 10% use of SAF against a 90% use of carbon offsetting, or 90% carbon removals if this option is chosen. The former choice would carry a price of £20.17 ($24), the latter more than double at £44.91. Choosing carbon offsetting entirely would cost £7.66 compared to £33.35 if opting for 100% carbon removal. Customer contributions to the SAF option are supporting the purchase of renewable fuel through BA’s partnership with Phillips 66, which is added to the existing fuel pipeline at Heathrow Airport.
The airline is already offsetting the carbon emissions of all its flights within the UK. For flights within Europe, the emissions calculation is adjusted to reflect British Airways’ participation in regulatory emissions trading systems such as the EU ETS and UK ETS so that emissions are not double counted.
“In 2019, when we committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, we identified that a vital way to meet this goal would be by using carbon removals and we currently expect that these could contribute up to a third of our total action,” commented Carrie Harris, Director of Sustainability at British Airways. “While we continue to drive action to reduce our emissions now, including by improving operational efficiency, investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft and scaling up the availability of sustainable aviation fuel, we’re excited to be supporting research and innovation to accelerate the scale-up of carbon removal solutions.
“By choosing carbon removal projects as part of their action to address the emissions associated with flying, our customers are not only joining us on our journey to a more sustainable future, but also helping accelerate the development of the vital carbon removal industry.”
In July, BA parent IAG joined with Airbus and a number of major airlines to sign Letters of Intent to explore opportunities for a future supply of carbon removal credits from direct air carbon capture technology. As part of the agreements, the airlines have committed to engage in negotiations on the possible pre-purchase of verified and durable carbon removal credits starting in 2028 through to 2028. The carbon removal credits will be issued by Airbus partner 1PointFive – a subsidiary of Occidental’s Low Carbon Ventures business and the global deployment partner of DAC company Carbon Engineering. The Airbus partnership with 1PointFive includes the pre-purchase of 400,000 tonnes of carbon removal credits to be delivered over four years.
On November 30, the European Commission is expected to table a legislative proposal that would establish a regulatory framework for the certification of carbon removals.
BA Better World explainer video on carbon removals
Top photo: British Airways