EasyJet is to stop offsetting carbon emissions by its planes as it unveiled a “roadmap to net zero” emissions by 2050 including introducing hydrogen-powered jet engines.
Other elements of easyJet’s new strategy include using sustainable aviation fuel, more fuel-efficient planes and carbon capture to reach the target.
EasyJet insisted it was the most ambitious plan yet from an airline to tackle emissions, while it continued to partner with firms on exploring new technologies.
The airline signed a three-year contract in late 2019 to offset all its CO2 emissions – a world first, and a move that was then said to be costing the airline about £25m a year, but it was regarded by some as greenwashing the environmental damage caused by its passenger jets.
Last year, a joint investigation by the Guardian revealed that major airlines including easyJet were using unreliable “phantom” carbon credits to claim their flights were carbon neutral. Under the logic of offsetting, the CO2 emissions from flying are theoretically cancelled out by paying to stop emissions elsewhere, such as those from deforestation.
EasyJet said it would no longer pay for offsets for bookings made after December. It has not disclosed the sums it eventually paid for the controversial offsets but said it “will not invest less” in making flying less polluting and more sustainable.
In a launch event on Monday at easyJet’s Luton airport headquarters, its partner Rolls-Royce displayed a jet engine to be powered by hydrogen, and said it was “progressing fast towards hydrogen combustion ground tests”.
EasyJet plans to curb CO2 emissions by 35% by 2035 as part of its new roadmap, and said the steps it was taking had been validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative.
The most significant imminent reduction, of about 15% of current emissions, would come through fleet replacement of conventional kerosene-fuelled planes.
EasyJet has ordered 168 more A320neos from Airbus, and the manufacturer will also retrofit the existing fleet with technology to optimise flight descent and fuel burn.
The easyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said that the plan had a “level of detail and granularity” that marked it out from similar aviation announcements – although the roadmap remained partially reliant on schemes such as airspace modernisation that require government action that had not been forthcoming in a decade.
Lundgren added: “Since 2000, over a 20-year period, we have already reduced our carbon emissions per passenger, per kilometre, by one-third, so this marks a significant acceleration in our decarbonisation.
“Today we’re the first airline to outline an ambitious roadmap in which zero carbon emission technology plays a key role to take us to net zero emissions by 2050 and ultimately to zero carbon emission flying across our entire fleet.”
The airline believes it can cut its own emissions by 78% by 2050, with carbon capture technology allowing it to reach net zero.
Despite moving away from offsetting, Lundgren insisted that it had “been the right thing to do” but was “only ever an interim measure”. He added: “We’ve said all along that we want to transition to technologies that reduce our carbon intensity from our direct operation, that’s our key goal.”
The Guardian investigation with Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative arm, found that the carbon credits were based on complicated and unreliable hypothetical calculations of avoided deforestation, which experts warned were not real emission reductions. The findings were fiercely criticised by Verra, the carbon offsetting standard that approved the credits.
An easyJet spokesperson said the decision to move away from offsetting “was not related to the performance of our offsetting partners or quality of their projects or credits over which we have no concerns”.
In another potential move towards zero-emission flight, the Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace announced on Monday that it had achieved the first hovering test flight of its VX4 prototype electric plane over the weekend.