Qantas Announces 2050 Net-Zero Emissions Goal

Qantas aims to be a net-zero emissions carrier by 2050, setting a series of environmental goals yesterday, Monday, November 11, 2019, that it calls the most ambitious carbon emissions goals of any airline group. These environmental goals cover Qantas, QantasLink, Jetstar, and Qantas Freight.

Qantas has a new goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Starting immediately, Qantas is going to do three things. Firstly, it is going to double the number of flights being offset. Secondly, net emissions from 2020 onwards will be capped. Finally, Qantas will invest $50m over 10 years to help develop a sustainable aviation fuel industry.

IAG is the only other airline group to have similar goals to Qantas. But Qantas sees its goals as further reaching and placing it right at the industry forefront when addressing environmental concerns. In a statement provided to Simple Flying, Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce said:

“We recognize that airlines have a responsibility to cut emissions and combat climate change.”

Mr Joyce said these goals and the 2050 net emissions outcome is important to customers, employees and shareholders.

Ramping up the existing carbon offset program

Alan Joyce says Qantas runs the most popular carbon offset program in the aviation world, with 10% of passengers electing to offset their flights. He notes the global aviation industry standard is 1%.

Qantas will now match their passenger’s carbon offsets, dollar for dollar, effectively doubling the number of flights being offset.

Mr Joyce was challenged on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National Breakfast yesterday about why Qantas’ financial contribution was dependant on what passengers contributed. Why wasn’t Qantas doing more itself? Mr Joyce said the current carbon offset program was successful and he wanted to grow this. He saw this as a good way of doing so.

10% of passengers currently offset their flights. This is high by industry standards. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Mr Joyce also noted that Qantas was spending money, but he said;

“We have to look at what we’re spending money on, and how we manage the investments we are making that make the biggest contribution to environmental change … there’s sustainable aviation fuels and new aircraft technologies which have a real impact on this.”

Cutting net emissions

Qantas is now the only airline seeking to cap its net emissions at 2020 levels.

Qantas notes that it has a range of current and future programs that are focused on cutting net emissions. The airline industry contributes approximately 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions and the industry is generally committed to halving emissions by 2050.

Mr Joyce has talked about some fairly prosaic projects such as outfitting aircraft with lighter crockery and cutlery, cutting the use of plastics and reducing landfill. He also points out the bigger ticket items.

The retirement of the Qantas 747s will see the end of one fuel guzzling high carbon-emitting member of the Qantas fleet. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Next year should see the end of the Qantas 747s. Mr Joyce points out that Qantas’ new generation aircraft, the 787, has 20% less carbon emissions than a 747. Jetstar’s new long-range A321neos will use 15% less fuel than the aircraft they are replacing. Mr Joyce sees retiring older less fuel-efficient aircraft as key to both capping and cutting emissions over the longer run.

Crossing the Pacific on mustard seed fuel

Qantas is going to pump AUD$50 million into developing a sustainable aviation fuel over the next ten years. Some sustainable fuels can reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to traditional jet fuel. On Radio National Breakfast yesterday, Mr Joyce cited the example of using a mustard seed fuel on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne.

The technology is there and it can be done – it has been done, but there are some issues to resolve. Mr Joyce said;

“We know the technology is possible. It’s to actually do it commercially and to do it on scale and not impact on other environmental concerns like taking away from food crops or increasing the cost of food crops … it will take some time to get there.”

Just another typical Qantas PR stunt in search of a headline?

Mr Joyce was challenged yesterday on Radio National. Were these goals achievable?  Was this just another good PR line in search of a headline? 

Mr Joyce swung back. He says Qantas is doing what it can it minimize its impact on the environment. The airline has always achieved its environmental goals. He expects Qantas to achieve these new goals and Mr Joyce expects to be held accountable (but tenacious as he is, it is unlikely that Mr Joyce will still be in the Qantas hot seat in 2050).

Alan Joyce expects to held accountable for his 2050 goals. Photo: Qantas News Room.

Mr Joyce said;

“When we (Qantas) put our minds to this, and put the whole organisation behind it, I think we can achieve it.”

Mr Joyce argues we can both enjoy the benefits of aviation and reduce its environmental impact. It is not a zero-sum game. He expects yesterday’s environmental commitment will help drive the positives of aviation – the economic activity, job creation, the connectivity, and the opportunities it gives people around the world.