Carbon Offsets Remain Critical To Neutrality for Now

 - November 10, 2021, 7:55 PM

While the hope in the coming decades is to move away from carbon offsets in favor of use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), electric, hydrogen, or other options, 4Air president Kennedy Ricci called these credits an important tool in the effort to move toward business aviation's carbon-neutrality goal. 

“There’s no silver bullet within the challenges we face,” Ricci said on Wednesday during AIN’s Building a Sustainable Flight Department forum. “Each one of these technologies will have a place….[and] an incremental benefit that will play a role in 2050.”

Today, a limited amount of SAF is available, with offsets as the biggest tool available for carbon-neutrality. In the more immediate future, more SAF will be available, but with the growth of flight hours, more offsets will be necessary. Longer-range, more tools will be available, from hydrogen to electric to more efficient routing to expansion of on-ground solutions such as solar.

Currently, offsets are cost-efficient for meeting sustainability goals, running about $30 to $40 a flight hour on large-cabin aircraft. Their use is particularly important because carbon is only a portion of the industry's warming impact. Other areas, such as nitrous oxide and water vapor from contrails that he said are gaining more attention. “There is more than just the carbon footprint, and you're starting to see an increase in the conversation…about those non-carbon warming impacts,” Ricci said, noting that some have an “outsized proportion” on global warming because they occur higher in the atmosphere.

“We can neutralize that. We can look at carbon offsets today as a way as a method to negate that impact,” he said. “But that’s not the end goal. Today offsets should be part of the solution, but ideally by 2050 it’s something we shouldn't need to use.”

He acknowledged criticisms that the industry needs to do more than offsets and said that’s where SAF becomes central to operations. “Sustainable aviation fuel doesn't have to be all of your fuel burn. Even 2 percent to 5 percent of your fuel burn sends a strong demand signal to producers of sustainable fuel.”

He said offset projects must meet strict criteria. “This isn’t planting a tree in the backyard and calling it an offset.” To be counted as an offset, projects must have a permanent benefit, be an additional benefit—it “can’t have happened anyway," be verifiable, be legally enforceable, and be real that can be registered, Ricci said.

Four registries currently can track the offsets, providing transparency for the offsets, according to Ricci.