Delta is going carbon neutral

One of the biggest airlines in the world, Delta, has just committed to going carbon neutral. Its pledge — to cancel out all of the greenhouse gas emissions it produces — is one of the most ambitious climate commitments ever made by an airline.

Delta will spend $1 billion over the next 10 years to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and invest in ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Starting next month, the airline will work toward canceling out emissions from its flights and ground operations.

The new commitment builds on previous efforts by Delta and other airlines to meet consumers’ growing worries about how flights are disproportionately helping to heat up the planet. A roundtrip flight from London to New York City generates as much carbon dioxide as a single individual might put out over the course of a year in 56 different countries, according to an analysis by The Guardian.

“We don’t ever want to put customers in a position between having to choose a great travel experience, versus the impact they have on our planet,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a video announcement.

Right now, about 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions come from aviation. But that number is expected to grow rapidly unless airlines take measures to shrink their carbon footprint. Greenhouse gases coming from aviation have jumped by nearly a third in the past five years alone, according to a report by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation. Global aviation emissions have been forecast to triple by 2050.

Delta emits around 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of emissions from about 10 coal-fired power plants. The company has worked to cap it at that level since 2012; 98 percent of Delta’s carbon dioxide pollution comes from its aircraft, which the company says is its “largest environmental impact.” So it wants to update its fleet with more efficient planes, and it’s looking into powering them with biofuels. For CES this year, Delta also offset the emissions from all of its flights to and from Las Vegas.

Following the heels of companies like Microsoft, Delta is also expressing more interest in carbon capture and removal rather than relying only on offsets to cancel out its remaining carbon footprint. Though it hasn’t released many details yet, Delta said it will invest in negative emissions technologies that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. It’s also considering ways to sequester carbon through nature-based solutions like forestry, wetland restoration, and grassland conservation.

One avenue Delta doesn’t seem to be going down just yet is electric-powered flight. “I don’t ever see a future that we’re eliminating jet fuel from our footprint,” Bastian said in an interview with CNBC. The technology for commercial flight is potentially still decades away — the batteries are too heavy — but an all-electric seaplane took off for the first time in British Columbia last December.

JetBlue announced in January that it would make all of its domestic flights carbon neutral starting in July. At the time, it was the biggest carbon neutral commitment from a US airline. Delta’s announcement signals that more dominoes may be falling when it comes to airlines taking efforts to make their businesses more sustainable.