Warning: British Airways Only Climate Neutral for Domestic UK Flights

Jazmin Murphy loves writing about environmental issues for 8 Billion Trees.Written by Jazmin Murphy

Flights Airlines Travel | November 9, 2022

British Airways plane hovering in the blue sky with white puffy clouds.

As a part of the International Airlines Group’s efforts to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated by air travel, British Airways has recently developed several new carbon-neutral initiatives, including a carbon offsets program.

But what exactly does it do, and to whom does it apply?

British Airways’ carbon offsets have the potential to save the environment, but there are drawbacks that make this plan less than perfect. Read on to find out how you can take charge instead.

 

British Airways Takes Flight with New Net-Zero Carbon Plan

In October 2019, British Airways announced that it would work to offset carbon emissions for all its flights within the United Kingdom (UK) starting in January 2020.

(Here’s the catch… It’s only for domestic flights within the UK. So, if you’re an American vacationing for the summer, don’t expect your return trip home to be eligible for offsetting.)

Because airlines don’t cover even the majority of the CO2 emissions that they produce, their efforts are commendable, but not complete. Some airlines have tried helping the Earth in other ways, but British Airlines doesn’t have many options, especially for non-UK citizens. Still, their carbon offset plan includes some great changes for the planet.

Additional aspects of British Airways’ carbon neutrality plan include investing in verified carbon dioxide reduction projects worldwide.

Those who choose to offset their carbon emissions after a BA flight have three project options to support. Depending on your selection, your flight offsets can help communities in Darfur, Sudan, or Cardamom, Cambodia —one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots— or preserve wildlife and habitat in Azul, Peru (scroll down a few paragraphs to see more details on these specific projects).

The airline seems to have been inspired by the announcement by its parent company, the International Airlines Group (IAG), which revealed the UK Government’s commitment to the domestic aviation industry’s efforts to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

This also aligns with the United Nations’ goal to limit the global climate by 1.5 degrees.7

IAG’s overall emissions mitigation actions will require the execution of several climate initiatives. This includes the investment of several hundred million dollars into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) development over the next two decades.

The day BA’s carbon neutrality plan was announced, the Chairman and Chief Executive, Alex Cruz, stated, “British Airways is determined to play its part in reducing aviation’s CO2 emissions. To solve such a multi-faceted issue requires a multi-faceted response, and this initiative further demonstrates our commitment to a sustainable future.

How Can Domestic Travelers Offset Their Flight Emissions?

For domestic travelers, BA offers a limited selection of offset programs.

Each of these is invaluable to environmental health, but the scope of choices is confined to specific projects, rather than a holistic approach to environmental action.

However, BA’s carbon offset projects are designed to make a lasting difference for families facing the threat of a warming planet and wildlife watching their ecosystems fade away.

The process is quite simple. Before or after their flight, a passenger can enter their flight information into the Leapfrog form, British Airways’ carbon offset partner platform. Users can customize the flight details, inputting the departure and destination airports, and layover cities, if necessary. Things to record include:

  • Whether the flight is a one-way or round-trip
  • Your flight class

once the info has been entered, passengers can choose from the following offset programs:

  • Forest protection in Cardamom, Cambodia: Cardamom is one of the world’s most critical regions in need of climate protection. It is home to several endangered species, including Malayan sun bears, elephants, clouded leopards, and even pangolins.1
  • Sustainable cooking stoves for families in Darfur, Sudan: Leapfrog reports that 90% of homes in Sudan rely on biomass to heat their stoves.2 Furthermore, only 1.5 trees are regrown for every 10 that were cut down. These families are also constantly exposed to harmful gases by burning wood and charcoal. To reduce these impacts, this project provides low-smoke stoves and reduces deforestation.
  • Forest protection in Cordillera Azul, Peru: The Cordillera Azul National Park extends across 13,531 square kilometers within the Amazonian jungles, where tree-planting programs have a great impact.3 Twenty new species have been discovered here in recent years. We can’t afford to lose this ecosystem, which is why this offset project providing protection to the area is so vital.

If you can’t decide, there’s an option to split your offset cost among each of the three projects.

Chart showing a lack of committment among airlines to cover their carbon emissions.

Calculating First-Class vs. Economy Flights

Unlike some flight calculators, you’ll get the chance to enter the class you traveled in. Whether you flew economy or first-class can make a surprising difference in your flight’s carbon footprint.

Research from the World Bank shows that air travel carbon footprints are impacted by the “average class-specific occupied floor space.”4 The research group ultimately determined that first-class flyers tend to have a generally higher carbon footprint.

This is because first-class seats are larger, wider, and farther apart, which is a less efficient use of floor space. Lower load factors (the degree to which the aircraft and flight can be utilized) in business class vs. first class also make the latter a less sustainable form of air travel.

How Can You Offset An International Flight?

Considering that flights over 1,500 km (about 932 mi) are responsible for approximately 80% of all aviation CO2 emissions,5 it is pertinent to find ways in which to reverse the atmospheric damage they cause. While airlines are doing some of this, you may want to do more to offset your flight. That way, even if the airline is not carbon neutral yet, you can be.

Thankfully, there are many carbon offsetting programs open to the general public that do not require large fees or complicated paperwork. There are also ways to mitigate the CO2 you produce in other aspects of life, such as using less energy while doing laundry, driving less, or eating a greener diet… while these don’t affect your flight’s carbon footprint, making these changes can reduce your overall carbon footprint, which means the flight won’t take quite as much a toll overall.

Knowing How to Erase the CO2 from Your Flight

Because the length of a flight impacts the amount of GHGs generated, passengers can do more than cover just domestic flights, by using an offset that helps reduce overall ecological impact.

Consider the UK airports where BA offers connections:

  • Aberdeen
  • Cambridge
  • Edinburgh
  • Manchester
  • London Heathrow

These airports are all situated quite closely together, since all of them are packed within the relatively small country of the UK (which is seven times smaller than Alaska).6 This means that many of BA’s domestic flights don’t reach the threshold for contributing most of the industry’s CO2 emissions. So while they may not be the biggest contributors of the airline industry, they are still doing their part to participate in sustainability efforts.

What Offsets are Available to International British Airways Passengers?

British Airways caps its carbon dioxide emissions internationally. Yet, this isn’t enough to help non-UK flyers keep their air travel climate-friendly. Luckily, you still have options to help the climate if you need to fly outside UK borders.

There are carbon offsetting organizations that extend offsetting options to the general public, regardless of whether you’re taking a flight or not.
Simply use a flight calculator, where you can get your precisely calculated greenhouse gas (GHG) output, whether you’re traveling within the UK or across the world.

One of the most popular offsetting methods are forestry projects. In these, including planting trees where there were none (afforestation) and replanting trees where deforestation has occurred (reforestation), program providers scope out the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems, providing immediate climate relief with tree planting offset projects.

These trees then create a carbon sink… a place that sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere. This sink helps to mitigate all carbon dioxide emissions, including those from aircraft.

British Airways’ climate-positive initiatives are certainly essential to the aviation industry’s journey toward carbon neutrality, but since their carbon offsets projects are exclusive to UK domestic flyers, it may be your best option to neutralize your flights with one of the best carbon offsets programs available, and an ecological footprint calculator to measure the emissions of the flight.


References

1Global Conservation. (2021, May 28). Cardamom National Park, Cambodia. Retrieved July 3, 2021, from https://globalconservation.org/projects/cardamom-national-park-cambodia/

2Leapfrog. (n.d.). Darfur cook stoves. Leapfrog | Energising Communities. https://www.pureleapfrog.org/ba/darfur-cook-stoves/

3International Union for the Conservation of Nature. (2019, August 6). Cordillera Azul. https://www.iucn.org/theme/environmental-law/our-work/protected-areas-pas/incubator-nature-conservation-inc/cordillera-azul

4Bofinger, H., & Strand, J. (2013). Calculating the carbon footprint from different classes of air travel (6471). The World Bank. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/141851468168853188/pdf/WPS6471.pdf

5Air Transport Action Group. (n.d.). Facts & figures. Retrieved June 30, 2021, from https://www.atag.org/facts-figures.html

6Whitelocks, S. (2017, September 6). Revealed: The 11 U.S. states that are bigger than the UK. DailyMail.com. Retrieved July 3, 2021, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-4857126/The-11-U-S-states-bigger-UK.html

7United Nations. (2021, May 26). World now likely to hit watershed 1.5 °C rise in next five years, warns UN weather agency | | UN News. United Nations. Retrieved July 6, 2021, from news.un.org: https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/05/1092842#:~:text=The%201.5%C2%B0C%20mark,2%C2%B0C%20or%20below.

8Cooper, R. (n.d.). British Airways to offset emissions on flights within the UK from 2020. Climate Action. https://www.climateaction.org/news/british-airways-to-offset-emissions-on-flights-within-the-uk-from-2020.