JetBlue no longer plans to offset domestic flight emissions

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JetBlue is giving up carbon offsets for its domestic flights and shifting its focus to sustainable jet fuels instead. It’s a move that could help the airline actually reduce its emissions rather than relying primarily on controversial carbon offsets to cut fossil fuel use.

In 2020, JetBlue became the first U.S. airline to voluntarily offset greenhouse gas emissions from all of its domestic flights. That effort will end in 2023, the company announced this week.

The airline now plans to effectively halve emissions per seat by 2035. To allow flights to take off without generating so much pollution, JetBlue says its aircraft must run on sustainable jet fuel [SAF].

“JetBlue sees SAF as the most promising way to address aviation emissions in a meaningful and timely manner — once cost-effective SAF is widely commercially available,” the company said in a Dec. 6 press release.

There are also environmental challenges with SAF

As of 2020, JetBlue’s routes between San Francisco and Los Angeles regularly run on sustainable jet fuel. But the company will eventually need a lot more SAF, which can be made from waste or crops like corn. It is seen as a potential “bridging fuel” while electric planes and hydrogen planes are still under development. JetBlue has signed deals with several companies to buy more SAF, but it is still in fairly limited supply and is more expensive than conventional kerosene jet fuel.

There are also environmental challenges with SAF. Making and burning SAF still generates CO2 emissions. Much of that CO2 should be offset by crops grown to produce the fuel, but there are also concerns about those crops leading to more deforestation.

Nevertheless, aviation is evolving towards the use of more sustainable jet fuels. The European Union has proposed requiring airlines to make SAF account for 5 percent of air transport by 2030, rising to 63 percent by 2050. European airline EasyJet also announced it would stop compensating its flights next year. Like JetBlue, it also plans to invest in sustainable jet fuels and increase the fuel efficiency of its operations.

Carbon offsets should eliminate the pollution from burning jet fuel by reducing emissions elsewhere – usually through investments in renewable energy or forestry projects that rely on the ability of trees to store carbon dioxide. But years of research and research have shown that most carbon offsets on the market don’t really represent a reduction in real-world pollution.

While JetBlue is dropping its domestic flight carbon offset program, the company isn’t exactly turning its back on offsets. The airline still plans to buy a “small amount” of carbon offset credits to try to offset emissions from a growing number of international flights. Bloomberg reports. JetBlue Ventures, a subsidiary of the airline, has also invested in carbon credit company Rubicon Carbon.

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