By Tracy Rucinski
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Inc (NYSE:) said on Friday it will invest $1 billion over the next decade in initiatives that would limit the impact of global air travel on the environment, the first airline to make a commitment of that scale.
The aviation industry accounts for roughly 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions and has set out a plan to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020, even as air travel is forecast to accelerate.
Facing increasing demands from customers, individual airlines like Delta have taken additional steps to mitigate their carbon impact with measures ranging from eliminating single-use plastics to investing in biofuels and purchasing more fuel-efficient aircraft.
With this new investment, Delta intends to become the first carbon-neutral airline globally while helping to fund research and projects involving clean air technologies and the reduction of carbon emissions and waste.
“There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution,” Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said in a statement.
The airline provided no details on how it will invest the money.
Bastian is an advocate of air travel as a way to connect people and economies across the globe but has been vocal about the industry’s responsibility in ensuring environmental sustainability.
As of now, there are not many quick options available for airlines to reduce their carbon footprint. Biofuels are in short supply and take years to develop, and there are no immediate prospects of newer jet engines that are more fuel-efficient than those currently in the market.
Airlines say small steps like single-engine taxiing and the use of lighter materials are cutting around 1-2% of emissions each year, but more needs to be done.
In the absence of more impactful short-term options, the industry has committed to a carbon-offset program that allows airlines to invest in verified environmental projects to offset their emissions.
Delta, for example, previously pledged to cap its greenhouse gas emissions at 2012 levels even with 20% growth by purchasing carbon offsets.
But that is not the target of the new $1 billion investment, which will begin in March.
“We are on a journey, and though we don’t have all the answers today, we know that our scale, along with investments of time, talent and resources will bring meaningful impact to the planet and ensure the sustainability of our business for decades to come,” Bastian said.
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