Carbon capture is the term used for capturing CO2 that has been released into the atmosphere. Its development could act as a crucial step for more sustainable aviation.

A large-scale facility that could remove up to one million tons of CO2 every year is currently being developed in North East Scotland. The Direct Air Capture (DAC) Plan is a joint project with UK firm Storegga and Canadian company Carbon Engineering. Once removed from the atmosphere, CO2 can be pumped into the ground, sold for commercial use or even be transformed into liquid fuel. A form of sustainable aviation fuel created from CO2 would not permanently remove carbon from the air but would form more of a circular economy, lessening the damage it is currently causing.

Climate change is identified as the most important Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issue in GlobalData’s live verdict poll*, and airlines have been noted as some of the worst contributors for CO2 emissions. Carbon capture should not be a tool to be used alone in tackling climate change. However, it holds great potential to contribute to a more sustainable future in travel.  

Sustainability is a mega theme

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if the world wants to ‘stay safe’, the rise in global temperatures need to be kept below 1.5C by the end of the century. 2020 temperatures were already 1.2C above historical levels. There is a need to curb the emissions of gasses that are driving up global temperatures – emissions from airlines and general travel contributes significantly to this.

Therefore, sustainability in now a mega theme for both travel companies and customers alike. Net zero carbon emission plans are being rolled out by airlines. United Airlines was one of the most recent ones which promised to achieve this feat by 2050. Other airlines in the Oneworld Alliance such as American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific have also committed to this promise by 2050.

Consumers are also more environmentally focused. ‘How ethical/environmentally friendly/ socially-responsible a product or service is’ ‘always’ and ‘often’ influenced 42% of global respondents in GlobalData’s survey**. This was more influential than ‘how digitally advanced/smart the product/service is’ (‘always’ and ‘often’ influenced 35%). This reflects consumers priorities going forward, where company sustainability commitments could prove to be more desirable in purchasing decisions.

An additional tool

The potential for direct air capture to combat climate change and form a more sustainable future for travel is real. It is a technology that could prove to be majorly beneficial for more sustainable aviation going forward. Through creating fuel that is formed from carbon that is already in the air, this could help halt carbon emission levels growing further. However, it cannot be relied upon alone.

The Direct Air Capture plan rolling out in Scotland will not be fully operational until 2026. Change needs to happen now to tackle climate change. This form of technology should be looked to as an addition to other initiatives being rolled out such as pledges for cutting emissions. Therefore, air capture is not a magic bullet for eradicating climate change in travel, but possibly more of a magic bean for further growth and a more sustainable future.

*GlobalData’s poll, live since 1 Feb 2021 – 253 respondents  

** GlobalData’s Q1 2021 consumer survey, – 21,768 global respondents  

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