United Airlines has pledged to remove 100 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The carrier, which in 2018 became the first United States-based airline to commit to reducing its greenhouse emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, will advance towards carbon neutrality by committing to a multimillion-dollar investment in revolutionary atmospheric carbon capture technology known as direct air capture.
The airline said it would mean less focus on indirect measures like carbon-offsetting.
In addition, United said it was continuing to invest in the development and use of sustainable aviation fuel.
With the announcement, United becomes the first airline in the world to offer a commitment to invest in direct air capture technology.
However, with direct air capture technology still in its infancy, the pledge could be seen as somewhat risky for United.
“As the leader of one of the world’s largest airlines, I recognise our responsibility in contributing to fight climate change, as well as our responsibility to solve it,” said Scott Kirby, United chief executive officer.
“These game-changing technologies will significantly reduce our emissions, and measurably reduce the speed of climate change – because buying carbon offsets alone is just not enough.
“Perhaps most importantly, we’re not just doing it to meet our own sustainability goal; we’re doing it to drive the positive change our entire industry requires so that every airline can eventually join us and do the same.”
Rather than simply taking a conventional approach to decarbonisation by relying solely on the purchase of carbon offsets, United intends to make a multimillion-dollar investment in 1PointFive, a partnership between Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Occidental, and Rusheen Capital Management.
Their mission is to curb the rise in global temperatures by physically removing carbon dioxide from the air using direct air capture technology licensed from carbon engineering.
Direct air capture technology is one of the few proven ways to physically correct for aircraft emissions, and can scale to capture millions and potentially billions of metric tons of CO2 per year.
The captured CO2 will then be permanently, safely and securely stored deep underground by Occidental, a process certified by independent third parties.
The commitment – the first to be announced in the aviation industry – will help 1PointFive build the first industrial-sized direct air capture plant in the United States.
A single plant is expected to capture and permanently sequester one million tons of CO2 each year, the equivalent of the work of 40 million trees, but covering a land area about 3,000 times smaller.
Additionally, United has invested more than $30 million in California-based sustainable fuel producer Fulcrum BioEnergy, which remains the single largest investment by any airline globally in a sustainable fuel producer.