Qantas will pledge to cut its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, breaking ranks with its global airline peers at a time when aviation is under unprecedented scrutiny over its contribution to climate change.
The Australian carrier will on Monday become the second airline group in the world to make a zero net emissions commitment, which it plans to achieve through fuel efficiency and the use of carbon offset schemes.
Qantas' goals go beyond its previous pledge to cut emissions to half their 2005 level by 2050, which is in line with most other airlines and their global industry body.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the goals would result in the airline group, including budget arm Jetstar, capping net emissions at their current level of about 12 million tonnes from next year and then cut it gradually over the next 30 years.
"It won’t be a straight line to zero simply because the progress on biofuel and other technology won’t be linear, either. But there will be clear progress," Mr Joyce said. "We picked 2050 because it’s ambitious but we think it’s achievable."
Aviation contributes about 2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions and that is likely to grow as the number of people flying double every year between now and 2037, according to International Air Transport Association forecasts.
Europe has experienced the rise of "flight shame", as people avoid air travel to reduce their contribution to global warming, and last week nine European Union finance ministers called for an aviation tax within the bloc to make airlines pay a "fair price" for the pollution they produce.
Mr Joyce said airlines had a responsibility to cut emissions, and he wanted to "do more and faster". However, he said air travel's contribution to society and the economy should not be forgotten.
"The industry has already come a long way in cutting its footprint and the solution from here isn’t to simply ‘fly less’ but to make it more sustainable," Mr Joyce said.
"We’re doing this because it’s the responsible thing to do, but hopefully it will also encourage more people to choose Qantas and Jetstar."
International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia, pledged last month to hit zero net emissions by 2050.
Qantas was Australia's 20th biggest emitter of "scope 1" carbon emissions (those created directly from a company's activity) within Australia in 2018, producing 4.3 million tonnes, according to the federal government's Clean Energy Regulator. Only power companies, gas and oil producers and steelmakers produced more.
Qantas says its emissions will fall as it flies more efficient aeroplanes, such as Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which use 20 per cent less fuel than the Boeing 747s they replace.
And more of its carbon emissions will be mitigated with "offsetting schemes" that either pull carbon out of the atmosphere or prevent it from being released.
About 10 per cent of Qantas passengers pay to offset their own carbon contribution when they fly through these schemes, and from Monday the airline will match those contributions.
Qantas' current offsetting projects include restoring wetlands and rainforest in far north Queensland, reducing the chance of wildfires in the North Kimberley and conserving 7000 hectares of Tasmanian forest which might otherwise be logged.
However some scientists and environmentalists question the merits of land-based offsetting schemes, because they do not stop carbon entering the atmosphere in the first place.
The company will also spend $50 million over 10 years on research and investment to help develop a biofuel industry in Australia.
Alternative jet fuel, made from plants or other organic material, can cut emissions by as much as 80 per cent and are considered aviation's best hope of significantly reducing its contribution to climate change.
But there is no commercial scale product available and the offerings that do exist cost almost double the price of jet fuel made from petroleum. The alternative fuel makes up 0.01 per cent of the global industry's fuel use today.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation, the United Nation's aviation body, estimates that the industry's carbon emissions will at least double and could almost triple between now and 2050.