Dec 11, 2020 - Economy & Business

Making sense of United Airlines' carbon pledge

a plan flying across graph paper
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Corporate carbon pledges arrive so fast it's hard to keep up, so here's one way to bushwhack through them: Ignore the splashy top-line and look at what they're doing soon.

Driving the news: United Airlines yesterday vowed to cut its emissions by 100% by 2050 — but also described the more immediate step of pouring millions into efforts to commercialize nascent direct air capture technology.

  • They are investing in 1PointFive, which is a venture between Occidental Petroleum and Rusheen Capital Management to deploy Carbon Engineering's tech.
  • These companies are planning to construct a large direct air capture plant in the Permian Basin region of Texas.

Why it matters: It's part of a growing corporate push to finance various negative emissions tech and methods — something that companies including Microsoft, Amazon and the payment tech company Stripe are doing too.

  • And United said it's the first airline to invest in direct air capture.

Yes, but: Right now, direct air capture is in its infancy. It would need to scale up by orders of magnitude to become just one of many tools needed against global warming.

The intrigue: While United is also touting investments in lower-carbon fuels, Fast Company notes carbon-removal finance is a recognition that the industry is very far away from big aircraft that don't pump out lots of CO2.

  • Batteries are becoming a thing with tiny planes, but large jets are another thing entirely, they point out.
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