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Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Delta Airlines is spending $1 billion over the next decade to essentially cancel out all of its future greenhouse gas emissions beginning March 1, the company announced Friday.

The big picture: Delta is the world’s biggest airline by revenue, and this news is the latest in a rapidly growing trend of corporations announcing climate-change goals in response to public and investor pressure.

Driving the news: Delta is able to immediately become carbon-neutral by purchasing what are called carbon offsets, financial transactions that ostensibly help cancel out carbon emissions by preventing emissions elsewhere in the world, like planting trees or supporting renewable energy.

  • The company isn’t disclosing how many offsets it’s purchasing — or how much it’s spending on that. But it’s likely to be a huge number given the scale of its announcement.
  • When Delta announced in 2012 it was capping its emissions at the levels current to that year, it purchased more than 16 million offsets.
  • Delta is the 8th most energy-efficient airline out of a study of 11, mainly due to its older fleet of airplanes that are less efficient than new models, but it's in the process of replacing them. That's according to a recent report by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation.

Yes, but: Delta says it’s going to minimize its reliance on carbon offsets, though it also concedes technologies enabling it to directly reduce its emissions aren’t readily available or in some cases even invented yet. It plans to research those technologies and others with its new allocation of $1 billion.

"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."
— Ed Bastian, Delta CEO

Where it stands: Virtually all airlines rely on carbon offsets to cut their emissions. That’s because no commercially available technology exists to affordably make large quantities of low-carbon or zero-carbon jet fuel, whether battery-powered or another kind of liquid like biofuels.

  • JetBlue announced earlier this year it was going to become carbon neutral by July.
  • Other airlines with commitments include Air France (cutting emissions per passenger by 50% in 10 years) and Australian carrier Qantas (net-zero emissions by 2050), per Travel Market Report.

But, but, but: Carbon offsets are, at best, "very opaque and definitely hard for the average person to understand," said Sola Zheng, an expert on aviation at the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation.

  • The quality of offsets also faces scrutiny. Doubt persists about whether offsets purchased actually reduce emissions and don’t just throw money at projects, such as planting trees or building a wind farm, that would have happened regardless.
  • A United Nations organization is working on developing standards to ensure quality offsets in an industry-wide program, but no uniform quality-control measures exist for carbon offsets airlines and others purchase, besides disparate third-party programs.

Go deeper: Americans’ penchant for flying outpaces efficiency gains

Go deeper

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Sources say Beto plans Texas comeback in governor’s race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Texas, in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.

Mike Allen, author of AM
6 hours ago - Technology

Axios interview: Facebook to try for more transparency

Nick Clegg last year. Photo: Matthew Sobocinski/USA Today via Reuters

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, tells me the company will try to provide more data to outside researchers to scrutinize the health of activity on Facebook and Instagram, following The Wall Street Journal's brutal look at internal documents.

Driving the news: Clegg didn't say that in his public response to the series. So I called him to push for what Facebook will actually do differently given the new dangers raised by The Journal.