Carbon offsetting is a balancing act between environmental projects and carbon emissions. Deeply controversial on a number of levels, it is often considers an environmental salve, rather than a legitimate solution. In this article, we explain why

Posted on : 2019-11-14 11:52:16

It’s the quandary every responsible traveller faces: how to see the world without degrading it. There’s no getting around the fact that international travel is hard on the environment. The aviation industry is responsible for 2.5% of global carbon emissions and flying produced a staggering 859 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017.

The aviation industry is responsible for 2.5% of global carbon emissions and flying produced a staggering 859 million tonnes of CO2 in 2017.

Airlines are under to pressure to slash this figure by increasing biofuel usage and operational efficiency, but it’s likely to be a long time before flying is guilt-free. In the meantime, carbon offsetting could help to plug the emissions gap.

Why reduce my emissions?

There’s an overwhelming scientific consensus that our climate is warming and that greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. A global temperature rise of over 1.5% could have a catastrophic effect on our planet, with millions of people losing their homes to rising sea levels and countless species driven to extinction. That’s without taking into account the impact of air pollution on human and animal health. It’s clear that we need to work towards a zero-carbon economy. The problem is that certain activities, such as flying, are always going to produce greenhouse gases.

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting gets around the problem of unavoidable emissions by funding projects that reduce greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Until recently, the onus has been on individuals and airlines to voluntarily invest in offsetting schemes. That’s all set to change as from 2020. Under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), aviation firms that fly internationally will have to offset any extra emissions. The aim is to offset around 80% of emissions above 2020 levels. That won’t solve the problem of existing greenhouse gas production, though, so individual travellers still have a role to play. The cost of offsetting your emissions is relatively low – a return flight from London to Malaga, for example, would come in at just over £4.

Where does my money go?

Early carbon offsetting projects focused mainly on planting trees. Tree planting is one of the cheapest ways to score carbon credits, but it isn’t foolproof. Young trees take years to reach their potential – and there’s always the risk that they could be lost to fire or drought. Coldplay notoriously bought 10,000 mango trees in India to offset an album release, only to see the majority of them die. As a result, modern offsetting programmes often focus on methane capture, renewable energy or international aid projects with environmental benefits.

Does it work?

Carbon offsetting is still controversial. Some environmentalists fear that it compromises the drive to reduce carbon emissions by giving individuals and corporations an ‘easy way out’. Historically, some schemes have failed to deliver on their promises. A few have even caused active harm, damaging indigenous forests through the planting of non-native trees. Carbon offsetting can make a positive difference to the planet, but make sure you’re funding a good-quality programme. Look for schemes that are transparent about the projects they support and how they calculate the emissions saved. Some may be validated by independent bodies, such as the Woodland Carbon Code or Gold Standard.

The bottom line is that long-distance travel will never be entirely guilt-free. But carbon offsetting can help salve your green conscience.