Sustainability has finds its place in the world as one of the most often used terms in today’s society. Ongoing talks about reducing carbon footprints, being more mindful about how and what we eat and how we choose to go from places to places dominate everyday conversations.

When it comes to travelling, most passionate travellers find themselves in a conflict of interest: On the one hand, you are passionate about exploring new places, enjoying the gift of travelling through unknown places and get to know new people. And yet, your concious tells you to don’t travel at all when you consider the fact of many aspects of a traveller’s life contributes to CO2 production.

Sustainable travelling, ecotourism, green travel have become popular terms in the industry. But what does it actually mean? How do these terms differentiate from one another? And most importantly: How does it affect me and how can I make my own contribution?

 

1. What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is an option that people have to compensate their produced greenhouse emissions by supporting projects that reduce environmental impacts caused by people. Let’s say, you take a long-haul flight from London to Sydney. Your flight would release 2.3 tonnes of CO2. By comparisson, the average person in Europe produces on average of 6 tonnes of CO2 (Source: Worldbank), in America it’s 16 tonnes (Source: Worldbank). In other words, the CO2 you produce in your every day life will dramatically increase by taking a flight. Therefore, your carboon footprint enlarges drastically.  

Offsetting allows you to reduce your carbon footprint, regardless of the fact whether you take a flight or not. Sometimes you can’t avoid to travel. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is if you make your individual contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in total.  

 

2. Why does it matter to me?

Flying is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Although its global figure of 2% of the world’s total carbon productions seems relatively small for most people, its impact is nevertheless dramatically. A usual airplane consumes 30% of all ist fuel during take-offs. Short flights do even have a greater impact since they produce more carbon on a smaller scale. Flying business or first class is even worse for the enviornment as more people could take up those seats that are being taken by first and business class.  

The whole concept of carbon production is not papable to most people. Its complexity demands more attention and detail in order to see any coherences. Here are a few examples:   

Sometimes you can’t avoid to travel. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is if you make your individual contribution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in total.

3. Where can I find trustworthy programmes?

Here’s the thing: The carbon offsetting market has been highly deregulated and there are different approaches on how to calculate your carbon emissions, depending on the companies and NGOs you ask. The Guardian has articulated this fact in one of its articles earlier this year. 

In recent years, a few standard practices have been established. Certifiers, such as Gold Standards or  Action Reserve in North America enjoy widespread recognition in terms of global compliances, schemes and practices. It’s also worth noting that the United Nation has its own Global Carbon Offsetting platform, Climate Neutral Now, which should provide as a good starting point. 

From our example mentioned earlier before, a round-trip from London to Singapore gets a variety of results from different platforms (click on headline to open the organisation’s webpage:

 

Climate Care: 

CO2 emissions: 3.26 tonnes

Costs: 27.88 EUR

Projects: Will automatically choose for you the appropriate project to fund.

 

The Gold Standard: 

Will ask you to calculate your own emissions with WWF Carbon Footprint Calculator and to choose your own project.

 

Atomsfair: 

CO2 emissions: 4 tonnes

Costs: 112 EUR

Projects: Atomsfair asks you whether you allow them to choose the appropriate project for your money or you can choose a selection on the checkout page.

 

MyClimate: 

CO02 emissions: 3.6 tonnes

Costs: 86 EUR

Projects: Donation for Climate Education

 

UN Climate Neutral:

CO02 emissions: 3.6 tonnes

Costs: Between USD 0.50 up to USD 9.00 per tonne

Projects: Electricity generation in India, biomass energy, hydro projects across the world

 

4. What about the airlines?

For quite some time, airlines offered an option throughout their purchasing-process to offset carbon emissions which would be included in the ticket sales. By 2021, however, airlines will have to offset any extra emissions, so that airlines will no longer rely on individuals. This is part under an UN agreement (“Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation”) which was passed in 2018.  

Furthermore, airlines are keen to improve whole  processes, from supply-chain to opeational management in order to consume less energy and fuel. Environmental action do not only stop by offsetting your carbon emissions but by ensuring that main causes for high CO2 productions will be minimised in the long-run. Check out what we think whether the aviation indsutry will ever be sustainable.  

 

Environmental actions don't stop by offsetting your cabon emissions but by ensuring that main causes for high CO2 productions will be minimised in the long-run

5. Are there any international agreements on carbon offsetting?

Yes, they do exist. Like with aviation safety in general, the IATA has formulated obligatory measures to reduce carbon production, improve air quality and lowering aircraft noise. The offsetting and Reducton Scheme already kicked-in in 2019 and is expecting to mitigate around 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2021 and 2035. Like with so many approaches, this scheme ensures a level of uniformity in regulations. Just because one party is enhancing ist standards doesn’t mean that other parties do the same. A unified approach is necessary to reach sufficient results in the long-run. Enviornmental protection is a team player effort.  

 

6. Does it work?

Offsetting can work if projecs are sustainable, accredited and funded properly in the long-run. Offsetting shouldn’t be narrowed down to planting trees alone. It takes 20-30 alone to see the impact, time that is not available to the global community to reduce the environmental impact. Socio-economic factors, such as employment and social infrastructure also boost the reduction of CO2 production in the long-run.  

At the end of the day, travellers should evaluate whether they really need to take a flight or if other options, such as trains or video conferencing can also do the job.    

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