Offset schemes do little to reduce climate impact of aviation

Almost all airlines now run offset schemes offering customers the chance to invest in green projects to negate the carbon impact of their flight. However, as Madeleine Cuff writes on the inews website, some offset prices fall are below the true cost of removing CO2. So, what would you suggest?

 

Carbon offsetting fees offered by airlines do not equal guilt-free flying, campaigners warn

Low-cost carbon offsets may make consumers feel better about taking a flight, but they are doing little to reduce the climate impact of aviation, environmental campaigners have warned.

Almost all airlines now run offset schemes offering customers the chance to invest in green projects to negate the carbon impact of their flight. But analysis by i reveals that some offset prices fall are below the true cost of removing CO2.

Low prices are common, with the cost of offsetting a return flight from London to Athens ranging from £2 to £7, while a return flight from London to New York can be offset for as little as £5. Some airlines are offering to offset shorter haul journeys for free.

i analysis indicates such offsets are based on a carbon price ranging from £5.75 to £25 per tonne, far below the price industrial emitters are forced to pay under the EU Emissions Trading System. Under the EU ETS, carbon is currently being traded for around €76 (£64) per tonne.

Flying is the most carbon intensive way to travel. Campaigners warn cheap offsets do little to address the climate impact of aviation, either by changing consumer behaviour or driving the development of greener aviation technologies.

Airline offset schemes often fund tree planting, the distribution of clean cookstoves, and renewable energy projects around the world.

But Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr told i these projects do not offer the immediate, permanent carbon removal required to properly offset the climate impact of a flight.

“The only way to genuinely offset emitting a ton of carbon into the atmosphere is to extract a ton of carbon from the atmosphere, and for that extraction to be permanent, and simultaneous,” he explained.

“None of the aviation industry’s supposed offset schemes do that, because it’s extremely expensive.”

He argued this amounted to “greenwash”, with airlines “ignoring unpredictable variables and inconvenient facts” that undermine the credibility of offset schemes.

Sola Zheng, aviation researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, said today’s carbon offset projects “differ greatly in their quality” and overall are “not very good”.

Independent assessments have found that offset credits can fail to deliver promised emissions savings, and in some cases have even led to increased emissions.

Meanwhile low prices do little to drive industry-wide change, Ms Zheng said. She said offset prices need to reach at least £150 per tonne to reduce demand for flights or to cover the cost of greener technologies.

“When offset prices are so low it just does not affect consumer or corporate behaviour at all,” she stressed.

Rather than paying to offset personal flights, she said consumers who need to fly should focus on booking direct routes, flying on fuel efficient aircraft, and flying economy class, all of which can lower the climate impact of a flight significantly. Paying more for an airline to use sustainable fuel can also have a meaningful climate impact, she added.

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