Carbon,  Climate change,  Offsetting

Carbon offsetting a get out of jail card?

The issues of carbon pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are moving up the political agenda. The children’s strikes, protests by Extinction Rebellion and increasing government action will make the burning of fossil fuels more expensive. There are challenges in all sectors of travel and tourism but the elephant in the room is aviation. Airlines emit 80% of our industry’s greenhouse gasses and air travel is growing at 5% per year. As other industries reduce their carbon emissions aviation will account for ever-larger shares of global emissions. More   Aviation is the Achilles’ heel of the sector.

Brian Summers writing is Skift has commented on the KLM initiative:

“Take KLM, the Dutch airline, which this summer unveiled a new campaign asking customers to “Fly Responsibly.” KLM soon will cancel a daily flight from Amsterdam to Brussels, asking customers to take the train.

This is remarkable, right? KLM is asking passengers to fly less! But KLM is unique because it has just one hub, and that hub is full. By pushing customers to the train and bragging of its environmental commitment, it replaces a weakness with a strength.”

He also questions SAS’s strategy
“… don’t forget the drama in Sweden, birthplace of the modern flight shaming movement, a problem for Scandinavian Airlines, or SAS. It keeps promising travelers it understands their concerns, releasing a series of targets for emissions reductions over the next 30 years.
But look at its short-term actions. In the past two years, SAS has moved its Hong Kong and Los Angeles flights from Stockholm to Copenhagen, where demand is better and there is no flying eco-tax. The airline is also discounting, recently selling sub-$300 fares between some U.S. and European cities. That pricing is not environmentally friendly, but is appropriate for an airline fighting for commercial survival.”

Summers argues that only government action will work pointing out that Germany and France are planning ecotaxes and that the EU may also act.

Aviation fuel is untaxed, the polluter pays principle has not been effectively applied to the airline industry. When consumers pay a carbon offset, the airlines and manufacturers evade their responsibility. As Responsible Travel’s Aviation and Climate Change manifesto chapter makes clear carbon offsetting cannot achieve the change needed. In 2017 a European Commission funded research project found that 85% of offset projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – some of the most highly regarded offset schemes in the world – failed to reduce emissions. more From 2021 the EU will stop allowing offsets to be counted towards emissions targets, except for aviation.

Buying an offset is cheap.

Carbon offsets are increasingly seen as a form of medieval pardon, available at a range of prices. You can check this out for yourself, in October 2019 carbon emissions for a return flight London-New York could be purchased as cheaply a £9.96 and for £44. Put your flight details into www.clevel.co.uk; www.carbonfootprint.com; myclimate; atmosfair.de. On flygrn.com the company pays the offsetting for the passenger, the offset is free.

One CEO of an African safari draws a parallel between buying an offset and going out of the office, finding a beggar and causing them bodily harm, and then giving the next beggar $20, and thinking that rights the wrong. There are also parallels with compensating for infidelity – watch the video.

Kevin Anderson in 2015 addressed WTM with the scale of the challenge.

We have failed to slow the rate of increase in the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere. We are not reducing the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere. more

Business as usual continues.
Sky News analysis of the “masterplans” for 21 of the country’s biggest airports show they intend to add 192 million passengers to the 286 million that already use their terminals over the next 10-20 years.  That’s a growth of 67%.  30% of passengers at Heathrow are in transit.

Source:   Responsible Travel’s Manifesto – Aviation 

Offsetting is attractive to airlines because it allows them to continue with business as usual. It is particularly attractive if the consumer pays the offset or the tax, for example, Air Passenger Duty (APD).  As APD is a levy based on the seat it creates no financial incentive to increase fuel efficiency or reduce carbon pollution. All seats, on fuel-efficient and inefficient planes, pay the same tax and only occupied seats are taxed.

Very few consumers voluntarily purchase offsets – between 1 & 2%. Although flightshaming is reducing flying in Scandinavia.

There are many reasons why offsetting is undesirable – as UNEP points out they are not a get out of jail free card

  • It creates no incentive to increase fuel efficiency. Offsetting is a quick ineffective “fix” which reduces the incentive for innovation.
  • A 2017 study of offsets, commissioned by the European Commission, found that 85 per cent of offset projects under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) had failed to reduce emissions. This clearly shows that even the very best schemes don’t work. From 2021 the EU will stop allowing offsets to be counted towards emissions reductions targets.
  • Planting trees is a good thing – but they cannot absorb carbon fast enough to offset your emissions, we need to cut emissions now and carbon storage in trees is temporary, they will be cut and be burnt or decompose.
  • Many offset schemes may have been implemented anyway, there is no additionality

There are more resources here. 

There are other options

  1. Reducing the subsidies on fossil fuels. The International Monetary Fund estimates that ” Globally, subsidies remained large at $4.7 trillion (6.3 per cent of global GDP) in 2015 and are projected at $5.2 trillion (6.5 per cent of GDP) in 2017″
  2. Carbon capture and storage. For example, Blue Planet in California is converting CO2 into high-value building materials. There five more ideas here.

15% of adults in Great Britain who made 3 or more flights ( frequent fliers) made 71% of flights from March 2013 to March 2014.  52% had not flown at all in that period. more

10% most frequent flyers took more than half of flights abroad in 2018,  48% of the population did not take a single flight abroad in the last year. more

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