Fly Now, Pay Later, 3 Issues With Carbon Offsetting

Offsetting flying has become popular and it might seem like the perfect solution, but it’s complicated! Fly Now, Pay Later, 3 Issue With Carbon Offsetting.

Related: How You Can Travel In An Era Of Flight Shame

You’ve probably heard the term Carbon Offsetting, it basically means: A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Offsets are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

The basic premise of carbon offsetting one’s flight, in particular, is that you are flying now and paying someone else to offset your emissions later.

Here are the three main concerns I have with this way of thinking:

1. There is no guarantee how long it will take to make those savings happen 

When you fly the emissions go into the atmosphere immediately. If you buy carbon offsets that include tree planting as an example, the carbon saved is usually over a long period of time, sometimes decades. There is also no guarantee that these types of projects will last and you’ve already put all that carbon into the air. So there might be a limited benefit for what you are paying for.

Related: How To Be An Ethical Traveller On Indigenous Land

2. Proving savings really count against your flight 

This is such an important point, in many cases offsetting schemes find it challenging to prove their savings count against your flight. If you are very serious about offsetting parts of your life you want to pick a good organization, the offset market is largely unregulated.

The David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute have prepared a guide, Purchasing Carbon Offsets, to help Canadian consumers, businesses and organizations assess the quality of carbon offsets and the vendors that sell them. The following are some questions potential buyers can ask offset vendors:

  • What is/are the specific offset project type(s) (e.g., wind farm, methane capture, etc.) in your portfolio and where are the carbon offset projects located?
  • Have your carbon offsets been certified to a recognized standard (Gold Standard, CDM, VCS, Climate Action Reserve, Green-e Climate Protocol for Renewable Energy, etc.) to ensure quality? If so, please list the standard(s).
  • What steps have you taken to ensure that the carbon offsets you are selling are additional?
  • How do you ensure that the greenhouse gas reductions that your carbon offsets represent are quantified accurately?
  • Are 100 percent of your offsets validated and verified by accredited third parties?
  • If you are selling offsets that will be created in the future (i.e., forward crediting), what mechanisms (insurance or otherwise) have you put in place to ensure those offsets will actually be delivered?
  • What percentage of your portfolio (by tonnes of CO2e) is made up of offsets from tree-planting or agricultural soil projects? If it is a significant percentage (more than 20 percent of your portfolio), how do you address permanence risks?
  • Do you use a publicly accessible registry to track your offsets? If yes, please list the website. If not, how do you ensure that your offsets are only sold to one buyer? And do you “retire” offsets that you sell?
  • What is your company doing to educate consumers about climate change and the need for government policy to deal with it?
  • Are you a member of the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA), which has a Code of Best Practice that members must adhere to?

3. The money you are giving is not cancelling out the carbon from your flight 

Figuring out the volume of carbon dioxide taken up by trees is difficult and there is zero evidence that shows the money you are giving does actually cancel your flight.

Now I am not saying don’t donate. There are so many great organizations and environmental projects to choose to support but just keep in mind that carbon offsets might not be your best bet.

The Gold Standard is widely considered to be the highest standard in the world for carbon offsets. It ensures that key environmental criteria have been met by offset projects that carry its label.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this matter. Let me know in the comments section.

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