Carbon Offset For Flights
If you love travel like I do then the largest chunk of your personal carbon footprint is probably due to flying.
And if you’re anything like me you worry about that. So what can we do about it?
Carbon offset for flights can be an excellent start.
- In a hurry? Best carbon offset scheme here
- How does Carbon Offset for Flights work?
- Best Carbon Offset Calculators for Flights
- How much does it cost to offset your flight carbon?
- Best Carbon Offset Schemes
- Carbon Offset not just for flights
- Does Carbon Offset Actually Work?
- How can you reduce your carbon footprint when flying?
Best carbon offset scheme
How does Carbon Offset for Flights work?
Airplanes emit harmful greenhouse gases, particularly CO2 (carbon dioxide), that contribute significantly to climate change.
To compensate for the fact that we support this pollution due to flying we can support projects that reduce levels of CO2 elsewhere.
So carbon offsetting is effectively a trade:
The flights we take increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere but if the projects we help fund reduce CO2 by the same amount the carbon is “offset”.
This might be projects that plant trees, or increase the energy efficiency of factories.
Emissions and reductions anywhere in the world effect all of us:
Greenhouse gases mix quickly with the air and spread around the entire planet. So it doesn’t really matter where the emissions take place, they impact all of us. And by the same token, anywhere we reduce emissions benefits all of us too.
Remember, every time we buy something (be it a flight ticket, an offset, or anything at all) we cast a vote for the kind of world we want.
How much CO2 does a flight produce?
According to this detailed calculation, a plane produces a little over 53 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile.
Flying from London to New York and back generates roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year.
Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions increased by a third between 2013 to 2018, the equivalent of building 50 coal-fired power plants, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. If global aviation was a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters.
Best Carbon Offset Calculators for Flights
How much carbon your exact flight produced depends on a great many factors including the weight on board, the weather (like tailwind), occupancy rate, if you’re flying direct (because about 25% of emissions are produced by landings and taking offs) and more.
So a carbon calculator can only give you a rough idea of the amount of carbon your flight emitted. Here is one of the more detailed calculators.
Here is a calculator that can tell you the carbon emissions of your entire trip, including your hotel and any rented vehicles (select Single Trip)
I also like this one: Although it only give a basic calculation for your flight you can also calculate your everyday household, car, and special events emissions.
And here is another good one that lets you offset the calculated emissions with just another couple of clicks.
How much does it cost to offset your flight emissions?
Your carbon emissions are calculated by the tonne. The cost varies by calculator and by offset project but on average the cost per tonne is around $15.
One long haul return flight might cost around $32.
I tried to calculate the emission of my one way, direct, economy flight from London Heathrow to Singapore Changi. All CO2 calculators came up with a slightly different amount of CO2 and varying cost to offset it:
Most expensive: 3.22 tonnes of carbon at a cost of $83.83
Most in line with average cost: 1.28 tonnes of carbon at a cost of $15 and 1.63 tonnes of carbon at a cost of $16
In between: 2.46 tonnes of carbon at a cost of $38.06
Why is that?
That is because it’s not really possible to calculate the exact amount of your personal share from the emissions of your specific flight – there are just too many variables.
Equally, the cost to offset your carbon varies greatly, because there are so many ways to offset. This can range from low cost energy saving light bulbs (which last for years and in that time might save as much carbon as one short haul flight emits) all the way to inventing and testing a new generation of jet engine fuel based entirely on renewable energies.
So, how much you spend to offset your carbon depends in part on which projects you want to support.
Just make sure your chosen projects are genuine and make a certified impact. More on that below!
And why not go further and aim to become climate positive, not just carbon neutral and offset more than your estimated footprint?
Best Carbon Offset Schemes
There are a myriad of projects that claim to reduce CO2. How do you know which ones are real and worth your support?
Valid and certified programs to reduce CO2 comply with these 4 criteria:
This means that a project would not have happened without people buying offsets. In other words, if no one bought the offsets the project would not have taken place. Because if a project were to happen anyway then we, the buyers, would not be able to claim to be reducing emissions.
Quantified and verified reductions.
Reductions are tracked, otherwise the same amount of reduced CO2 could be sold several times over to different buyers.
Reduction must be long-term, not temporary.
There are several industry watchdogs that ensure that these criteria are met:
Gold Standard for Carbon Offset
One of the best schemes is the Gold Standard which certifies the effectiveness of their programs.
Established in 2003 by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature, formerly World Wildlife Fund) and other international NGOs, they set and manage best practice standard not just for positive impact on climate and development but also for measuring and reporting outcomes in the most credible and efficient way.
Their projects are as divers as landfill gas recovery in China, a geothermal power plant in Turkey, wind power in Costa Rica, planting biodiverse forests in Panama, and a Cambodia National biodigester programme.
You might be surprised that not all projects involve planting trees but energy-based programs save CO2 more quickly and often offer additional social benefits.
The Gold Standard grades their projects according to criteria such as
- zero hunger
- good health
- gender equality
- affordable clean energy
- economic growth
- responsible consumption
- and of course climate action.
The cost varies according to the project but is around $15 per tonne of CO2 saved and you can choose yourself how many tonnes you want to buy.
Carbon Offset by Tree Planting
The best scheme that I have found to buy my own carbon offsets is Offset Earth, an excellent initiative with a straight forward website to buy a monthly subscription that plants trees and supports other projects from the Gold Standard.
They have a variety of plans for individuals and families (you can select the size of your family’s contribution yourself, including any pets), as well as businesses.
And you can alway scale “your forest” if you want to contribute more.
Carbon Offset directly with the airline
There is a new international scheme being implemented, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation CORSIA in which participating airlines have to monitor and report their emissions from 2019 and purchase carbon offsets from 2021.
It is a brilliant initiative with 192 member states that have signed up. However, airlines only offset their emissions above 2020 levels, and only for international flights.
So if you have read that we should no longer worry about offsetting our footprint individually then this is sadly not true. Also, the scheme only becomes mandatory in 2027 (the years before are classed as the voluntary early phase with much lighter obligations).
Carbon Offset not just for flights
Even if we never travel, as someone who is alive in the 21st century we have a carbon footprint.
We use electricity, water, and food. Making and transporting this to us produces carbon emissions. The average American produces about 3,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions each month. That’s the equivalent to the weight of the average car. Each. Month.
We don’t need to wait till we take a flight to buy offsets. The more we can help fund projects that reduce CO2 emissions the better.
Does Carbon Offset Actually Work?
Yes, it does work.
However! It is not the be-all-and-end-all solution to carbon emissions.
You may have read criticism of the idea of carbon offsetting. Here are the 2 main reasons why:
- The greatest danger is that we become complacent and think because we offset it doesn’t matter how much we fly and how much CO2 we produce.
Remember that every time we buy something we encourage the production of more of that very thing – because it sells. So flying as much as before just encourages airlines to deliver more routes, and governments to approve more runways.
If we don’t change the way we live carbon offset is not the answer.
Our prime aim must be to reduce the emissions our lifestyle produces in the first place.
- Offsetting only really makes sense if there isn’t an environmentally friendlier alternative available. For example, short haul flights are very carbon intensive and can be replaced by train journeys which are one of the most eco friendly ways to travel. Therefore, we should always choose the train over offsetting short haul flights.
There is a little bit of good news about flying with renewable energies in the future:
Apparently, there are potentially clean, carbon-free fuels (power-to-liquid) available for aircraft engines which can be made completely from renewable energy. These are not yet available but they are surely coming.
How can you reduce your carbon footprint when flying?
- Reduce your number of flights. How well do you know your own country?
- Take the train instead of short haul flights which are by comparison the worst carbon emitters. (This is because obviously, every plane has to take off und climb to a minimum altitude, regardless of how close the destination is which makes short distance flying very inefficient.)
- Fly direct. Take offs, landings and taxiing are responsible for 25% of the emissions of a flight. (Of this, taxiing is actually the largest source of emissions!)
- Fly with airlines that have an environmental policy, a more efficient fleet, and actively try to lower their impact. Here is a helpful chart of comparison.
- Show airlines you care. If they offer an offset program, consider buying it. If they send you a survey and there is room for additional comments, maybe mention that you chose them for environmental reasons or that you are considering changing airlines to a more environmentally friendly competitor.
Now it's your turn
Do you carbon offset your flights? Any tips for being a more eco-friendly traveller? Any questions?
Let me know in the comments below.