Carbon offsetting – the counter arguments
Offsetting carbon emissions from your trip with us is just one way we aim to address our carbon footprint. The first – and most important – step is to reduce the emissions produced by our student adventures to begin with.
In November 2019, our parent company World Expeditions launched the 100% Carbon Offset initiative. This means that we compensate for the carbon footprint associated with all school trips offered by many World Expeditions Schools.
When developing your educational adventure, ingrained into the process is an investigation of the least carbon intensive mode of transport or accommodation available on the ground. Once we have identified that option, and providing safety considerations are met, we use it. However, no matter how carbon conscious we all are, travel invariably has a carbon footprint – whether it be from road transport or electricity from accommodations. To help address this, we compensate for the remaining unavoidable emissions by financing emission reduction projects around the world.
We know that many people are unsure about the role of carbon offsetting in the bigger picture of global decarbonisation. Often this leads to scepticism. With assistance from the experts at South Pole, read on to find out how we address common arguments often made to discredit carbon offsetting.
#1: We should be reducing carbon emissions, not offsetting them!
Reducing emissions must be the first step in any responsible carbon offsetting programme. However, because we don’t live in a zero emissions world (...yet!) and some carbon is produced by almost everything we do, offsets can help bridge the gap between today and a low-carbon tomorrow.
Low-carbon alternatives to flying, electricity generation and other activities associated with travel and tourism are being developed. But for now, the two approaches – reduce and offset – must work together, not against each other.
#2: By paying somebody else to reduce emissions, carbon offsets enable ‘guilt-free’ pollution
The argument here is that carbon offsets provide a ‘licence to pollute’ – allowing individuals and organisations that purchase them and carry on with business as usual without changing their emissions-intensive behaviours.
However, this is not true: accepting a price on carbon creates an incentive to reduce emissions to keep costs down. On top of this, there are many other benefits aside from emission reductions that carbon compensation projects create. We’ll come to those later.
#3: Carbon offsets remove the incentive to reduce emissions or decarbonise carbon-intensive activities, like flying
To offset unavoidable emissions, organisations can buy carbon credits. As more and more people, businesses and industries adopt emission reduction strategies, the price of carbon is driven up further. Pricing carbon helps incentivise emission reductions and drives innovations in low-carbon technology for emissions-intensive activities – like flying.
Speaking of flying, a new source of demand for carbon offsets is imminent as the aviation industry will be required to cap emissions at 2020 levels – as set out by the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA, learn more about that here). This will drive up the price of carbon even further, thereby encouraging the industry to develop low-carbon alternatives to flying.
#4: Carbon offsetting schemes do not work and emission reductions may have happened regardless
This argument is most commonly made about the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which was established by the Kyoto Protocol to allow countries to meet emission reduction targets by purchasing carbon credits – called ‘certified emission reductions’ (CERs) – from projects in emerging economies.
The CDM has been scrutinised because its actual effect on global emission levels is hard to prove. Some argue that the emission reductions claimed under the scheme would have occurred even without it. This is where the concept of ‘additionality’ comes in.
Additionality is a mandatory component for carbon offsetting projects. It ensures that emission reductions claimed by projects are actually ‘additional’ to what would occur in a ‘business as usual’ scenario. Moreover, the CDM and standards that have followed – like Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Gold Standard – have been subject to ongoing review for over a decade to ensure additionality is achieved. As a result, methodologies and verification procedures are continually improved.
What further is indisputable is the billions of dollars in investment that the CDM and carbon markets drive into climate action. The CDM has thousands of registered climate protection and renewable energy projects, which would never have been established without the finance created by the carbon markets. The CDM also provides a framework for continuing climate action; the Paris Agreement includes a similar mechanism that will allow countries to meet their nationally determined contributions using offsets: Article 6.
#5: Emission reduction projects are bad for local communities
It is unfortunately true that there have been reported cases where emission reduction projects have had negative consequences for local communities. However, not all carbon credits are created equal and these cases are the exception, not the norm.
The best way to ensure that carbon compensation does not affect communities negatively is by doing the research. Source for example carbon credits from reputable project developers with projects certified by robust, best practice standards.
World Expeditions Travel Group purchases carbon credits from leading sustainability solutions provider and project developer, South Pole. All of South Pole’s climate protection projects are certified under robust certification standards like the Gold Standard and VCS. Besides, community engagement is a key step in the project development process. First of all, projects must be approved by local stakeholders in both the development and implementation phases. On top of that community consultation is performed on an ongoing basis throughout monitoring and verification cycles. Not only do these projects reduce emissions – they also create real, positive co-benefits for the local communities in which they operate.
So, while we agree that carbon compensation is not the solution to climate change, it is an important step in the right direction. And it’s a step that we can take right now to drive finance into climate protection projects and help bridge the gap between today and a low-carbon future.
When you travel with World Expeditions Schools you can do so with the knowledge that we have calculated the emissions produced by your land arrangements. For every kilogram of carbon produced, we invest money on your behalf into projects that reduce or remove carbon elsewhere.