Mia Taylor

Written by Mia Taylor
Last updated: Saturday, March 23, 2024 at 7:00 a.m. ET

As the effects of climate change become more severe, more products and services are being marketed to travelers to help offset their carbon footprint.

The most common is carbon offsets. This allows independent travelers to invest in environmental projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions pollution. Common examples of projects that can be financed through the purchase of carbon offsets include tree planting operations and the construction of renewable energy sources.

While these purchases may seem helpful, there is much debate about whether they will truly have a meaningful impact in the fight to slow and reverse climate change. At worst, carbon offset projects are labeled as a form of greenwashing that doesn't actually help reduce CO2 emissions. However, some experts argue that the benefits of purchasing offsets may outweigh the challenges that critics point out.

There are other steps travelers can take to reduce their carbon footprint, which some travel industry leaders say are more effective than offset purchases. One of the key options in this camp is to invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS), a next-generation approach to technology that removes CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently stores it.

With so many different options, not to mention pros and cons, it can be difficult for the average traveler to choose and understand their options when planning a trip.

With this in mind, TravelPulse has taken a deeper dive into carbon offset and carbon capture technology. Here's what travelers need to know:

Carbon dioxide emissions and impact on nature

Carbon dioxide emissions and their impact on nature (Photo credit: Courtesy of AdobeStock)

Carbon offsets: How they work and the roots of criticism

According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), aircraft emit more than 850 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. And that pollution is expected to triple by 2050. If compared to a country, aviation would be among the world's top 10 emitters, says EDF.

To break this down further, a one-way flight from San Francisco to Paris can emit about 1.25 tons of carbon dioxide per passenger, according to Sustainable Travel International. This is equivalent to more than a quarter of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average person around the world on one round trip flight per year.

One of the most popular products being sold to travelers to address this problem is carbon offsets, which theoretically offset the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a traveler's flight. Offsets are sold by a variety of independent companies, including Sustainable Travel International, Cool Effect, and Terrapass, to name a few. You can also purchase offsets directly from some airlines and online booking sites.

Carbon offsets are very affordable to purchase and transactions can be completed online in just a few minutes. This makes this approach very attractive for travelers concerned about the impact of flying.

However, there are widely differing opinions on whether offsets actually work. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), for example, says these are not effective solutions to the problem of carbon emissions associated with flight.

“You've probably heard a lot about offsetting emissions as a way to reduce your carbon footprint. Unfortunately, there is a lot of talk in this area about green offsetting, with misleading claims and schemes that make false promises. Washing is on the rise. Carbon offsets do not reduce emissions at the source, and purchasing offsets is a last resort after other means of reducing or avoiding emissions have been considered. ” states the WWF website.

One of the main criticisms of carbon offsets is that there is no way to prove that projects funded by offset purchases are effective or have the promised benefits.

“One of the most common offset schemes is tree planting. However, there is no guarantee that forests will be permanent or well managed, and there is no guarantee that forests will be permanent or well managed, and native species can be planted in appropriate areas with due consideration to nature. There is no guarantee that the trees will be planted,” the WWF website explains.

Carbon Brief, a UK-based website that covers the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy, says climate offset projects may be making claims about the project's benefits that are not true. Says. “From clean cooking initiatives to forest protection schemes, there is growing evidence that offset projects are overstating their ability to reduce emissions.Unpublished research shows that just 12 percent of offsets sold reductions that suggest they will lead to “real emissions”,” the website says.

Christina Beckmann, president of Tomorrow's Air, an organization focused on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, says carbon offsets have some value, but she doubts the effectiveness of such projects. He says it's difficult to prove.

“Reliable carbon offsets are important. They help fund conservation in important places,” she tells TravelPulse. “All of these things are true. And at the same time, they can also be very difficult to verify.”

Beckman continued: Carbon offsets are often based on claims that may not be true, such as, “If it weren't for your spending, this forest would have been cut down.”

“Such things can be difficult to prove,” Beckman points out. “And the average person can't do a deep investigation into every project and its claims.”

Best practices for purchasing carbon offsets

For travelers looking to purchase carbon offsets, Scott McDougall, Director of Sustainability at Adventure Canada, recommends basic due diligence steps to ensure you get the most bang for your buck. states that there are several.

Third party certification

Looking for third-party certification is an important first step when choosing a carbon offset project or a company to work with.

“Ensuring that offsets work as intended is complex. Thankfully, some great third-party certifiers have emerged to ease the selection process,” McDougall explained. We recommend that travelers choose offsets certified by at least one of the following programs run by nonprofit organizations:

  • gold standard
  • Verified carbon standards
  • Climate change protection area
  • american carbon registry

Consider relevance

It's also a good idea to choose or support some form of offset project with your trip, such as choosing to fund initiatives that benefit the destination you plan to visit, McDougall says. Masu.

“For example, in our case, while finding and creating projects in the Arctic, we decided to support a carbon offset project in the Great Bear Forest because it is Indigenous-owned in Canada and privately owned. “This is an area where people sometimes sail,” McDougall explains. “It may be important to you to choose a project that aligns with your values ​​and has a tangible impact in your destination. If so, it's important to consider relevance.”

Pursue financial transparency

As with any purchase, make sure you understand exactly how your money will be used upfront. For carbon offsets, find out what percentage of the money you donate goes to its intended purpose, says Hilary Matson, founder of sustainable travel company Yugen Earthside.

“Call for transparency about how much of the funding goes to carbon projects,” Matson explains. “This could include information about what percentage of the payment goes towards the project itself.”

Project type matters

There are many different types of projects that can be supported with carbon offsets. Tree planting is a popular option, but it can be a “weak effort” unless the project carefully ensures that the trees grow to maturity, accurately reports progress, and avoids clearing land. Matson explains. [later]. ”

Other projects, such as implementing wind or solar energy, may have greater or longer-term benefits, depending on the organization and the management of the project itself.

sustainability, ESG, green travel, green travel, sustainability goals

Sustainability comes in many forms. (Photo credit: narawit/Adobe Stock)

Carbon capture technology: new options

Regarding the impact of our travels, Beckman said there is a growing need among the general public to not only offset carbon emissions, but actively remove carbon from the atmosphere through the process of carbon capture and storage (CCS). We work to encourage a broader range of thinking, including:

The Carbon Offset Guide explains that CCS projects “capture CO2 emissions directly from the source or from the air (direct atmospheric capture) and transfer them to active and abandoned oil and gas reservoirs, saline zones, Inject into underground geological formations such as water aquifers, groundwater aquifers, etc.” – mineable coal seams in which they are stored. ”

In some cases, Beckman explains, CO2 can be mixed with water and injected into basalt, a type of rock that lies beneath the Earth's surface more than anything else.

“This carbon dioxide gas is getting into the cracks in the basalt,” Beckman explains. “You can think of it as cleaning carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it forever.”

Projects of this kind, taking place in countries such as Iceland and Oman, provide some of the latest innovations to tackle carbon emissions and make up the bulk of the work carried out by Tomorrow's Air.

Travelers who want to help address the impact of their carbon footprint by supporting the development of CCS technology can donate to Tomorrow's Air in increments as low as $10.

airplane landing at sunset

Airplane landing at sunset. (Photo credit: william87/Adobe Stock)

Raising demands on travel agencies

Traveling between trains, planes, cars, tours, hotels, currencies, and restaurants is complex. Add carbon quantification and offsets to the mix and it can become a headache for the average person.

To that end, all the experts interviewed said the best long-term solution is for travel operators to step up their efforts and incorporate such carbon offsets into their business models. Some industry leaders are already doing so, but they remain in the minority. Travelers can put pressure on more providers, including airlines, travel advisors and hotels, to do their part and force those companies to proactively solve carbon offset issues for their customers. You can make a call, McDougall said.

“Not only does this make it easier to offset, but it also tells the industry that they need to anticipate this and provide it to their guests,” McDougall explains.

Beckman offers similar insights, suggesting that it's unrealistic to expect travelers to do all the paperwork when supporting carbon offset and carbon capture efforts. And it is only when the travel industry begins to move towards incorporating these types of costs into its booking and pricing models that we will experience the major changes that are sorely needed at this time.

“In the grand scheme of things, all of this should be factored into the cost of travel, just as bananas at the grocery store are unreasonably expensive because of the transportation costs,” Beckman says.

Whether it comes from consumers, the industry itself, or both, these types of carbon offset, capture, and storage efforts are more important than ever, Beckman said. added.

“Even if all emissions stopped today, the warming trend would continue for the next 1,000 years,” Beckman said. “We have taken too long to reduce emissions. Nature alone can no longer do this job.”

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