Will buying carbon offsets really help to make your flight greener?

2 months ago 86

SINGAPORE: Even as airlines recover from three years of border closures and pandemic restrictions, there are growing calls for the industry to do more to address climate change.

Airlines are responsible for nearly 3 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and more are offering climate-conscious travellers an option to reduce the environmental impact of their flight – by buying carbon offsets.

But does paying extra for your airfare have any actual impact on the planet?


In general, offsetting aims to mitigate the climate damage that carbon emissions cause by paying to prevent or reduce such emissions elsewhere.

This involves buying carbon credits – a permit or certificate that represents a reduction of one tonne of carbon dioxide emission – generated from verified environmental projects.

When a carbon credit is used to compensate for emissions produced elsewhere, it is “retired” or taken out of circulation, and becomes a carbon offset.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is one of the carriers that give travellers the option to pay an additional fee for carbon offsets. Passengers can calculate their share of carbon emissions on the airline’s website, and pay for the offsets using cash or frequent flyer miles.

For example, a passenger on a return economy class flight from Singapore to London can pay S$21.86 to offset 1,682.3kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

SIA said 100 per cent of these funds will go towards preserving rainforests in Indonesia, solar energy projects in India and distributing clean-burning cooking stoves in the rural parts of Nepal.

Other major airlines with similar carbon offset programmes include Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways.

In total, more than 50 airlines – including half of the world’s 20 largest carriers – currently do so, according to figures from Geneva-based industry association Air Transport Action Group.


But with these carbon offset schemes being voluntary, the take-up rate has been low, experts said.

“Uptake varies according to the airlines, but typically it is very low – under 5 per cent of passengers choose to offset their emissions through the airlines,” said Air Transport Action Group executive director Haldane Dodd.

Other experts that CNA spoke to were not surprised, noting that most consumers wo...

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