Offsetting and the aviation industry are being challenged

Offsetting and the aviation industry are being challenged

In April last year, I described aviation as the Achilles Heel of our sector and pointed out that consumers are increasingly demanding that producers and suppliers address the sustainability of the goods and services offered to us to purchase – the same pressure needs to come on the manufacturers of aeroplanes and providers of flights and fuel. I learnt last week, at the Climate Friendly Travel summit at SUNX Malta, that the need is more urgent than I thought – 7 to 10 years – and that the best hope is Sustainable Aviation Fuels, not carbon offsetting.

Back in December E4tech (UK) Ltd and studio Gear Up published a report commissioned by the Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management in the Netherlands. The report considered whether the introduction of an annual renewable energy obligation for aviation would be an effective way to stimulate the production and consumption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to achieve the objective of a minimum of 14% sustainable aviation fuel in the Netherlands by 2030. In February 2019 a Draft Sustainable Aviation Agreement was adopted at the Sustainable Aviation Roundtable, which committed to a target of at least 14% of the aviation fuel bunkered in the Netherlands in 2030 being sustainable. E4tech concluded that “a blending obligation in the Netherlands would provide the highest level of assurance that a 14% target would be met.”

On Tuesday Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen announced that from 2023 airlines will only be able to refuel at Dutch airports with kerosene to which biological or synthetic fuel has been added. The blending obligation “will encourage investments in the production and purchase of green fuels such as biokerosene and synthetic kerosene”.

This is almost certainly the beginning of a major shift towards sustainable aviation fuel. It is in the interest of all those reliant on aviation to encourage the oil companies, aircraft manufacturers and airlines to demand sustainable aviation.

This matters to your business and to your clients. It is an important priority for tourists and tourism businesses. But as Justin Francis pointed out last week in a post on LinkedIn on Coronavirus “being dependent on the tourism industry for putting food on the table or sending your kids to school is very different to relying on it for your holiday.” The aviation industry needs to be pressed, and pressed hard, to decarbonise.

I have explained why carbon offsetting is part of the problem, it is not part of the solution. Most carbon offsets do not deliver for the environment, but they do deliver for the airlines and our sector because they provide a fig leaf which enables business as usual.

On Monday Britain’s advertising watchdog opened an investigation into claims by Shell (RDSa.L) that customers at its petrol stations can “drive carbon neutral”, after receiving complaints from members of the public. It will be some months before the Advertising Standards Authority makes it ruling, but there has been front-page criticism in the mainstream press. On 22nd February, in a front page lead, the Daily Telegraph warned that “Consumers trying to offset their emissions risk being deceived in a “Wild West” unregulated carbon market…” In November, the Financial Times carried an article headlined Carbon offset gold rush is distracting us from climate change.

“Not since the Catholic Church sold indulgences to reduce time in purgatory has there been such a flourishing market in the forgiveness of sin. Thanks to climate change, a rash of organisations are now offering to absolve guilt over polluting if we pay them to “offset” carbon, sometimes by planting trees. While their motives may be admirable, this new gold rush could prove to be a dangerous delusion.” More in the Financial Times

As Camilla Cavendish points out “it is much easier to buy the credit than verify the reduction”.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Chris Stark, chief executive of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, expressed concerns about corporate offsetting schemes: “If every corporate is relying on tree planting as a means of offsetting their emissions then we are not going to make as much progress as we think..” Read more in FT

If you are buying offsets, take care, you may be jeopardising your reputation, particularly if you are selling them to your customers. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is. There is more here about the questions to ask of any carbon offset.

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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