Sunday 15 September 2019

Does carbon offsetting cancel out taking a private jet, to Nice, for your holidays?

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrive at Fua'amotu Airport on October 25, 2018 in Nuku'Alofa, Tonga. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on their official 16-day Autumn tour visiting cities in Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - Pool/Getty Images)
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrive at Fua'amotu Airport on October 25, 2018 in Nuku'Alofa, Tonga. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on their official 16-day Autumn tour visiting cities in Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - Pool/Getty Images)
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Does carbon offsetting really cancel out hopping on a private jet for your holliers to Ibiza, and Nice?

Or is it just a way for the super-rich to absolve themselves of eco-sinning?

This week, singer Elton John jumped to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s defence regarding their use of private jets.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have reportedly taken four trips on luxury planes within 11 days.

For some, such extravagance seemed at odds with the worthy and passionate statements the couple have issued about the protection of the planet.

Earlier this summer, Harry reportedly flew to Google Camp to lecture on the environment, and has frequently spoken about the fragility of the earth.

"With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this Earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference,” he said.

According to the BBC's fact checking team the Duke and Duchess' two return flights to Nice by private jet would have created roughly 37 tons of Co2 which is “more than six times an average Briton's yearly emissions.”

Predictably, this rattled a  lot of people, who accused the couple of "eco posturing”, and of being blatantly hypocritical.

With criticism of Harry and Meghan hotting up, Elton John sought to clarify things.

The Rocket Man singer issued a statement saying he not only stumped up for the plane, but also paid to offset its giant carbon footprint.

This, he claimed, ensured that the flight was ‘carbon neutral’.

Case closed, nothing more to see here, thank you very much. But is it really that simple?

Carbon offsetting has been around for a few years now.

It basically involves rounding up your carbon emissions and having the equivalent “cancelled out” by donating monies to projects that benefit the environment.

These can include reforestation programmes, incentives to reduce levels of methane produced by livestock, or donating funds towards renewable energy.

Celebrities are very keen on it, as it allows them to continue to jet around the world and not feel at all guilty.

In 2003, following the success of Coldplay’s second album A Rush Of Blood To The Head, Chris Martin tried to offset some of the carbon footprint the band generating while flitting around the globe to festivals.

So he paid for some 10,000 mango trees to be planted in India.

Fans could also donate saplings to the forest, but in 2006 it turned out that 40pc of the tress had died, and had to be cut down.

Ironically, this released even more carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The episode was subsequently dubbed the Coldplay Conundrum.

For some, carbon offsetting is the eco version of having your cake and eating it too. “So what if I’m taking a private jet instead of the bus to work? I’ve got carbon credits – someone is planting a few trees, or helping to save a black footed ferret on my behalf. It’s grand.”

A modern day plenary indulgence for the rich and famous, or a handy alibi for airline companies who claim their increasing emissions can be now be negated.

In fact, carbon offsetting can have a detrimental impact on the planet.

In 2017, a study by the UN Commission found that 85 per cent of offsetting projects were unlikely to deliver ‘measurable’ benefits.

This summer, Niklas Hagelberg, a Senior Programme Officer at UN Environment warned that offsetting was not a‘get-out-of-jail free card’ to be used by ‘polluters as a free pass for inaction.’

“If we are serious about averting catastrophic planetary changes, we need to reduce emissions by 45 per cent by 2030,” he wrote.

“Carbon offset projects will never be able to curb the emissions growth...

He challenged those “Buying carbon credits in exchange for a clean conscience while you carry on flying, buying diesel cars and powering your homes with fossil fuels.”

On top of that, a healthy swath of the companies facilitating carbon offsetting are private and commercial businesses - you can even buy carbon credits from Goldman Sachs.

But it would be unfair to tar all carbon offsetting companies with the same brush.

Vita is an Irish NGO charity that offers ‘social impact’ carbon offsetting - this means they don’t simply plant a ton of trees; instead they invest in the communities feeling the affects of climate change.

“There are big corporations who use carbon offsetting simply as a means to mitigate any accountability," Holly Hughes spokesperson for Vita said.

“They use it as a means to green wash. It should be used but only with a robust reduction policy.

“We invest in communities and farms in Africa and reduce down their carbon footprint,” she said.

We shouldn’t let the association with super rich celebrities detract from the good that some carbon offsetting does.

"There is a feeling that offsetting is elitist,” Ms Hughes said.

“But you can buy carbon credits for €5.50, and offset your annual carbon footprint for €60. Offsetting should only be used in conjunction with emission reduction policy, and to counter unavoidable carbon emissions.”

So the lesson is simple – only use carbon offsetting when you have to, and maybe don’t take four private jets within a fortnight.

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