State bodies have paid out €170,000 of taxpayers’ money to offset carbon emissions from official flights

Ministers say the public sector must 'play a key role' in tackling greenhouse gases. Photo: Matt Cardy

Caroline O'Doherty

Government departments and public bodies paid more than €170,000 in carbon offsets to make up for flying on official business over two years.

The money was paid into the national Climate Action Fund, which is used to grant aid education, enterprise, community and creative projects that tackle climate change.

But the value of the gesture has been questioned as critics say offsets can never make up for the damage caused by carbon emissions.

The figures were supplied to Sinn Féin climate spokesperson Senator Lynn Boylan and are the first since the Government introduced the policy for all public bodies in 2020.

Ninety-two departments, agencies and bodies paid over sums for air travel in 2020 ranging from €3.81 paid by Leitrim County Council to €17,832 by the Department of Foreign Affairs. All the money paid in respect of travel in 2020 came to €77,831.

Slightly fewer bodies, totalling 80, paid sums for travel in 2021 ranging from €3.03 paid by the Institute of Public Health to €36,689 by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Total payments for 2021 came to €93,212.

In both years, the Department of Defence made the second highest payments: €14,308 and €16,361. Details of payments for 2022 were to be lodged with the Climate Action Fund administrators within the past few weeks.

The policy was brought in by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which said the state faced “challenging greenhouse gas emission reduction targets” and the public sector must “play a demonstrative role” on climate action.

Ms Boylan questioned the value of the policy, saying she accepted that some official air travel was necessary but claimed that offsets were “indulgences to clear one’s conscience”.

She sought assurances that efforts were being made to reduce the number of flights.

The Department of Public Expenditure, in introducing the policy, issued an instruction to all departments that: “Heads of departments should appraise, monitor and ensure that only essential air travel is undertaken and that the number of officers on any official journey is kept to the absolute minimum.”

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan had addressed the issue at a recent Oireachtas committee where he also accepted Ms Boylan’s concerns.

“I agree we cannot rely on offsetting as the way of addressing the bigger problem we have,” he said.

“Post Covid, one of the changes has been the use of online, virtual meetings and that has been of much benefit.

“Meetings still need to be held in person as well and it is not that we will never fly or have to go abroad, but my view is the more we can reduce that, the better it will be for all concerned.”

He also said: “It is no fun being on a 6am flight.”

Mr Ryan’s departments, Environment and Transport, collectively paid €1,621 to offset air travel in 2020 and €862 for travel in 2021.

The offset payments for flights taken with commercial airlines are worked out using an online calculator run by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Offsets for flights taken on the government jet are calculated based on the current level of carbon tax. The tax when the scheme was introduced was €26 a tonne of carbon but is currently €48.50.

Other high emitters over the two years were the Department of Enterprise which paid €14,082 in 2020 and €8,047 in 2021. An Garda Síochána paid €3,260 and €6,642 respectively, and Bord Bia paid €6,138 and €4,152.