Carbon-Conscious Flying: Is it Really Sustainable?

 What You Need to Know About Carbon-Conscious Flying 

If you’re a frequent flyer, you may have noticed that air turbulence has been worse in the past few years, and flight delays due to extreme weather conditions have become common. Thus, it’s about time that we take climate change seriously. As travellers, we can do our share in helping the environment through carbon-conscious flying. 

Here’s what you need to know about carbon-conscious flying.

What is Being Done to Reduce CO2 Emissions from Flights?

Aviation is one of the world’s fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and the main driver of global climate change. While more sustainable technologies, such as electric planes and biofuels, are in the pipeline, they won’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, we are still decades away from implementing these technologies. In addition, the industry faces many challenges in producing more sustainable biofuels.

Governments have been crafting comprehensive climate plans for aviation, which include promoting alternatives to air travel to improve aircraft fuel efficiency. They have also proposed the development of more sustainable fuels, whether electricity or liquid fuels, and removing carbon from the atmosphere through renewable energy, nature-based climate solutions, and carbon credits. 

One of the methods airline companies embrace to help reduce carbon emissions is using SAF, a fuel made from vegetable and waste oils, instead of traditional fossil fuels. Although it produces a similar amount of carbon when burned, the savings come from manufacturing the fuel, which absorbs CO2 up to 100%.

Unfortunately, it can be cost-prohibitive for some airlines to invest in the required infrastructure to provide a new fuel type. In some cases, acquiring the oil for manufacture is also an issue since some collection methods are sometimes unreliable or inefficient.

ICAO - Corsia Brochure - Carbon-Conscious Flying
ICAO – Corsia Brochure
By ICAO – Corsia Brochure, Public Domain

What is Carbon Offset?

When it comes to long-distance, low-carbon travel, there’s no alternative to aviation. However, carbon offsetting can be seen as an immediate, pragmatic, and direct means to encourage ways to limit the impacts of climate change, at least for the short term. 

Carbon offsetting is a simple method for aviation to compensate for the proportion of an aircraft’s carbon emissions on trips by investing in projects to reduce carbon emissions. Over fifty airlines have implemented an offset programme. Some have integrated it into their web sales engines or through a third-party offset provider.

The carbon offsetting programmes also apply to passengers and companies that wish to understand the carbon impact of flying and those that want to directly contribute to carbon offset projects in various parts of the world while minimising their impact from flying. 

There are various ways to achieve carbon reductions through offsets. Many of these methods bring other environmental, social, and economic benefits while supporting many of the UN’s sustainable development goals. Industries can source carbon offsets from various project activities, such as using wind energy, methane capture forestry, and many other emissions-reducing or removal projects.

Carbon-Conscious Flying:Carbon Offset Through Your Airline

About a third of the world’s airline companies provide carbon offsets as an option when booking flights. By checking on the option to offset, you will pay an added fee for a specific carbon offset organisation. While this offers an easy option for flyers to contribute to carbon offset programmes, the schemes vary depending on the airline company. 

Some carbon offset programmes are managed by airlines themselves. Others outsource them through third-party schemes. And although some airlines are transparent about where the money goes, others are not. Therefore, it’s worth researching and understanding the airline company’s carbon offset programme before paying for it.  

One airline company that has embraced the carbon offsetting programme is Emirates. As stated on their website, the company does not want to pass on the responsibility of minimising carbon emissions to their paying customers. Instead, they would do it themselves. For them, it should be the emitter that pays the price. 

There are also budget airlines that are doing their bit. Flyla offers low-budget Carbon-Conscious flights, providing eco-conscious travellers with affordable, environmentally friendly options to reduce their carbon footprint while enjoying the convenience of air travel.

Are Carbon Offset Schemes Worthwhile?

Carbon offsetting is the only means to be carbon neutral since it’s not entirely possible to produce zero carbon. It is the best way to decrease our negative environmental impact, especially in the aviation industry.

However, many people criticise carbon offset schemes for two reasons. First, it only makes people “minimise” their guilt instead of taking direct action to reduce their carbon footprint by flying less. Many people also see it as paying for the pollution that we cause by taking flights, which will not do anything to change people’s behaviour of reducing the number of flights to take. 

Besides, carbon offset will not entirely contain the carbon dioxide produced in every flight. Carbon offset programmes only reduce the same amount of CO2 in flights from somewhere else. One example is providing communities with energy-saving means, such as eco-friendly cookers and light bulbs. 

Another reason many criticise carbon offset schemes is that it’s difficult to gauge the exact achievement of these schemes. Many have long-term or indirect impacts that are complicated to measure, requiring commitment and effort to educate the public on how to implement cleaner energy. 

So, are the carbon offset programmes worthwhile, and should you support them? Reducing the number of flights you take is the best solution to lowering carbon emissions. However, if you cannot avoid flying, carbon offset schemes might be better than not taking action to save the environment. In addition, many of these schemes also promote sustainable development, which can somehow minimise climate change.

How are Carbon Offsets Calculated?

They calculate carbon offsets based on the carbon dioxide emissions that every passenger can cause on every flight. Carbon offset calculators will vary, depending on how comprehensive they are. Some base it on the number of miles flown. The more comprehensive carbon offset calculators will consider whether you have travelled economy class or first class, the type of aircraft, and the number of passengers on a flight.