Doomed from the start: EU proposal to ‘offset’ aviation’s emissions

13 Oktober 2013

The EU and its partners from the ‘High Ambition Coalition,’ recently called on countries to join a voluntary carbon-offsetting scheme to compensate for aviation’s massive projected growth in emissions. Unfortunately, such a call undermines the very purpose of the coalition: to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Since offsetting does not reduce emissions, allowing the aviation sector to grow and offset will almost certainly mean we will over-step the carbon budget (the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted and still keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius).

The EU is right to push for more ambition in this sector: international aviation, synonymous with the polluting habits of the few (globally, fewer than seven per cent of people fly) is a top-ten polluter. But the sector’s plan to cut carbon emissions is laughable: to allow exponential growth in emissions, and claim that this growth is ‘carbon neutral’ due to an offsetting scheme. Forests cannot offset aviation’s emissions, as Fern pointed out in a video clip that went viral on social media.

Pushing guilt-free flying, in which airlines offset their emissions with forests, is absurd as forests are a temporary and reversible source of carbon storage. In a warming world, it is likely that major forest basins such as the Amazon will die-back, so any emissions taken in will soon be released again. Offsetting ignores the huge difference between having carbon locked in fossil fuels and having it temporarily stored in trees. There is also a significant risk that offset credits would be ‘double counted,’ since most forested countries have already counted the reduction in emissions from reining in deforestation as part of their international climate commitments.

Speaking out about what should be done to tackle aviation emissions, more than 100 organisations including Fern, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth issued a declarationstating that, if we are serious about limiting warming then the aviation sector must accept a deal that actually reduces emissions. As a first step, forest carbon offsets must be ruled out.

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