Travel firm drops offsets as unwanted ‘diversion’January 2010
A ‘socially responsible’ travel agent has become one of the world’s first companies to publicly abandon carbon offsetting, highlighting an increasingly prominent debate as to whether offsetting really makes a contribution to tackling climate change.
responsibletravel.com, which takes more than £10million ($16.1m, €11.2m) in holiday bookings every year, has removed the facility for its customers to offset their travel emissions via its website, saying effort needs to be put into actually reducing greenhouse gases.
Offsets are typically achieved through financial support of projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short- or long-term – or by other measures such as planting trees.
responsibletravel.com was launched in 2001 with backing from private investors including Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, and the following year offered one of the first carbon offset schemes in tourism.
However, the UK company now says it feels offsetting represents wasted effort that will not help to meet real global emissions reduction targets. ‘We believe the travel industry’s priority must be to reduce carbon emissions, rather than to offset,’ it said. ‘Too often offsets are being used by the tourism industry in developed countries to justify growth plans on the basis that money will be donated to projects in developing countries. We believe offsetting distracts from the real issues.’
Instead of providing carbon offset options with its products, the web-based travel agent is now giving ‘carbon cautions’ to travellers, offering advice and tips on reducing emissions through less flying, lifestyle changes and other measures. All of the company’s 3500 holidays around the world can now be booked as ‘land only’ packages that do not involve flying.
Although some businesses have stopped offsetting to cut costs as a result of the recession, responsibletravel.com is claiming to be the first to do so on principle.
Many businesses remain firm supporters of the idea, and in November Walt Disney announced it would be spending $7m on offsetting emissions through forestry projects in Congo, Peru and parts of the US.
Over the past few years, offsetting has also spawned the creation of a host of carbon management firms, such as The Carbon Neutral Company and co2balance, that have been set up to help businesses offset their emissions.
A number of non-governmental organizations have criticized offsetting since its emergence, with Friends of the Earth labelling the idea as a ‘dangerous distraction’.
Greenpeace has been particularly vocal on the issue. It recently issued a report, Carbon Scam, attacking Latin American offset schemes supported by American Electric Power, BP and PacifiCorp as unreliable and ineffective.
Sinkswatch, an NGO that scrutinizes carbon management projects, says offsetting schemes actually run the risk of ‘exacerbating’ climate change by providing the false expectation that they are making a difference.
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