Carbon offset schemes, designed to mitigate the effects of carbon pollution into the earth’s atmosphere caused by jet fuel from airlines, are still not widely adopted by the industry. According to a report from the Australian National University, less than 1 percent of emissions have been offset by most Australian airlines.
This has led many climate change experts to believe that such schemes are ineffective at tackling the problem of global warming.
Professor William Steffen, of ANU, told The Australian, that projects for reforestation and tree planting do little to counter the carbon emissions caused by airlines.
“If there was an additional fee on the ticket that would go into research for non-fossil fuels based aviation fuels, I would definitely tick that and pay for it,” says professor Steffen.
Carbon offsets in Australia work by encouraging industries which release carbon, to offset the pollution by capturing the gas, primarily with the planting of trees and plants. According to The Australian, even the best performing Australian airline, Qantas, which offset 10 percent of its carbon emissions, only offset 200,000 tons last year compared to the 12.3 million tonnes its jets released into the air.
However, not everybody agrees these schemes are doomed. Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter doesn’t believe offsetting is the only reason tree planting and reforestation should be encouraged.
“There’s not a good reason to do the offset programs by themselves; they can have really important extra benefits in terms of biodiversity and support for remote indigenous communities,” says Baxter. “[The] key thing is what benefit you get from the money you’re putting in, and what is the best bang for the buck.”
And, despite modest success so far, even Qantas believes public awareness of carbon offsetting is increasing. The airline says that in January, following the catastrophic Australian bushfires, it saw a doubling of recorded carbon offsets.
This year, Qantas predicts its lowest carbon emissions since 2014, but this will mainly have been achieved as a result of more fuel efficient airplanes as well as the reduced demand in travel due to the corona virus outbreak.
More radical approaches to cutting carbon emissions by the airline industry include turning to bio-fuels, rather than fossil fuels. Professor Steffen says that Sweden plans to create distilleries at its biggest airports that will create fuel for aircraft purely from the waste from its vast forestry sectors.
“We are getting to the stage where we can produce biologically based aviation fuels that are safe and suitable for modern aircraft. The catch is quantity and price.”
Most consumers are usually encouraged to offset the carbon they produce by flying by ticking a box at the time of booking their flight, which usually adds a fee, or a “donation”, to the airline to help reduce its carbon footprint.
In truth, the aviation industry only generates around 2 percent of total global carbon emissions. But, nevertheless, it is a problem many airlines take seriously. Air France, for example, now offsets 100% of all its carbon emissions for domestic flights. That averages at 450 flights a year carrying 57,000 customers.