must read: Carbon compensation of flights

CO2 compensation for flights (and sometimes also other means of transport) is a heavily discussed phenomenon. Both flight operators and individual travelers, like me, have the option to pay extra to compensate for the CO2 emissions caused by the flight. However, it remains rather vague to me how compensations mechanisms actually work and if they work at all. In addition, there is a wide variety of choices in terms of prices and companies. Is one better than the other? How can I make a good choice when I want to compensate my flights?

As a lot of information is already available online to learn more about this phenomenon I decided to research CO2 compensation. I will highlight articles and scientific journals that I found very insightful in helping me to understand the complexities of CO2 compensation.

The Basics

1. A Complete Guide to Carbon Offsetting

The article ‘A complete guide to carbon offsetting’ from The Guardian is a good starting point when you want quick introduction to carbon offsetting and the debate surrounding it. Is CO2 compensation effective? How does it work? And what makes a good or bad compensation mechanism? The article is easy to read and it provides a good overview of different perspectives on compensation. The author highlights the importance of “additionality”, which means that compensation should not be activities that would have happened anyway.

2. Compensation Schemes for Air Transport

When you have more time and want a more elaborate explanation of how compensation schemes actually work and how efficient they are, this well readable scientific article might be for you. It gives general background information on compensation as well as a comparison between compensating, not flying at all or flying while not compensating from an environmental perspective. After reading the article it was especially clear to me why all the mechanisms have different pricing; this is mainly due to different ways of calculating CO2 emissions to be compensated.

The Expert Opinion

As you might already read in the first article a ‘complete guide to carbon offsetting’ there are many  strong opinions on carbon offsetting present.

3. Paying more for flights eases guilt, not emissions

This is interesting to read if you want to learn more about the cons of carbon offsetting. Mr. Francis director of Responsible Travel, a company for sustainable travelling, argues that carbon compensation distracts people from making more significant behavioural changes.

4. Vliegtuiguitstoot is niet te compenseren (In Dutch)

The main argument of the article is that considering the available land and available projects for compensation, offsetting all flight emissions is impossible. However, currently demand for compensation schemes is lower than offered by available projects.

5. Several articles by climate expert and journalist Bart Crezee:

Successful Colombian rainforest project exposes problems with carbon emissions trading

Meer mensen vliegen CO2 neutraal maar heeft dat zin? (In Dutch)

Duurzamer Reizen Doe Je Zo (in Dutch)

Climate expert and journalist Bart Crezee has done journalistic research on carbon compensation projects in South-America. He argues that carbon compensation can help people most affected by climate change by giving financial incentives to become more resilient. However, he argues that we should not only compensate but also reduce our emissions.

How To Decide as a Traveller

Even though compensating for flights and choosing a good scheme is a must, it is still important to consider other options and alternative ways of travelling when possible. The articles mention the importance of choosing a reliable and effective compensation scheme as there are big differences in quality. There are two labels that check whether a compensation scheme/project is of good quality these are The Gold Standard and the VCS program by Verra.

6. The Gold Standard

7. VCS (Verified Carbon Standard) by Verra


 by Emmy