What role does travelling play in global warming and climate change?
It’s an uncomfortable question for a travel company and certainly one that most of my industry colleagues would prefer to ignore! But I must firstly acknowledge my own carbon deficit from many years of travelling. While I always offset my flights now, I still have a lot to account for from previous years of travel.
Let’s talk straight to the facts here: It’s estimated that tourism accounts for 8% of all global emissions in today’s world. At a time when we need to wind back our carbon emissions, the demand for travel and flights has grown hugely. The cost of a return flight to Europe, for instance, has fallen hugely – 20% since 2013 and a lot more in real terms since 2003. An average return flight to Europe from Australia emits approximately 8000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. These are depressing facts for an avid traveller, so what can and should we do?
In Scandinavia, there has been a recent movement to promote train travel over flying in Europe. Here in Australia we don’t have that option of an extensive, fast and affordable rail system so it’s extremely unlikely that people will ever give up flying solely because of flights emissions. For many of us, travelling and overseas holidays are too ingrained in our expectations and concepts of what constitutes a good life. Not to mention all those relatives and friends abroad, work trips and study where flying is the only practical way to travel.
We could wait for improvements in jet engine emissions and efficiency or the development of a non-carbon fuel-based engine, but realistically that is still many, many years away and the time for action is now. So what options does that leaves us with?
Carbon offsets, to refresh your memory, are financial contributions to projects that help reduce CO2 emissions in various industries, or encourage new sustainable energy projects in an effort to balance out the carbon damage your flight does to the planet.
This concept has been around for a long time so why has it not been more widely adopted?
I believe partly because the public has been sceptical about where their money ends up and the effectiveness of the early unregulated schemes. And partly because the cost of the offsets was quite high initially. When we offset our charity groups flights in 2004 it was costing around $80 on average for a return flight to South-East Asia through a third-party scheme. As Qantas, Virgin and other airlines have started to get onboard the ease of buying offsets and their cost has now come down to an affordable level for travellers.
What is RAW Travel doing?
RAW Travel is starting to purchase carbon offsets for everyone who chooses to fly internationally with us. We won’t be passing program costs onto our travellers as these are covered by our 10% for the Planet commitment, which dedicates part of our annual profits to social and environmental causes. As such, there is no surcharge or any hidden additional cost to our customers.
We are also starting to audit all our trips and office operations with the aim of making them carbon neutral initially and eventually moving beyond that to becoming net carbon positive (taking out more than we produce).
We have partnered with a local carbon offset company to invest in gold standard carbon offset projects and also tree planting here in Australia, with a commitment to plant one tree for every person we carry on our trips. Though the benefits of those new trees won’t be fully realised until they are fully grown, we figure that’s a good investment for the future.
Lastly, some really good news
By 2021, airlines that fly internationally will have to offset any emissions under a UN agreement (called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, – CORSIA – agreed in 2018 in Montreal, Canada). The pilot phase of this scheme starts in 2021 and is voluntary but it does give some impetus to broader adoption of carbon offsets in Aviation and gives passengers an increasing choice and voice by rewarding airlines who participate. For the meantime at RAW we’d like to close the gap and offset our travellers’ emissions now.
We hope you will join us and start offsetting all your domestic and international flights. It’s a very small price to pay for supporting the planet that sustains us all and ensuring our travel habits are sustainable for the future.