Carbon Offsetting as an Effective Tool in Sustainable Tourism

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) has been taking a closer look at carbon offsetting practices within the tourism industry. The Carbon Neutral Company defines carbon offsets as “credits for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made at another location”, for example, investing in wind farms to generate renewable energy to “offset” fossil fuel-derived energy. Some groups at Doha have advocated for the “Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)“, which, through trading of carbon credits, aims to “balance the books” on carbon emissions.

Challenges with Carbon Offsetting Project Management

Tourism businesses and destinations can “offset” travelers’ carbon emissions by calculating their travel-related emissions (air travel, local transportation, accommodation, etc.) and by making financial contributions to projects that addresscarbon-offset-tree-planting climate impact mitigation (e.g. tree planting, reforestation, subsidising renewable energy, or increasing energy efficiency). Costa Rica, for example, with the help of CANAECO, is aiming to be a carbon-neutral destination by sequestering 20% of all yearly flight emissions and planting 400,000 trees every year.

Overall, quality carbon offset projects should consist of actions that would not have occurred without the extra support. Tree-planting, for example, is one of the frequently implemented approaches to carbon offsetting projects, and is a convenient tool. Well-maintained tree-planting projects can serve as a breeding ground for promoting biodiversity, and may help reduce erosion risks, as well as providing positive effects for local communities through ecosystem services such as sustainable sources of firewood. Tree-planting projects that employ fast-growing, non-native trees provide far lower environmental benefits than those that focus on native species. In some cases, tree-planting may not be the optimal approach, as trees require more water than, for example, grasses and shrubs, and may require more skills and resources to manage and maintain.

Many critics of carbon offsetting argue that carbon offset schemes often give businesses and consumers the “excuse” for generating carbon emissions. Moreover, they note that carbon offsetting is often used as a way of making businesses look more attractive to consumers and often does not achieve what it claims. In order to be as truthful and effective as possible, tourism businesses and destinations should always be transparent, providing accurate information on the carbon offsetting schemes that they are engaged in. They have the responsibility to not only get the technicalities right, but also to accurately explain to their consumers what they are doing and how they are achieving their goals.

Ccarbon-offset-solararbon offsetting, in addition, should not be employed as a stand-alone strategy to address a business or a destination’s climate-friendly practices; rather, it should be considered as part of a mix of strategies including – measuring footprint, reducing emissions, managing impact, and compensating for the emissions that cannot be avoided.

The following are just a few examples of international tourism stakeholders that incorporate carbon offsetting schemes into their sustainability practices:

  • Spirit of Japan Travel offers tours throughout Japan for travelers to experience the culture of Japan and is a carbon neutral company. They offset their tour-related carbon emissions by investing portions of their profit in environmental organisations and renewable energy devices as well as planting of native trees with local communities and travelers.
  • Tahi is an estate situated in the North Island of New Zealand who offsets their carbon emissions by planting native trees and shrubs, providing carbon credits and selling them, establishing their own carbon accounting system as well as balancing its activities for carbon offsetting through employing a carbon researcher.

For the full story and for further information please visit the TIES website.

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