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Using carbon off-setting to tackle climate change

Project title:

An Assessment of the Potential of Carbon Offset Schemes to Mitigate the Climate Change Implications of Future Growth of UK Aviation.

Principal investigators:

Prof. Callum Thomas, Ben Daley, Ms Holly Preson, Dr Paul Hooper


Omega: Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)





Carbon offsetting is a mechanim for compensating for a greengouse gas emissions generated by a particular activity by paying for equivalent emissions savings or reductions to be made elsewhere in the economy. This OMEGA study was designed to clarify the role, the effectiveness and the credibility of offsetting for air travel and to investigate attitured towards the offset concept amongst airline passengers. It involved literature reviews, an examination of carbon offset providers, and a survey of passengers travelling through Manchester Airport.

Offsetting is a problematic response to climate change for a variety of reasons, nevertheless it offers an incentive for organisations and individuals to take action to limit greenhouse gas emissions and voluntary carnon markets are evolving rapidly. The scholarly literature on carbon offsetting – whilst presently limited – is also developing rapidly as offsetting receives increasingly critical scrutiny.



Carbon offsetting is being advanced as a pragmatic mechanism for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions arising from aviation. It involves carbon equivalent
investment in projects that create corresponding ‘savings’ elsewhere. Most such initiatives (such as the construction of wind farms or provision of solar powered cookers) are carried out in developing economies outside the provisions of the Kyoto protocol.

A number of organisations provide voluntary carbon offset services to the public but uptake is low due to lack of awareness and willingness to pay, attitudes to climate change and the ‘remote’ nature of programmes being funded.

The study will survey the travelling public to determine the potential of voluntary
schemes to generate substantial sums for investment and explore whether any
future mandatory scheme would be necessary.

It will identify carbon reduction initiatives in Greater Manchester and compare
their rate of return with that achieved by lower cost projects in other countries. As
well as consulting with key stakeholders on how they can contribute, the study
will determine the potential to extend similar schemes to other UK airports.


Benefits for all

Public acceptance and adoption of aviation climate change offsetting schemes could have immediate environmental and social benefits. Passengers may empathise more with – and be more likely to support – local initiatives. Funding local projects would benefit communities adversely affected by airport operations. More generally, the schemes would help raise public awareness of the climate change implications of their consumer choices and encourage them to pay to compensate for the environmental effects of air travel. Public participation
could also enhance individual responsibility and encourage action at the household level. The study explored all these issues.



Offsets provide a means of compensating for the carbon dioxide and other climate change emissions resulting from human actibities. They should however be an action of last resort after other means of avoiding and.orreducing emissions have been used and should not slow the move towards a low carbon economy.

Offsets can be purchased by individuals wishing to compensate for their choices and in this regards they represent one of the few opportunities for immediate and direct action to minimise climate change by the consumers of products and services. This is important in respect of air transport because of the magnnitude of climate change emissions associated with flights and because, there is often no suitable low carbon alternative to aviation for long distance high speed travel.

Given that offset schemes are currently voluntary, if a greater uptake is to be achieved then much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the existence and benefits of such schemes.

Standardisation of methods of calculating the CO2 emissions from particular flights and of emissions savings made by particular offset schemes is necessary to minimise confusion and mistrust and build the credibility of the offset industry amongst consumers.

This study has revealed a core of passengers who wich to offset the full climate change emissions of their flights but a much larger proportion who wish simply to make a compensatory payment. Clear and transparent systems catering for different customer demands are therefore required. This can extend to providing details of the social co-benefits that can arise from aprticular offset activities that may make them more attractive to consumers.

This study has identified the need for a further research:

to develop a standard methodology for calculating offset emissions

to assess the market expansion potential of offering a fixed rate offset product

to ascertain whether the attitudes expressed in the passenger survey undertaken here are representative of the wider general public.