Understanding Offsetting Carbon Footprint

Offsetting to help ourselves and the destinations we love. But where does the money go?

By TTM on 27 November 2007 in Travel Articles

ABTA, (Association of British Travel Agents) together with AiTO, (Association of Independent Tour Operators) has entered into the hotly-debated arena of carbon offsetting with ‘Reduce My Footprint’ - a new scheme, operated by Carbon Offsets Ltd. The initiative doesn’t claim to absolve the guilt of travellers, but encourages them to reduce emissions across every aspect of life (not just air travel) and to ‘offset’ what can’t be reduced.

Reduce My Footprint, makes sure that money raised goes to projects to improve the lives of people who live in holiday destinations, sustain the beautiful environments we love to visit and to contribute to Government approved offsetting schemes.

“So far, travellers have found it hard to get excited by ‘offsetting,’ as they are often confused by the process and can’t relate to where their hard-earned cash is going to,” said Keith Richards, ABTA’s Head of Consumer Affairs, “Reduce My Footprint is about trying to re-balance our lives and putting money into projects that will make a difference. 25% of our emissions come from our own households and Reduce My Footprint provides basic tips on how you can reduce your emissions at home, with your car and before and while you travel. What you can’t reduce you can offset.”

Funds raised will be used for a range of schemes. From every £1 spent on projects:

50p will be invested in Government approved schemes – or Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), that have been certified under the Kyoto Protocol. The current CER project is a wind farm project in India, which provides power to the local grid without using fossil fuels.

30p goes to the Travel Foundation. The Travel Foundation is an independent UK charity that helps the outbound travel industry manage tourism more sustainably. Contributions from Reduce My Footprint will be divided between:

1. Energy reduction programmes in tourism destinations in the UK and overseas, including solar power in Maasai Villages in Kenya.

2. Renewable energy through the installation of a wind farm in Tamil Nadu, southern India, generating funds for sustainable development in the local community.

20p goes to Verified Emission Reduction projects. These projects are not certified but rely on independent, reputable organisations to approve them. The current project, audited by KPMG is the ‘Basa Magogo’ project in South Africa which gives low-income families information on how to make more fuel efficient fires for cooking.

Reduce My Footprint, operated by Carbon Offsets Ltd, has a carbon calculator, which works out carbon emissions for flights, car use and domestic/office energy use. With this, users can understand their carbon footprint and how much it would cost to offset. Businesses and consumers can then choose how much they wish to contribute towards offsetting and destination projects.

ABTA Members are already signing up to Reduce My Footprint, and the most recent – Cadogan Holidays – signed up at World Travel Market. Travellers can either use Reduce My Footprint through their travel provider or go straight to the Reduce My Footprint website at www.reducemyfootprint.travel.

Tom Allen from Cadogan Holidays said: “We were looking at how we could reduce our emissions both in our offices and across our holiday programmes, and Reduce My Footprint was a great fit to what we were trying to do.”

Stefan Gössling, PhD, Associate Professor Research Coordinator, Centre for Sustainable- and Geotourism, Western Norway Research Institute: “If we all waited around for someone else to take the initiative to reduce carbon emissions then we would wait forever. It's important for us all to take responsibility for our emissions. Offsetting does not get rid of the carbon we have emitted, and it is not a perfect solution, but it is helping us all start the journey."

The Projects:

Wind Turbines in Tamil Nadu, India.
The current Certified Emissions Reduction project and the Travel Foundation’s Verified Emissions Reduction project both feature wind turbines in Tamily Nadu, India. The benefits include avoiding fuel costs, reducing CO2 emissions and reducing reliance on imported fuel.

Wind power is sold onto the national grid and the money – so far £200,000 has been raised – is now being used on sustainable development projects in 414 of the country’s poorest villages including improving access to education and health, and improving standards in agriculture and animal husbandry. 
The Travel Foundation has been working with Kenyan villagers in the Maasai Mara Triangle – the most famous safari area in the world - to help them earn a fair income from tourism. The project has enabled the villagers to boost their income by over 800%, which has provided funds to build new classrooms, employ more teachers and construct a rainwater harvesting system. Plans are now underway to construct a borehole to supply the villages with clean, fresh water. The funds coming to the Foundation from "Reduce My Footprint" will provide solar energy to the villages, which will power a generator to pump the water and also bring electricity to the school for the first time, enabling schoolchildren to access computing technology through donated laptops.

Visitors booking one of the Maasai Village Excursions will soon be able to see the impact that this project has had on the daily lives of the villagers.

Romania : Retezat National Park
Sunvil Holidays are currently funding a TICOS (Tourism Industry Carbon Offset Service) project in Retezat National Park, Romania.  The Park shelters one of Europe's last remaining, unaffected natural primary forests and the largest single area of pristine mixed forest. Wolves, brown bear, wild boar, lynx, wildcat and chamois populate the area.

Offset money will fund two carbon offset initiatives within the Park:
• the implementation of alternative energy systems (solar power) for the visitor centers, community centers and information points
• the introduction of bio-fuel minibuses and a new car park to reduce car access into the heart of the forest This alternative energy project in Romania will act as an example to the surrounding communities.

South Africa: Basa Magogo 
(Verified Emissions Reduction, Verified by KPMG)

The Basa Magogo project is based on successful studies carried out by the Nova Research Organisation in eMbalenhle, a township near Secunda, Free State, South Africa. The project encourages residents to make fires for heating in a new way. This reduces air pollution as well as providing a more effective combustion process causing the fire to heat up quicker, burn for longer and reduce particle emissions by more than 80%. This has provided major health benefits for users and the local population. Energy consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide are reduced by 25%. Each household saves about 300kg of coal per year.

The Gambia
The Gambia Experience and The Cape Verde Experience are funding a two-stage carbon offset project, which has been tailor-made by TICOS (Tourism Industry Carbon Offset Service). Stage 1 of the project is a community tree planting programme and Stage 2 is the introduction of solar water heating systems to a number of large hotels in the Gambia.

10,000 new trees have already been planted in three community sites in the south of the Gambia. These trees have all been chosen for their wider benefits including food and nut trees.  All trees are protected for at least 20 years through management agreements signed by the village Alkalo (village head) on behalf of each community.

A number of hotels and other tourism related businesses in The Gambia have begun to look into the possibility of using solar water heating and one or two have bought units on an ad hoc basis.  As well as a high CO2 return, this part of the project creates high quality jobs and skilled training for local people.

The Travel Foundation is working with Mayan villagers in the Mexican jungle to help turn their jam-making skills into a sustainable source of revenue.

Using tropical fruits which are traditionally cultivated by these communities, such as papaya, and the more unusual "pittaya" (cactus fruit), the project provides an economic incentive to protect the jungle as well as a means for the villages to earn a good income.

The jams will be supplied to local tourist hotels in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, helping to give tourists an authentic taste of Mexico, and will also be available in gift shops and other tourist outlets.

Setting up a jam-making kitchen in the middle of the jungle has not been an easy task and "Reduce My Footprint" funds will help support this venture by investing in alternative energy sources for the community business.




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