Offsetting your emissions: Greenwashing or a win for the environment?

The view out of a plane window, with the plane wing slanting across the image, and green fields with a river running through them below.
1 September 2020

Can you really pay someone to remove enough CO2 from the atmosphere to counter what your actions are putting into it?

When it comes to slashing greenhouse emissions from flying, nothing beats a global pandemic. But when air travel ramps up again, will you be ticking the "offset flights" box?

Does offsetting actually achieve anything much at all?

The answer is a qualified yes.

The carbon offset programs offered by Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin are all certified by the government-backed Climate Active program.

According to a spokesperson from Climate Active, that means they pass some essential criteria.

"Qantas and Virgin have undertaken a comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) of energy usage in flight and on the ground," the spokesperson said.

"The airlines apply a functional unit to passengers and their travel to give a total footprint which is offset with eligible offsets."

What that means in practice is that if you pay the $0.95 offset fee for an economy seat on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne, then 71kg of carbon dioxide (your share of the emissions from the flight) are removed from the atmosphere somewhere else.

So what does that "somewhere else" look like?

Read the full article on the ABC News website, featuring Prof Will Steffen