When Swedish academics revealed a list of celebrity ‘super emitters’ with huge carbon footprints from flying, the results were shocking.
Jet-setting famous names were found to be responsible for up to 300 times more carbon emissions than the average person, with Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, leading the way. He travelled 213,130 miles on 59 flights in 2017, mostly on his private Bombardier BD-700 jet — which he admits to being his ‘guilty pleasure’ — pumping out 1,629 tons of carbon dioxide.
Others mentioned in the report, published in the journal Annals of Tourism Research, included Paris Hilton (68 flights, 1,261 tons), Jennifer Lopez (77 flights, 1,051 tons) and, in tenth place, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson (14 flights, 15 tons). Stefan Gosling, lead author of the findings, said he had been inspired to conduct the research by fellow Swede Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist who has vowed never to fly.
Carbon offset organisations estimate flight emissions and a price to offset using ‘carbon calculators’
A spokeswoman for Watson said the actress pays to offset her carbon emissions from air travel through ClimateCare.org.
But do carbon offsetting schemes work? Can you really plant trees to fly guilt-free? Can you take to the skies and still become one of the Daily Mail’s Tree Angels?
Here, we examine what some carbon offsetting organisations say they do — and compare results from their ‘carbon calculators’, in which you enter details of flights to work out how much you should pay to offset emissions. The prices below are based on offsetting return flights from London to New York.
Money collected by offsetting goes to projects, many of which involve reforestation
The nuts and bolts of offsetting
Each offsetting organisation tested has an online calculator to estimate emissions and a price to offset. Projects are listed, many of which involve reforestation. Most issue certificates to show you have offset emissions. Each typically spends 80 per cent of funds received on projects, while 20 per cent goes to running costs. Emissions estimates can slightly vary.
The idea is that, by planting trees, CO2 emissions will be absorbed, helping to reduce global warming. Research has revealed there are 1.7 billion hectares of treeless land, about the size of China and the United States combined, which could be planted with 1.2 trillion saplings.
Tree Angel offsets: Protecting the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone, home to 327 bird species, 650 plant species and 49 species of mammals, including the western chimpanzee and pygmy hippo. The aim is to cut five million tons of CO2 by 2021.
Tree Angel offsets: Tree planting in Nicaragua and Uganda, where reforested wildlife corridors have been created connectivity.
Tree Angel offsets: Reforestation of land in Nicaragua on a watershed that feeds into the Estero estuary, home to important mangroves and many species of migratory birds. New trees are hoped to bring a CO2 reduction annually of 70,000 tons.
Tree Angel offsets: Tree planting in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. More than 180,000 trees have been planted in the past decade, improving biodiversity and protecting species of birds as well as chameleons, butterflies and dik-dik antelope. Reduced deforestation projects in Brazil are also funded. UK tree planting is possible, costing £25.80 for a London-to-New York flight.
What are the airlines doing?
British Airways, pictured, has launched a Carbon Zero programme with Leapfrog
Almost 30 airlines offer passengers a way to offset carbon emissions, often in conjunction with separate offsetting organisations. Virgin Atlantic, for example, has teamed up with ClimateCare (virginatlantic.com/changeisintheair), while British Airways has launched a Carbon Zero programme with Leapfrog (pureleapfrog.org/ba/carbon_zero).
Other airlines offering the opportunity to offset when booking include Qantas, Air Canada, Emirates, Gulf and Delta. The cost is always higher for those travelling in business class seats, as these take up more space.
Meanwhile, flight price comparison site Skyscanner recently introduced a labelling system that highlights which flights use the greenest aircraft, allowing customers to select journeys that require less carbon offsetting.
Airlines are increasingly keen to order new, greener planes, as this leads to fewer emissions and improves their public image.
Easyjet has gone one step further. Earlier this month, the budget airline pledged to offset all its flights unilaterally, with passengers not having to put their hands in their pockets at all. The airline, which is working with Airbus on research for a possible ‘hybrid and electric plane’, estimates that this will cost £25 million annually.
This equates to less than £3 for every ton of CO2. Much of the cash will go towards planting trees, including a sustainable forestry project in Peru.
BA has said it will start offsetting domestic flights from next year, while its parent company, IAG, has promised that the airline will be carbon-neutral by 2050. And Lufthansa has launched corporate businesss fares in Europe that are automatically offset.
What about going on a cruise?
Emissions from cruise ships are difficult to determine — and they can include sulphur dioxide as well as CO2
Emissions from cruise ships are difficult to determine — and they can include sulphur dioxide as well as CO2.
Myclimate.org leads the way with a carbon offsetting calculator, with cash going to global forestry projects.
The cost for one person on a ten-night journey on a cruise ship with a 3,000-passenger capacity would be £47.54. For the same journey on a ship with a passenger capacity of less than 500 it’s £121.57.
How green are trains?
Trains are one of the greenest forms of travel. The Energy Saving Trust recently calculated that a journey from London to Edinburgh by train emits 29kg of CO2 compared to 144kg on a flight.
Those who wish to offset their carbon could use one of the offsetting organisations listed above. Ecopassenger.org is a good way of comparing emissions of cars, planes and trains. For example, a car journey from London to Nice would emit 128.9kg of CO2, while a flight would be responsible for 169.2kg and a train journey 22kg.
Many carbon emissions experts are sceptical that tree planting is an effective method of offsetting emissions
Many carbon emissions experts are sceptical that tree planting is an effective method of offsetting emissions, as reductions take time while trees grow. There is also a danger trees could later be cut down in unstable countries or suffer disease or fires.
‘The best way is to fly less,’ says Harold Goodwin, of the Responsible Travel Partnership. ‘Planting trees is a good idea, but it is not a get-out-of-jail-free idea.’
Greenpeace UK goes further, arguing that carbon offsetting is ‘not the answer’ and that people must change their flying habits.
However, given that the number of flyers is set to increase from 4.3 billion in 2018 to more than eight billion in 2037, it is at least worth trying to do something.
One good way is to estimate your carbon emissions using one of the many online calculators, then go to the website of the Woodland Trust (woodlandtrust.org.uk), where you can make a donation towards planting a tree.
Or plant one in your own garden after each trip. Every little helps.