British Travel Agents Launch Carbon Offset Scheme

LONDON, UK, November 28, 2006 (ENS) - The giant Association of British Travel Agents is joining forces with two other British travel industry organizations to launch a carbon offset program. The scheme will allow agents to offer their customers the chance to offset the climate warming impact of their trips by paying towards environmental projects worldwide.

ABTA is working with the Association of Independent Tour Operators and the Federation of Tour Operators to develop a plan that will be launched early next year.

Offsetting means the traveler pays someone else to reduce the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the same amount that the traveler's activities add, neutralizing the CO2 generated by traveling.


Planes burn a kerosene/paraffin oil-based fuel that emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
Carbon offsets are not necessarily expensive. A trip from London to Berlin, for instance, generates 0.23 metric tons of CO2, which would cost 1.69 (US$3.30) to offset, according to the Climate Care Trust.

The Association of British Travel Agents, ABTA, announced the new program at its annual convention taking place through Wednesday in Marbella, Spain. With 5,952 travel agent members and 1,028 tour operator members, the ABTA books 85 percent of the UKs package holidays.

The ABTA views the new offset program as "an important and practical way for the industry to deal with emissions of carbon dioxide," which is given off into the atmosphere by the combustion of fossil fuels to power planes, trains and motor vehicles.

"The carbon offset scheme we will be launching aims to make a clear connection between the money invested and projects in the kind of destinations where people go on holiday," said Keith Richards, ABTA head of business development and consumer affairs.

"Currently there aren't enough destination-related projects around," he said. "It's important that consumers can make that link as it will encourage more to use the scheme."

Offset projects might consist of installing a windfarm, using a more energy efficient technology, or planting trees, which absorb carbon dioxide.

Offsetting has its critics, who say that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced rather than offset, and that some companies have adopted the practice to make a show of their green credentials.

Writer George Monbiot has said the most destructive effect of the carbon offset trade is that it allows people to believe they can continue polluting with complacency by paying a tree planting company somewhere.

Nevertheless, carbon offset schemes are increasingly popular.

The British co-op travel firm Travelcare was the first high street firm to offer customers the chance to offset their flights.

As of October, carbon offsets have been available at pilot branches, but they will be featured at all 340 Travelcare outlets by the end of the year.

Eight cost levels have been established, reflecting the distance traveled. Travelers can pay for the full offset, for example 3 (US$5.85) to mainland Spain, or pay just 20 percent - the UK government's target for carbon dioxide reduction by 2010.


Windfarm at Jamgodrani, Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, India is the type of project that might be funded by carbon offsets. (Photo courtesy Madhya Pradesh Urja Vikas Nigam)
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said, "Pretty soon this will be a marketing requirement for all travel companies."

"There is growing concern among consumers about the environment and we need a scheme in place in response to that," Tanzer said.

"It's not the solution," said Richards, "but it's one of the recognized ways to tackle the inevitable impact of current travel pattern. It's just one part of our longer-term strategy on sustainable tourism generally."

ABTA officials say the association's role is to raise awareness amongst consumers and the industry and to offer the tool to help members and consumers deal with the issue.

The Association of Independent Tour Operators is adding the greenhouse gas offset program to a list of environmental requirements for membership that includes protecting the environment, conserving natural resources and minimizing pollution.

The Federation of Tour Operators says its members are becoming increasingly aware of the socio-cultural, economic and environmental impacts of their products and services.

They recognize that "water and energy are precious resources that we need to use carefully," the federation says.

Oil giant BP wants every motorist in Britain to do his or her share to beat global warming by signing up for a new plan called Target Neutral. Drivers can fund ventures that cancel out the amount of carbon dioxide their driving adds to the atmosphere.

BP's UK chief Peter Mather said "An increasing number of members of the public want to do their bit and have a direct impact. Our research shows that people are aware of it but they don't quite know what to do about it."

The system is simple to use, and does not require drivers to buy their fuel from BP. Drivers register at the Target Neutral website which calculates the carbon dioxide likely to be produced by their driving over the year ahead.

They can pay by debit or credit card a sum that will provide funding for carbon offsets, such as a biomass plant or a windfarm in India.

The typical family car, doing 10,000 miles a year, is likely to cost about 20 (US$39) to offset.