Offsetting schemes charge an amount based on the volume of emissions generated by a flight. That money helps to finance schemes that absorb emissions from the atmosphere (such as native-forest regeneration), or support a shift away from fossil fuels (such as wind-farm development).
Not all offsetting schemes are created equal, however. Some take into account the full range of climate effects caused by aircraft (including greenhouse gases, contrails and water vapour); others cover only CO2 emissions.
In the New Zealand market, Enviro-Mark Solutions’ travel calculator is based on a “radiative forcing index”, which includes the full suite of impacts and is recommended by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Another scheme, Ekos, allows offset buyers to choose from two options – one includes CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and the other includes those three gases but also factors in the radiative forcing index (which roughly doubles the price). Air New Zealand’s scheme takes into account only CO2 emissions. Jetstar’s scheme takes into account CO2 and five other greenhouse gases.
Enviro-Mark’s offsets fund projects including forests overseen by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Permanent Forest Sink Initiative, as well as a wind farm in China, a solar-energy plant in Mexico, and a low-emission cooking stove project in China.
Ekos is a registered charity founded by forestry conservation expert Sean Weaver. Offsets from the scheme fund indigenous rainforest projects in Southland, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
Air New Zealand offsets fund a variety of native forestry projects run by the Native Forest Restoration Trust.
Jetstar offsets fund a portfolio of projects including rainforest protection in Papua New Guinea, wilderness protection in Tasmania, a biomass project in Thailand and wildfire prevention in Western Australia.
This article was first published in the November 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.