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What is Carbon Offsetting? And what you should know

Release date:
July 2021
Mexico cookstoves - young family next to cookstove
Andreea Moyes, Air bp’s global aviation sustainability director, on the role carbon offsetting can play in achieving a low carbon future

Aviation provides huge benefits to society, but the industry has recognised the importance of reducing carbon emissions, and together have agreed a number of low carbon goals.  These include carbon neutral growth from 2020 and net zero carbon emissions by 2050. There is no single solution – a range of approaches to reduce, replace and offset are required.

As an industry leader in sustainable aviation our focus has been on three things – the supply of sustainable aviation fuel, carbon neutral fuelling operations and carbon offsetting for our customers. 

Andreea Moyes addresses questions on carbon offsetting and how companies or passengers can mitigate the impact of carbon emissions generated by their flights.


What is carbon offsetting? 


Every activity, business or individual has a carbon footprint, and a variety of factors impact the size of it. For example, your individual footprint is impacted by everything from the heating system used in your home, to the type of transportation you take, and even the food you eat. Carbon offsetting is used to compensate for your emissions by funding an equivalent amount of emissions savings elsewhere. 

Carbon offsetting can help as part of a broader carbon reduction approach and should be the last step after efforts to reduce and replace have decreased carbon emissions.
In aviation, carbon offsetting starts with measuring how many tonnes of carbon are produced by a flight. This creates the carbon ‘footprint’ for the flight and for each individual passenger. Once this is measured, carbon credits can be purchased for the same amount of emissions, effectively balancing out the carbon emitted so the net impact on the climate is neutral. 


Is carbon offsetting voluntary? 

In some instances, businesses may be required to carbon offset. For example, The European Union's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) is the world’s first major carbon market and remains the biggest one.  For aviation it covers commercial airlines flying between the participating countries. bp has actively participated in the EU ETS since its inception. And on a global level CORSIA (carbon offsetting and reduction scheme) commits nations to carbon neutral growth from 2021 via purchasing offsets or using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

In the remaining instances, offsetting is voluntary and is driven by businesses and their customers actively looking at ways to contribute to achieving a low carbon future. 


How does voluntary offsetting work? 


Carbon credits are purchased from projects around the world that are reducing emissions, including initiatives such as forest planting, replacing open fires with more efficient cooking equipment, and biogas installations. These projects often have a broad range of socio-economic benefits as well. For example, when cookstoves replace open fires, wood consumption is reduced, carbon emissions are reduced, and respiratory health may be improved. Installing solar panels in countries like India can support thousands of new jobs and environmental education classes in Zambia can help communities learn more about sustainable farming practices.


Is offsetting the right approach to achieving a lower carbon future?

Offsetting is part of a broader approach. It should be done after considering all other actions available to reduce carbon emissions. For example, since 2000, the retrofitting of winglet devices on aircraft has meant 80 million tonnes of carbon has been avoided. Other opportunities include the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), smarter operations and more efficient engines.  Once carbon emissions have been reduced as much as possible the remaining carbon emissions can be offset.

How can I be sure the carbon offsets I purchase will genuinely reduce carbon emissions?

There are many options when it comes to purchasing voluntary offsets and it is important that a project’s emission reductions are real, additional (i.e. that they would not have happened without the project), permanent and unique. By checking that the offsets you purchase come from vendors who comply with the requirements of ICROA’s (International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance) code of best practice will ensure these four requirements are met. Air bp’s  carbon offset programme is supported by bp Target Neutral, which specializes in helping businesses to reduce, replace and neutralize their carbon emissions and adopts these standards. In addition, bp visit each carbon offset project to ensure the carbon accounting work of the auditors is of the highest quality, and to examine aspects outside the auditors’ scope such as human rights, health and safety. These visits also enable us to assess the various socio-economic benefits for local communities, such as long-term employment and better energy security.


What examples are there of voluntary carbon offsetting that Air bp is currently supporting?


 In 2018, Air bp launched its carbon offsetting offer for business aviation in Brazil. Its first customer, Avantto, offset more than 1,000 tons of carbon emissions from June 2018 to May 2019. The agreement with Avantto has been renewed every year since, enabling customers to offset the emissions related to the fuel supplied to the company by Air bp.

In August 2019, Air bp announced a new collaboration with Voa São Paulo in Brazil and expanded its carbon offsetting program to two airports in the consortium to include Jundiaí and Amarais airports, with potential to expand the offer to more of Voa São Paulo’s locations in the future.

In October 2020 we announced our collaboration with Cascais Airport in Portugal to offset carbon emissions for all the aviation fuel sold - to our knowledge, this is the first airport in the world where the carbon emissions associated with all aviation fuel are offset on an on-going basis. 

carbon offsetting infographic