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Spring Statement’s carbon offset announcement is just a diversion

13th March, 2019

In today’s Spring Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced that the Government plans to look into whether airlines “should be required to offer genuinely additional carbon offsets so that customers who want zero carbon travel have that option”. Some airlines already offer the option to passengers to offset their carbon emissions when they buy a ticket, or have done in the past, but take-up rates have always been very low – typically not more than around 1%. 

Meanwhile the climate change case against Heathrow expansion is being heard today in the Royal Courts of Justice.

AEF Deputy Director Cait Hewitt said:

The Government’s feeling the heat on aviation emissions. The courts are, as we speak, considering accusations that the decision to expand Heathrow failed to take proper account of its impact on climate change. The Chancellor’s announcement on encouraging voluntary carbon offsets seems a desperate attempt to suggest the Government’s on top of the issue.

With aviation looking increasingly behind the game when it comes to climate change, and emissions set to carry on growing, this proposal will hardly scratch the surface of this problem. The Government’s own climate advisers have said it shouldn’t be relying on offsets to tackle emissions from flying.

Offsetting involves estimating how much CO2 a passenger is responsible for, and then paying for an equivalent amount of CO2 to be removed (for example through tree planting) or avoided (for example through investment in renewable energy), usually elsewhere in the world. But many offset programmes have been found not to have delivered the promised carbon reductions.[1] 

In order to meet the tough goals that states signed up to in the Paris Agreement, all countries will in any case need to reduce emissions close to zero in the coming decades, leaving little scope for any country or sector to sell their emissions reductions to airlines or air passengers by way of offset schemes. 

AEF is acting as an expert witness to the Friends of the Earth judicial review of the decision to expand Heathrow Airport, taking place this week. 


Contact: Tim Johnson // Cait Hewitt // 0203 859 9371. We anticipate AEF’s spokespeople will be in court for the Heathrow trial – email is therefore preferable. 

Notes to editor:

[1] “At least three European carriers – Austrian Airlines AG, EasyJet Plc and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd – have paid to have forest planted in poor countries far from their home markets only to see local authorities promptly cut them down”