Ethical travel company drops carbon offsetting

Critics say the scheme merely permits people to continue polluting

A A A

One of Britain's leading ethical travel operators has launched a scathing attack on the carbon offset industry and has decided to stop offering offsets to its customers as a way of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Justin Francis, the founder of responsibletravel.com, said he had decided to abandon offsets because he believes they have become a "medieval pardon that allows people to continue polluting".

In 2002 his company became one of the first British travel operators to begin offering customers the opportunity to buy into an offsetting scheme. By paying money to a third party operator that ran carbon-reducing projects in the developing world, holidaymakers could jump on board flights supposedly happy in the knowledge that any carbon dioxide released during their journey would eventually be reduced by the equivalent amount somewhere else.

Supporters of the scheme, which has now become a multibillion pound industry, say it is a vital way of quickly reducing the world's carbon emissions and combating climate change. But a growing number of critics say it is simply a way for people and businesses in the developed world to buy their way out of a problem without actually committing themselves to reductions in their own emissions. After years of falling into the former camp, Mr Francis has now joined the growing number of offset critics.

"Carbon offsetting is an ingenious way to avoid genuinely reducing your carbon emissions," he said yesterday. "It's a very attractive idea – that you can go on living exactly as you did before when there's a magic pill or medieval pardon out there that allows people to continue polluting."

As some of the top polluters, the aviation and travel industries have been keen to promote carbon offsetting to their customers. Until a fortnight ago responsibletravel.com used Climate Care, a major offsetting company which was recently acquired by the investment bank JP Morgan. But Mr Francis said he became increasingly uneasy about the way the travel industry was using carbon offsets and pulled his company out of the scheme.

He added: "It was not an easy decision. It would have been much easier for me to go on blithely offering offsets, keeping my head below the parapet. But ultimately we need to reduce our carbon emissions. We can do this by flying less – travelling by train or taking holidays closer to home for example, and by making carbon reductions in other areas of our lifestyles too." His decision, however, has been criticised by carbon offset companies who are adamant that buying carbon credits does lead to a tangible reduction in greenhouse gases.

Climate Care did not comment yesterday but James Ramsay, the commercial director of another offsetting firm, Carbon Clear, said: "If you are going to take the view that offsets don't work then presumably you just stop there. But the trajectory that we've got to achieve for climate change doesn't give us the luxury of time. Waiting for, say, the aviation or travel industry to reduce its emissions leaves us way behind the trajectory of achieving 80 percent cuts in global carbon emissions by 2050."

Carbon offsetting is something that has always divided the environmental movement. It was quickly transformed from a minor experimental idea into a multimillion-pound carbon market. Europe's carbon market alone is now worth £81bn and is expected to account for at least half of the European Union's carbon reductions to 2020.

Responsibletravel.com say they will now attach "carbon warnings" to their holiday packages detailing the damage done to the environment by a flight, just as cigarette packets warn of the hazards of smoking. "What we have to do is offer holidays that are the most beneficial to the environment," Mr Francis said. "What we have to tell people is: 'Fly less and when you do fly, make it count'."

A multibillion-pound industry: The cost of a clear conscience

What do some of the major offset companies charge for offsetting a return flight from London to Sydney for two people?
*Climate Care: 11.23 tonnes of CO2 which costs £98.03 to offset.
*Carbon Clear: 2.82 tonnes of CO2 which costs £21.15 to offset
*The Carbon Neutral Company: 6.1 tonnes of CO2 which costs between £52 and £122 to offset depending on which project you choose
*Offset Carbon: 8 tonnes of CO2 at £76



*What do you get? Carbon Neutral Company offers a number of options to offset a return flight to Sydney. The cheapest, costing £51.85, goes towards capturing methane gas from a landfill in China, the most expensive (£122) invests in a dam in India.

Suggested Topics
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Web Developer looking...

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015