Ecotourism 101: Does Carbon Offsetting Vacations Really Help the Earth?

Unlike ten years ago when the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle, reclaim was in vogue and hailed by people, especially those in developed countries, who wanted to do their part to stem climate change, the de rigueur standard is now carbon offsetting. 

Specifically for tourism, carbon offsetting presents an opportunity for people to counterbalance their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in certain forestry, renewable energy, or development projects since their travels require a car rental, airplane flight, train trip, or hotel stay.

But does carbon offsetting really work to reduce energy dependency or to create local jobs? The answer largely depends on what type of projects one supports.

Carbon offsetting has become a big business, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. There are many for-profit companies who are willing to capitalize on a consumer’s sense of environmental responsibility. Given that background, there is controversy surrounding the actual benefit these projects provide since some forestry projects, for example, are not sustainable given that trees eventually die and decompose, thereby releasing their carbon. That is why in 2003 the independent Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Gold Standard was developed as:

“The world’s only independent authority for creating high-quality emission reduction projects…It was designed to ensure that carbon credits are not only real and verifiable but that they make measurable contributions to sustainable development worldwide…(and) benefit local communities.”

The voluntary Gold Standard, which was developed specifically for non-government and community-based organizations, was adopted in 2006 and is now endorsed by more than 60 organizations. Within the Gold Standard’s listings, there are over two dozen Project Development service companies that have met the eligibility requirements for Gold Standard Certification (i.e., the company’s projects consist of investment in renewable energy and development projects in the developing world that in essence create local employment opportunities).  Examples may include the development of wind farms in China, building bio-gas digesters in India, installing energy-efficient light bulbs in Kazakhstan or buying efficient stoves for villagers in Honduras.” Oddly, there are few, if any, listed projects in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Before your next vacation, if you are interested in investing in verified and reliable carbon offsetting projects, you may want to look up a CDM Gold Standard organization, such as Climate Care in the United States, use the carbon calculator and purchase offsets knowing that these projects do help reduce energy dependency and create local jobs.


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