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My employer recently announced that all outbound flights will be carbon neutral due to a recent program of our preferred airline.

Lufthansa's Compensaid claims that

With our reliable partner myclimate, we have created a platform that enables everyone to offset their CO2 emissions and do something today to make their flights more sustainable.

[...]

We calculate your fuel consumption with transparent calculations for all of your flights and bring the respective amount of SAF into airline operations."

I found that for a direct one-way flight from Berlin to London they calculated a 100kg CO2eq footprint and quoted 65 EUR to immediately offset this, or offset it in 10 years by paying 2 EUR (or some combination of the two).

My questions are:

  • How accurate is their carbon footprint calculation? On another website calculator it was 50% higher (150 kg CO2eq) for the same route.
  • Are the projects they invest in legitimate?
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It's dubious.

The claim made for carbon offset schemes is that they spend the money to avoid someone else emitting the same amount of carbon that you have emitted by e.g. flying. Typically ways of doing this are by buying more efficient wood stoves for people in the third world (because that is a very cheap thing to do), or by planting trees.

According to Greenpeace these schemes have serious issues:

  1. They don't actually reduce emissions, which is what we need to do.

  2. A newly planted tree needs to be protected for around 20 years before it will capture all the carbon allocated to it by the scheme that paid for its planting, and a single forest fire could wipe out a huge amount of supposed savings.

  3. Land for these new forests is sometimes obtained by forcible removal of the people who were living there.

This paper examines the common approach of buying stoves. The trouble is that estimating the amount of non-sustainable CO2 saved by these stoves is very difficult. The carbon accounting generally assumes that the new stove will entirely replace the old one, but in practice this doesn't necessarily occur. If fuel was a limiting factor for the old stove then a family who get a new stove are likely to use just as much fuel in the new one, albeit with an improved lifestyle from being able to cook more.

Western aid agencies have a long history of ineffective and unsustainable aid projects due to lack of understanding of local conditions, lack of long-term support, and failure to verify assumptions. "More efficient" stoves may well be another example.

So in summary these schemes probably do some good, but not as much as is claimed for them.

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    Thanks for the point about if the previous stove was fuel limited, a more efficient stove wouldn't reduce CO2, although it certainly will improve these people's quality of life.
    – antlersoft
    Nov 12, 2021 at 15:20
  • Another important issue with these compensation schemes is the question whether this reduction is actually caused by the compensation scheme. Maybe the people would have bought a more efficient wood stove anyway, so the CO2 reduction would have happened no matter what. This is in general a very hard to answer question.
    – quarague
    Nov 16, 2021 at 9:22
  • "Land for these new forests is sometimes obtained by forcible removal of the people who were living there." - does this counteract the people who forcibly remove forests so they can live there?
    – user253751
    Nov 16, 2021 at 10:43
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    I wouldn't lean on Greenpeace for any argument. They're ideologically driven, even extremist. The points themselves have some issues. For point 1, that "we need to reduce emissions" is the solution is to claim all sequestration is moot. Big claim. For 2, a big claim of its own again (20 years?!), then this red herring about forest fires. For 3, entirely irrelevant to the question at hand. Maybe worth mentioning at the end, but since it's Greenpeace making the claim, I'd verify it elsewhere first.
    – fredsbend
    Nov 17, 2021 at 2:54

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