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Can we really "offset" the carbon footprint of our plane journey?


DECRYPTION - Imagine mitigating the pollution of a Paris-New York flight, emitting more than 2 tonnes of CO², by planting trees, this is what airlines and private operators are now offering. But does ticking this box even make sense? Our lighting, a few weeks away...

Offsetting your carbon footprint before or after a plane trip: this is the reflex of some travelers, who feel guilty in the face of the climate emergency.

Concerned about their impact, as soon as they book their ticket, they tick the small box guaranteeing them to offset the CO² emissions of their flight.

Others turn to private organizations or NGOs that offer the same service, imagining that it will make up for the damage caused by their theft... But does it really have a beneficial impact on our planet or does it- we purely to clear our conscience?

The question divides.

Alain Karsenty, socio-economist at CIRAD (Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development), is categorical: compensating is "impossible", firstly because of the very nature of the projects proposed: in general planting trees, participating to "reforestation".

He denounces a time lag between the immediate emissions - that the traveler emits at a time T, during his flight - and the time required for the newly planted forests to actually absorb this carbon.

"The time to plant and then for the trees to grow, it can take a year, ten years or a hundred years."

Read alsoCalculating the carbon footprint of your plane journey: real tool or smokescreen?

“The only victim in this story is the climate”

Some structures therefore favor fast-growing trees such as pines, acacias, eucalyptus.

“Planting a single variety can speed up the rate of stockpiling, but it comes at the expense of biodiversity.

In addition, it risks increasing the vulnerability of the planted forest (fire, parasites or other pathogens)”.

And this is not even, according to him, the main problem.

“The carbon stored in trees must remain so for centuries to hopefully neutralize emissions.

However, how can we be certain that these forests will still be standing in one year, ten years, twenty years or even fifty years?

As a reminder, this summer, in Europe alone, more than 660,000 hectares of forest burned.

One of the solutions put forward by Jean-François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde, one of the agencies that offers its customers to offset their carbon footprint, is to plant more than necessary.

“With us, it's five times more than it would take per traveler.

So that as long as we don't lose 20% of our plantations, we stay in the nails.

And we plan to further increase this figure in the years to come”.

The tour operator also prides itself on doing what is called

"additional compensation"

, that is to say, carrying out projects that would never have seen the light of day otherwise.

Does that seem logical to you?

However, this is not systematic.

“The majority of forest carbon credits come from what are called 'avoidance projects': non-reforestation programs which simply aim to avoid deforestation,”

continues Alain Karsenty.

"However, very often, the forecast of the deforestation that would occur without the project is exaggeratedly high, which then makes it possible to claim to have avoided the worst... Compared to the forecast".

The same mechanism would be implemented for other carbon offset programs such as the construction of wind turbines.

“This is the case for 52% of the projects in India for example”,

describes the scientist, based on work by the Center for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) which dates from November 2021.

“They were financed via this mechanism while the Indian entrepreneurs were planning to develop these parks anyway, with or without these funds”.


“massive windfall effect”

, in short.

Read alsoAre you flying?

Here's how to lighten your carbon footprint

A business like any other?

At Air France as at Greentripper, a company specializing in the calculation and then the carbon offsetting of travel, we therefore rely on labels.

The chosen projects all bear the Gold Standard seal, recognized as the safest international certification in terms of carbon offsetting.

“They meet precise specifications.

In addition to CO2e compensation

(emissions in CO² equivalent avoided, sequestered or reduced, editor's note)

, we ensure that they meet at least three of the 17 sustainable development objectives established by the UN”

, indicates the director of Greentripper.

Not enough to convince Alain Karsenty.

“Some projects are of high quality and bring welcome activities and income to local populations.

But that's not the case for everyone.

Moreover, the problem for all the players in this chain, right up to the end buyer, is that it is in their interest that it works and that no one questions the integrity of their carbon credits

( unit of measurement equivalent to one ton of CO2 avoided or sequestered, Ed)


Clearly, the scientist criticizes these organizations for earning their living through this


"Companies are only too happy to find credit cheaply, without asking questions,"

he said.

This is also what Air France has been criticized for, which a few days ago still offered its customers the option of subscribing to an “environment” option to offset the carbon footprint of a flight.

Pure “greenwashing” according to several associations which met in a forum published on Reporterre.

Their petition has garnered nearly 8,000 signatures.

Air France is accused of misleading travelers, of letting them believe that they can

"fly without emitting CO2, by paying for a simple option".

To compensate is to cancel!

But here, we are not canceling anything at all

Lucas Scaltritti, journalist author of the Super Green Me podcast

This is also what Lucas Scaltritti, journalist behind the



Me podcast denounces. the

Super Green Me



Participate, finance reforestation projects, yes.

But not in order to


its carbon footprint.

Already semantically, it raises a problem.

“To compensate is to cancel!

But here, we are not canceling anything at all, ”

he exclaims.

“We can, if need be, speak of a contribution”


The same goes for the expression

“carbon neutrality”

, which misleads the consumer.

At Greentripper, which sells carbon credits to individuals,

“we offer compensation as a last resort”


First we reduce, then we compensate.

“You can choose the train rather than the plane, for example, then you offset the residual emissions of your train journey,”

explains its CEO, who collaborates with the rail adventure agency Railtrip.Travel, which only offers train travel. and which includes CO2e compensation in its travels.

Read alsoTo reduce its carbon footprint, this tour operator took a radical decision

“The least polluting energy is the one that we do not consume”

But then, what is the right solution?

“Reduce your air travel, period,”

continues Lucas Scaltritti.

"If we want to respect our climatic ambitions of not individually exceeding 2 tonnes of CO² per year, we must divide our way of life by five, therefore eliminating the plane"

, which is the most polluting means of transport in the world. according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

According to his figures, a passenger by plane emits 285 grams of CO² per kilometer, against 158 ​​by car and only 14 by train.

"We're going to Greece rather than Miami, to Corsica rather than Cuba,"

he suggests.

Alain Karsenty invites him to

"reduce or even eliminate internal flights in the same country"


Provided, of course, that other infrastructures are developed, such as night trains.

Read alsoWhere to go on a weekend by train?

Our 50 destinations in Europe

Jean-François Rial, CEO of Voyageurs du Monde, is not so drastic.

It encourages people to cut back and offers more and more stays in Europe or France, accessible by train, but does not campaign for a boycott of the plane.

“The car, with less than three people, is not very ecological either.

And then if we go in this direction, what do we do with the internet and everything that pollutes?

Are we deleting?”

he asks.

At Air France, we turned back after these accusations.

Now we focus on technology.

Vincent Etchebehere, Sustainable Development and New Mobility Manager talks about investing in

"a modern fleet which consumes less and therefore emits less greenhouse gases, to reduce the weight on board because the lighter an aircraft is, the less fuel it consumes and to optimize flight paths, another means of limiting the consumption".

It is also counting on the development of biofuels

“composed of organic matter such as used cooking oil for example”.

By 2030, the airline hopes that 10% of its fuel will be sustainable.

Attentive to other technological advances, the French group is also closely monitoring promises to capture CO² directly from the atmosphere using efuel technologies.


“It's clearly not for now.

It is better to make people aware that they can act now rather than betting on a technological bet in the future, ”

concludes Hervé Lefebvre, thematic assistant to the adaptation, planning, trajectories directorate at ADEME.

Which recalls:

“the least polluting energy is that which we do not consume”


Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2022-12-07

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