LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER | Carbon Conscious Travel

Photo: Luc Willems

Photo: Luc Willems

By Lisa Bland —

Dear Readers,

The darkest days of winter are gone and although there’s no sign of green life stirring under the heavy blanket of snow, the light is returning. I notice my plants reaching higher towards the window, seeking the sun, waiting out the days until they’ll be transported outside.

In the Cariboo we are no stranger to long winters, but are so often blessed with blue skies, sunshine, and sparkling days that the season is pure magic for those who venture to the backcountry, hit the local ski hills, or head out on x-country skis or snowshoes. For others, winter seems to drag on forever and the extra work keeping the driveway clear, struggling to stay warm, and stressing over unpredictable and challenging road conditions takes its toll.

Some are lucky enough to get away from it all and venture to distant lands, and Canadians are no strangers to planning exotic escapes in the winter. Fast getaways to warm destinations are a luxury enjoyed mainly by those in the developed world, and while the ecological footprint of energy consumption and impacts on the environment are a given, the intention to travel with a green conscience can leave a positive impact on places visited, reduce social and environmental effects, and give travellers unique and authentic experiences in a local context.

According to the United Nations, annual international travel is expected to double to 1.6 billion by 2020, a quarter being long-haul journeys, or those greater than six hours. “Travelling is now part of consumer patterns for an increasing number of people in both emerging and advanced economies,” says Taleb Rifai, UN World Tourism Organization.

At their destination, with a bit of research, travellers can have positive impacts on local communities, support green initiatives and socially just practices, and sustain locals’ efforts to achieve greater health and well-being for themselves and their families. However, long haul flights are highly polluting in terms of CO2 production, and according to the David Suzuki Foundation, for a small industry, aviation has a significant footprint, accounting for between four and nine per cent of total climate change impacts caused by human activity. With an emissions increase of 83 per cent since 1990, levels of CO2 from international aviation continue to grow.

In most countries, not much is happening to limit these emissions and even those with targets under the Kyoto Protocol are only required to do so for domestic, not international flights. Only the European Union to date has been looking into a plan for controlling and reducing international flight emissions. Many people concerned about global emissions have chosen to travel less or not at all, or take holidays closer to home. With the attitude of “reduce what you can and offset what you can’t,” some people are choosing to lessen their impact and offsetting their carbon footprints by purchasing carbon credits.

There is a lot of buzz about going carbon neutral, and greenhouse gas emissions are a worldwide problem. Burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas accounts for 91 per cent of the increase in human-created CO2 emissions. Deforestation accounts for 9 per cent. A report by the Global Carbon Project, says global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels will rise to a record 39 billion tons this year. In 2013, emissions from fossil fuels alone grew by 2.1 per cent, a 61 per cent increase since 1990, the baseline year of the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol. Dr. Mike Raupach of CSIRO says, “A continuation of the emissions growth trends observed since 2000 would place the world on a path to reach 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times in 30 years.”

Although the concept is controversial, carbon credits and offsets are an attempt to reduce the overall carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Carbon credits are a trading scheme where emissions from one place are traded to finance viable carbon reducing initiatives in other places. One carbon credit represents a ‘permit’ to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide, and if companies are regulated under a greenhouse gas cap and trade system, they can use a certain number of allowable credits to a maximum amount. If they use less credits than what they are allowed, they can trade or sell them. If they use more, they need to purchase carbon credits from companies producing offsets. Because carbon dioxide production affects the world equally in terms of climate change, both carbon offsets and credits create the same reduction in emissions. In some cases it may be less expensive for businesses to purchase offsets than to eliminate their own emissions. For example, the cost of retrofitting an existing industrial system would be much more expensive than supporting new, more technologically advanced or efficient projects in other countries.

Carbon offsets produced by projects such as wind farms, solar, hydro, geo-thermal, or biomass energy directly generate carbon credits by reducing the use of fossil fuels and leading to a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Other types of offsets include energy-efficiency projects such as methane capture from landfills or livestock, and reforestation or agricultural carbon-sequestration projects that absorb carbon dioxide.

Buyers should choose their offsets carefully, as the voluntary offset market is largely unregulated. The David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute have produced a guide for Canadian consumers, businesses, and organizations for purchasing carbon offsets. It highlights independently verified projects that meet the highest standards in the world under the Gold Standard, with projects that support only renewable energy or energy-efficient technologies. Currently, the Gold Standard applies to offset projects mostly in developing countries that don’t have emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, helping them to benefit technologically from more developed countries and providing other options from the polluting path of burning fossil fuels.

Individuals now can calculate their carbon footprint for flights, homes, car and other travel, and lifestyle choices. A handy carbon footprint calculator, see links below, calculates an amount of carbon in tons of CO2, and offers options to purchase offset credits with carbon reduction projects around the world.

With a bit of planning ahead, travellers can also reduce their carbon footprint in the countries they visit by booking eco-friendly accommodation, getting around responsibly when there, using public transport instead of private transportation, participating in sustainable tourism activities that are dedicated to protecting ecosystems, wildlife, or culture, eating locally or at markets, volunteering for worthy projects, and learning more about the environment and people and cultures they visit to enhance understanding about ways to make a positive difference.

With a tourism industry dominated by large companies, many small, grassroots, low-impact initiatives all over the world go unnoticed. Various organizations exist to promote sustainable travel options such as the International Ecotourism Society, promoting travel that “conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. The Ethical Travel Guide 2013 focuses on unique local experiences, ensuring locals are supported by tourist dollars. Sustainable Travel International is a non- profit organization helping travellers identify credible eco-label and eco-certification programs with a directory of hundreds of sustainable options from eco-lodges to places to volunteer. The Ethical Traveler promotes travel that’s good for the environment as well as human rights.

Of course, the ideal choice is to reduce our carbon footprint by staying at home or venturing into our own backyards, but for those of us with a spirit of adventure who still want to see the wonders of the world but who don’t feel great about the impact, making eco-friendly choices at our destinations and purchasing carbon credits to offset our footprint is one way of easing one’s conscience.

For more info on going carbon neutral visit: http: davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do and http://davidsuzuki.org/publications.

For further reading on the subject matter above visit: co2now.org, cdmgoldstandard.org, carbonfootprint.com, carbonfund.org, terrapass.org, carbonneutral.org, ecotourism.org, tourismconcern.org.uk, sustainabletravel.org, and ethicaltraveler.org.

Wishing everyone a happy February and March!

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