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Carbon offsets offered by Europe’s leading airlines are of poor quality and do not promise to curb emissions over the long term, new research finds.

When buying tickets, passengers often have the option to purchase carbon offsets to zero out the climate impact of their flights. But many offsets offered by Europe’s largest airlines are based on cheap forestry projects in developing countries that are vulnerable to fire, drought, or logging, according to a report from Öko-Institut, a nonprofit research firm based in Germany.

The eight airlines considered in the assessment — Air France, British Airways, EasyJet, KLM, Lufthansa, Ryanair, SAS, and Wizz Air — are responsible for more than half of emissions from the European Union’s aviation sector.

“The airlines provided misleading signals that carbon offsets significantly reduce or eliminate the climate impact of flying, which could incentivise further growth in air travel when we should, instead, be reducing it,” Carbon Market Watch, a think tank based in Brussels, said in an associated policy paper.

The research also found that the price paid for offsets, which ranged from 9 to 30 euros per metric ton of carbon dioxide, is far lower than the cost of curbing emissions from air travel through more effective means, such as developing more sustainable fuels. The report described offsetting as a “convenient solution” that will not deliver the long-term technological changes needed to clean up the aviation sector.

“Airlines urgently need to implement dramatic reductions in their own emissions rather than paying others to do so,” Carbon Market Watch said. “Unfortunately, the availability of this cheaper and more convenient alternative, which requires no changes to the way they work or business model, could end up delaying or derailing more serious action.”


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