For some time we have offset carbon emissions for all Explore staff and customer flights. We carbon offset all our passenger's flights, by including in the tour cost a sum to fund projects that reduce global CO2 emissions - we are the first large travel operator to do so. This has been no small decision as we expect to hand over a cheque for a six figure sum each year and so we have chosen our offsetting partner very carefully, as well as the specific projects our funding will help.
Ashley Toft, Explore's Managing Director, says:
"We have thought long and hard about the current environmental concerns and are convinced that carbon offsetting all customers' flights is a step in the right direction. We take our responsibilities towards the environment very seriously and that is why we have included carbon offsetting in tour costs from 2008 onwards."
When you are spending a significant amount on offsetting, you need to know you are getting value for money and that your funding really is generating significant environmental benefits. Explore has chosen Climate Care as its designated carbon offset partner after working with them for a number of years offsetting staff flights and offering a voluntary offsetting for customers. Our research has shown Climate Care to have the most robust verification processes for their projects which show demonstrable and significant carbon reductions. They rate very highly in independent reports on good practice and rated top in Clean Air Cool Planet's 'Consumer's Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers', Dec 2006
Customers making their own flight arrangements when joining an Explore tour are also encouraged to take responsibility for their CO2 emissions by carbon offsetting through Climate Care. Check your carbon emissions and calculate the offest cost using this handy carbon calculator.
Once, carbon offsetting was considered nothing more than planting a tree. Planting trees to ‘capture’ carbon dioxide is worthwhile, but there has to be more to it than that. Our criteria in project selection are that our projects reduce CO2 emissions at source, at significant levels and in areas where the help is most needed. In the west we talk a lot of the large emissions created through the rapid development of new industrial giants like China and India, yet are we actually offering these countries the assistance they need to develop in a sustainable way? We have specifically included projects in these countries in our project portfolio to ensure our offset delivers meaningful environmental change.
We have chosen 4 projects to fund this year which represent significant areas of environmental concern:
Forestry: Carbon Capture and Biodiversity- Kibale Forest, Uganda
Simply 'planting a tree' is not an answer to carbon offsetting as in time this tree will die and re-release its carbon into the atmosphere or may be destroyed by forest fire. The best approach is to plant a mixed forest on an area that has been deforested so that it can re-grow into a stable ecosystem. In Kibale Forest NP, Climate Care are replanting native species in areas previously cleared by felling, thus increasing the habitat for wildlife. Under many tree planting schemes, trees are not nurtured or protected, meaning that many are lost within the first few years or get felled later. However the Climate Care plantations are under the protection of the National Park. This, along with the fact that the forest develops a natural fire resistance in a short period, means that the risk of the trees dying or being felled is limited. This project is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and employs 400 people in the Kibale area.
Renewable Energy: Hydro Power- Yonghong Town, Sichuan Province, China
It is not always easy to take the green route. Hydro generation has to overcome significant financial and common practice barriers to become operational. There are a number of unknown variables at the start of the project such as build cost, tariff levels and operational costs. Carbon finance enables a project to significantly reduce its risk and take it nearer to the hurdle rate of return in the difficult early years. Operating in a remote part of rural Sichuan, the power plant is expected to generate about 59GWh electricity per year, enough to supply the equivalent of 18,000 UK households, and achieve approximately 50,000 tonnes of emissions reductions per year.
Industry: Alternative Fuel- Kolaphur, near Pune Maharashtra
This innovative renewable energy scheme in Pune has replaced oil with waste from sugarcane production, called bagasse, is being used instead of coal and oil to fuel a factory which processes waste paper into cardboard products - a double environmental benefit! This kind of fuel is called biomass and is renewable (it grows back!), as well as being carbon neutral in that it would have decayed been burned and released all it's CO2 anyway. As well as the significant environmental benefits, local employment is being generated in a poor area. This project gives an economic value to biomass, enabling farmers to use waste products for economic gain, and kick-starts demand for sustainable fuels.
Energy Efficiency: Cooking Stoves- Cambodia
90% of Cambodians use wood to cook. This puts a huge demand on the forests which are being rapidly depleted, often illegally, to fuel the demand. Alternative fuels are not easy to introduce as, aside from it being tricky to guarantee a regular supply, requiring that people cook in a different way holds huge difficulties.
Our project in Cambodia is tackling this problem on two fronts. First of all it has established a farm to produce sustainable charcoal and secondly it has developed a cooking stove which cooks in the same way people are familiar with, but uses 22% less charcoal through efficient burning. This reduces the impact on the forest, reduces CO2 emissionsand and saves families money.