Carbon offsetting in transport. A call for evidence

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This Department for Transport consultation is “seeking views and evidence on the role that greater consumer information and carbon offsetting can play in mitigating emissions from ticketed travel across all transport modes such as train travel, bus and coach travel, flights and ferries”. DfT  “are also interested in any evidence that could improve our (their) understanding of the role that carbon offsetting can play in non-ticketed road transport, recognising the contribution from this sub-sector to the overall UK transport omissions” (36%) .

The paper also states that: “Ensuring the provision of effective consumer information is important to support passenger choice and  that customers can make informed decisions” and that “providing consumer with information on the environmental impact of different travel options could help change consumer  behaviour, assisting in influencing passenger choice, towards more sustainable journey types“.  Combined these statements suggests to that publicising the offset cost to the consumer (I.e. flagging the scale of  their personal impact), rather than necessarily collecting the offset surcharge itself is the primary objective that Government have in mind, at least in the first instance. However, if government are to achieve its ambitious environmental targets, they will need to reduce travel, influence the modes used and then offset all of the resulting emissions that remain.  That means eventually all carbon surcharges will need to be collected and used to offset carbon usage, whether that is by a voluntary approach or, more likely, by compulsion.

The consultation gives examples of voluntary, opt in, offset payments already offered by some airlines and goes on to suggests a voluntary opt out approach as a better means of engaging the public across all transport modes.  The paper also expresses some of the difficulties, including: the problems of measuring the carbon impact of certain journey types made in certain transport modes, the possible difficulties of collecting voluntary contributions for ticketed journeys not bought online and for journeys made by say season ticket holders.

Some commentators have already expressed concern that a widely adopted voluntary carbon offset payment scheme may  quickly evolve in to a compulsory scheme with a mandatory offset charge being applied in time. As indicated above I tend to agree with that this is the likely direction of travel, if  our “share” of the targets are ever to be met from within the tourism and leisure sectors.

Although only 18 pages in length it isn’t a particularly quick read.  There are no simple shortcuts other than to suggest that the main points on ticketed and non-ticketed transport are contained on pages 16 and 17, although not necessarily with the all-important context attached, which you will find spread across much of the rest of the document.

Should destination managers be interested at this relatively abstract stage?  Given that this is essentially about influencing travel choice, including travel for the purposes of leisure and tourism by all transport modes, via the means of a proposed voluntary additional charge, then this is an issue that should at least be on everyone’s radar.  For those who have a degree of reliant on ticketed air, sea or rail travel (where this is likely to bite first) then it is more pressing, despite it being at the early evidence gathering stages.

Any comments you might have that would help inform a potential British Destinations response and/or our contribution to the Tourism Alliance response, would be welcomed.  The call for evidence closes on 26 September 2019.

Find the consultation under the Consultations drop-down menu  at http://www.britishdestionations.net  or go direct to the relevant page at: britishdestinations.net/consultation-responses/open-consultations/carbon-offsetting-in-transport-closing-26-sept-19/

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