The Frequently Asked Questions section is devoted to answering common questions about the Climate Change and Carbon Offsetting Programme.
Climate Change and Carbon Offsetting
- How much environmental damage does flying cause?
The Nobel Prize winning, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that aviation contributes around 2% of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. However, there is evidence to suggest that non-CO2 aircraft emissions at high altitude may have additional global warming impacts. Research is ongoing to investigate the complex physical and chemical reactions that occur in the upper atmosphere.
- What is carbon offsetting?
Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face. Everyday actions like driving a car and flying consume energy and produce greenhouse gases emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) - which contributes to climate change. Governments, businesses and individuals are all responsible for reducing the carbon emissions they create. You can compensate for your own emissions by paying someone to make an equivalent greenhouse gas saving. This is known as “carbon offsetting” and includes investment in projects, such as renewable energy from windfarms and hydro-plants. More and more individuals and businesses are volunteering to offset their emissions. Offsetting is not a "cure” for climate change as the most effective way to combat climate change is to reduce our emissions. However, if done in the right way, offsetting can reduce the impact of our actions and help raise awareness of the issue.
- What is carbon offsetting for aviation?
Passengers can offset the emissions caused by their flying. The principle is that emissions for each flight are divided amongst the passengers. Each passenger can therefore pay to offset the emissions caused by their share of the flight’s emissions. Passengers can offset their emissions by investing in carbon reduction projects that generate carbon credits.
Passengers can purchase carbon credits generated by certified renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries that are verified to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A carbon credit is a permit that represents one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) that has either been removed from the atmosphere or saved from being emitted. These carbon credits are then "cancelled" on an official register to ensure that they cannot be sold or used again. Carbon credits create a market for reducing greenhouse emissions by giving a monetary value to the cost of polluting the air. There are two principal types of carbon credits: certified emission reductions (CERs), which are backed by the UN, and voluntary emission reductions (VERs). VERs are backed by recognised quality standards such as the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Gold Standard. VERs play an important role in emission projects with high sustainable development benefits. Carbon emission reduction projects have a finite life and South African Airways reserves the right to invest in projects with similar environmental and social benefits, if credits in the original project are no longer available.
- What is the role of carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsetting should be considered as one of the many tools an individual or organisation can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Other methods include selecting renewable energy options, improving energy efficiency at home and work, cycling to work, recycling and conserving energy by turning off lights, turning down the heating or up for air conditioning. Further information of greenhouse gas reduction initiatives can be found at: www.flysaa.com
- Is offsetting the carbon emissions from my flight compulsory?
No, it is entirely voluntary. As a passenger, you are free to offset any or none of your flights.
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- How do you calculate the volume of emissions from a flight?
The combustion of 1 kilogramme (kg) of jet fuel in an aircraft engine produces 3.15 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2). However, the volume released per flight is based on a number of factors such as aircraft efficiency and maintenance, distance travelled, the load carried (passengers and cargo) and weather conditions. Although there are several ways of calculating the carbon emissions from a flight, South African Airways uses a methodology based on that developed by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has developed this concept further by creating a tool that allows airlines to use their own verified data on fuel burn, passenger and cargo weights, seat configurations and load factors. This generates the most accurate calculation of CO2 emissions per passenger yet developed.
- Has the IATA carbon calculator been independently endorsed?
Yes, the Quality Assurance Standard (QAS), an independent not for profit organisation, has reviewed and approved both the methodology and the airline’s data input. Once a year an airline partner in the IATA Offset Programme is subject to independent auditing by the Scheme to ensure valid data entry and compliance with the approved methodology.
- How often is the carbon calculator data updated?
It is updated annually but if a new aircraft enters the fleet or a new route is flown it will be updated more frequently. The Offset Programme Quality Assurance Standard’s Approval Body indicates that, for a new route, the airline can extrapolate carbon emissions from similar routes (aircraft types and distance) or await the collection of route-specific information over a period of one year. South African Airways has chosen not to offer passenger offsets on new routes until supporting data has been collected and approved.
- How is cargo carried in the hold of an aircraft accounted for when calculating the passengers' share of the emissions on a route?
As part of the calculation method, the IATA tool subtracts the emissions associated with cargo, which may be carried on a passenger flight so only the emissions attributable to the passengers are provided.
- Why are the emissions larger if I travel in a premium class (business or first)?
Premium class seating configurations take up more space and weight on an aircraft than economy class seating. Based on ICAO recommendations, the emissions associated with premium class travel are estimated as double those in economy.
- How is the type of aircraft taken into account in the carbon calculator methodology?
Different aircraft have different characteristics (fuel efficiency, seat configurations, etc.) and, for those routes in which two or more aircraft types are used, the weighted averages are taken into account.
- How are the emissions calculated for travel on multiple flights?
The emissions for each leg of the journey are calculated and added together to give total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the entire trip.
- Does the IATA carbon calculator take into account the impact of non-CO2 gases at altitude?
Research by the Nobel Prize winning, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that non-carbon dioxide (CO2) gases such as water vapour (condensation trails) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), released at altitude by aircraft have undefined but additional global warming impacts beyond those of the CO2 emissions alone. When the international scientific community agrees on the emission factors for non-CO2 gases released by aircraft and the UN endorses this, the IATA carbon calculator will be updated.
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- Does the airline charge an administration fee or mark-up on the offset price?
Unlike many other offset programmes, South African Airways does not charge an administration fee or mark-up on the offset price paid by the passenger. South African Airways recognises that passengers are making a voluntary donation in order to improve the environment and, hence, the airline should not profit from such contributions. In fact, all administration costs involved in the programme including website re-development, carbon emission data collection and administration are borne by the airline.
- Why do different offset providers give different prices to offset the same emissions?
The price of carbon offsets is related to two main factors: market conditions and quality. Carbon is a commodity so when demand is high, during periods of strong economic growth, offset prices rise and vice-versa. In order to ensure strong passenger participation, the South African Airways offset programme only invests in offsets of the highest quality, that have been delivered and independently verified by the UN.
- Why does the price for offsetting the same journey change over time?
Carbon credits are a tradable commodity and, hence, the price per tonne reflects the cost on the date the credits are purchased. Carbon credit prices change due to market conditions and are also subject to fluctuating currency exchange rates. South African Airways will attempt to ensure that these prices changes are kept to a minimum.
- Can I get a refund if I purchase an offset but subsequently do not take a flight?
No, it is recognised that the purchasing of an offset by a passenger is a charitable donation and, hence, if a passenger pays for an offset but does not travel, this offset should be “carried over” for a subsequent flight and no offset is purchased.
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Offsett Programme Approval
- Has the offset programme been independently approved?
The South African Airways offset programme has been approved by the Quality Assurance Standard (QAS), an independent organisation certifying voluntary aviation offset programs. The Programme has been shown to meet the requirements of the scheme including environmental integrity, emission calculation methodology, clear and transparent pricing, accurate marketing material and consumer information. In addition, the South African Airways offset programme is permitted to use the approved offset Quality Mark.
- Why does SAA not have any South African projects?
SAA has engaged IATA to buy carbon credits of a certain quality. IATA have not been able to source projects in South Africa that can deliver these carbon credits due to a lack of projects registered in South Africa and a shortage of supply in the few projects that are registered in the South African market.
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