Endless environmental hype: 'Carbon passports' to limit travels

10:12 10.12.2023 •

The climate has a tourism problem.

A recent report on the future of travel includes the concept of a "carbon passport." In theory, a carbon passport would limit travelers' greenhouse-gas emissions each year. But travel-sustainability experts say there are more effective ways to support eco-friendly travel, writes The Business Insider.

One tour company is proposing a solution: a "carbon passport" that would limit how much carbon travelers could emit each year.

An October report written by the consultancy The Future Laboratory and released by the travel company Intrepid suggested the idea as a way to regulate travelers' annual emissions.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that 29% of global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2021 came from transportation, including flights, trains, and cars.

According to Paloma Zapata — the CEO of Sustainable Travel International, an organization that develops strategies with governments and businesses — flights typically produce at least half of a trip's overall carbon footprint.

"We are in the biggest race of our time — race to net-zero carbon emissions," Zapata told Business Insider. "And when we travel, we consume a lot of resources."

Alex Hawkins, the strategic-foresight editor at The Future Laboratory who spearheaded the report, told BI that the concept might be necessary eventually if we didn't work toward a more sustainable world.

"The idea of carbon passports is based on the idea of personal carbon allowances," Hawkins said, adding that it would "impose a cap on how much carbon people are allowed to emit over a certain period of time."

Hawkins acknowledged that this wasn't a new concept. The UK Parliament outlined a similar idea in a 2008 report called "Personal Carbon Trading." "Carbon passports have taken that idea one step further" because they would involve tracking and limiting travel carbon emissions, specifically, Hawkins added.

The report said individuals needed to limit their carbon use to 2.3 tons a year to mitigate the climate crisis. The average US citizen emits 16 tons annually, the report added.

Hawkins and Matt Berna, the president of Intrepid in the Americas, said they didn't see a carbon passport as a quick fix, though.

"This is the future we don't want," Hawkins told BI. "We mapped out the concept as a provocation to say that if we aren't taking decisive action against the climate crisis, we are going to potentially see our freedoms curbed in different ways."

"The idea is good in theory, but in terms of logistics, I don't see how it could come together," Anna Abelson, an adjunct professor of the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University, told BI, speaking about how tracking would work.

"We should be inspiring people to make changes and creating an environment for those changes to happen organically" by providing more sustainable options and raising awareness about eco-friendly travel, she said.

In reality, a carbon passport would be challenging to implement.


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