Could 'carbon passports' that limit how much we travel be in our future?

  • 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.

The climate has a tourism problem.

One tour company has an idea that could address that: 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."

A carbon passport would regulate travelers' emissions

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.

In reality, a carbon passport would be challenging to implement

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."

Berna said it's just one idea that could raise awareness of sustainable travel.

To work, such a passport would need to be created alongside new legislation and technological innovations, Berna and Hawkins said.

Experts agreed making the concept a reality posed challenges.

"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.

It would be tough to get enough people on board, Hawkins added, and "for it to work internationally, it would require collaboration from a lot of different stakeholders."

"If we were to put certain limits on our individual carbon emissions, that would have different ramifications for all of us," he said.

Zapata said the restriction could be alienating and ineffective.

"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.

Abelson, Berna, and Zapata suggested a few strategies for solving tourism's climate problem, such as airlines using alternative fuel sources and governments regulating carbon emissions in the aviation industry.

The eco-friendly transportation mentioned in the report would be more effective to push toward, Hawkins said.

"There's a lot of innovation happening in sustainable aviation," he told BI.

Airlines are starting to use sustainable aviation fuel made of resources such as trash and vegetable oil. Data from the International Air Transport Association showed sustainable aviation fuel emitted up to 80% less carbon dioxide than typical jet fuel.

The US isn't making enough of the alternative fuel source, but the federal government is working to ramp up production, BI reported in January.

A white, pink, and blue Airbus A321 takes off from Brussels South Charleroi Airport to Sofia.
Wizz Air is one of the airlines working toward a sustainable future.Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Carbon passports wouldn't address other emissions from travel

Berna said there's another issue with the carbon-passport concept — not all emissions from traveling come from transportation.

"The next piece we have to solve is how we travel when we get to the location, how we're spending your money, and where you're staying," he said.

Berna and Zapata shared a few tips for limiting carbon emissions as a traveler, such as eating locally sourced food, staying in sustainable accommodations that use renewable energy, and opting for fewer, longer trips over several shorter ones.

Hawkins added that visiting off-the-beaten-path destinations could help mitigate overtourism, while spreading the benefits of travel to other places.

"For example, Greece and Italy are massively oversubscribed to," he said. "So now we're starting to see destinations like Albania enter the conversation."

To track your flight's carbon emissions, Berna suggests booking through Google Flights, which has included emissions levels since 2021. The Google Flights site says its carbon emissions are based on the European Environment Agency's estimates.

Another useful tool is Native, an online emissions calculator where you can plug in your travel plans and get an estimate of your trip's carbon footprint.

Read the original article on Business Insider