Asessing CO2-compensation for a Swedish NGO

In a recent project I had the possibility to discuss climate change and asess CO2-compensation together with a Swedish NGO that works globally. The NGO operates locally in developing countries, but since the NGO’s network is spread all over the world, the organizations leader’s and teams are also frequent flyers. Since the aim of the organization is to make the world a better place, climate change mitigation and responsibility is of course important to discuss and form policies around. I was involved in the process of developing some kind of formulation how to do CO2-compensation for the travel needed in the organization.

Here’s how we did it. We choose to offset CO2 by planting trees in Africa. The organization had a partner who owns land and have done tree-planting project before this, so it was a good way to start the process. Planting trees and forestation is a very effective way to enhance both the local environment and to make an impact on climate change globally. Forests, forestation and forestry can have a positive effect on local economy, on agriculture, on soil erosion, water management, biodiversity and many more, so to choose forestation for CO2-offsetting is a wise thing to do.

Now the big question was to be able to know how many trees should be planted in order to compensate for the emissions from the necessary flights. There are many organisations and experts around that gives you advise on how to do this, and the advise varies very much. We choose to keep it very simple. As my old math-teacher used to say: if you don´t know, estimate! And so we did, because it is very hard to do very specific and accurate calculations when it comes to the carbon footprint. But to be on the safe side, we added a large portion for the unsure maths in the estimation.

The basic calculation started with an estimation of how much wood one tree can produce, and how much carbon and CO2 one tree can bind during its lifespan. We add with an estimated coefficient on forestry, since we want to give access to the forests to the local people that manages and guards the forests that are planted for offsetting CO2. We add an additional 50 % for all risks involved with planting trees and forestry in this part of Africa: drought, graze and pasture and risks involved with animals and people interested in what is planted and so on. We then get a result that we can compare to the amount of CO2 that is emitted per person during the flights.

The flight and emission data is collected in the organization on a regular bases. When doing this, it is possible to calculate the amount of trees that needs to be planted every month in order to offset the emissions that is produced by the flying.

Of course this is a very theoretical framework and the errors in the maths are probably  not very small, but when adding the risk factors and percentage for errors, the model at least creates a system of how to make a positive impact.

All in all, the discussion and research around these issues were very interesting and creating a proposal for a CO2-compensation mechanism was interesting to develop. Do you have thoughts around CO2-compensation? If you are interesting in a similar method for your organization or want to find solutions for compensating och offseting CO2 in your organization, just let us know and we can find the solutions together!

Niklas Andersson
Founder and owner
Master of Natural Resources
Evalumon Consulting

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