Compensation scenarios for air travel in the pipeline

| Rense Kuipers

Less air travel, and if there is air travel, it needs proper financial compensation. Members of the Sustainability, Energy & Environment (SEE) programme have written a proposal to compensate for the CO2 emissions resulting from air travel by the UT community. On Wednesday 29 June, they will hold a consultation session on the subject.

The plan came about after the open letter that Scientists4Future handed over to the Board of Directors last November. ‘That letter was well received by the Executive Board’, says professor and one of the initiators, Frieder Mugele. ‘They said: if you want more climate measures, help us to implement them.’

3200 bookings in 2019

Thus, the SEE programme worked out several scenarios to compensate for the CO2 emissions from air travel of UT staff. In pre-covid year 2019, those emissions were nearly 3,500 tonnes spread over more than 3,200 bookings: 13 percent of the UT's total CO2 emissions that year.

‘The first goal is to reduce these emissions by 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2019. This can be done in Europe by taking the train more often, but intercontinental flights cannot simply be replaced by train, even though these flights are responsible for over 80 percent of emissions’, says Mugele.

Three scenarios

In order to set a price tag on compensation for air travel, at the expense of the department/faculty or service departments’s budget, those involved looked at three possible scenarios. The first possibility is the introduction of a fixed fee of 100 Euros per booked flight, with the option to increase it to 200 Euros if targets are not met.

The second scenario is a progressive model, where frequent flyers pay more than someone who hardly flies: you pay an extra 100 euros for the first flight, 200 euros for the second flight and 400 euros for all subsequent flights.

The third option is to calculate the actual emissions per flight, taking into account factors such as the exact distance, altitude and type of aircraft – and then pay 100 euros per tonne of CO2.

Internal compensation fund

The initiators also envisioned three possibilities for using the money raised from the CO2 compensation. The money should end up in an internal compensation fund, which can either be used to encourage UT staff to travel in a more sustainable way, or can be used to encourage UT staff to be more sustainable, for example by purchasing solar panels on campus or promoting vegan food. The third option is to use the fund on a broader scale, in external CO2 compensation projects.

‘The beauty of such a fund is that the money raised can go straight to the UT’s sustainability ambitions’, says Brechje Maréchal, policy officer for environment and sustainability. ‘Or for it to be used more broadly. It fits in with the ITC faculty’s mission to use the compensation in developing countries.’

Consultation session

Before the SEE programme and ultimately the Executive Board can proceed, the initiators will first hold a consultation session on 29 June to ask the UT community for their opinions on the developed scenarios. ‘We want to raise awareness and give people the chance to have their say on CO2 reduction. We want to know how this proposal will land in the organisation and which scenario they prefer. Maybe it will be a scenario we haven’t mentioned yet’, says Maréchal. ‘Ultimately, we are looking for support and a UT-wide method, with enough freedom for departments and faculties to implement such policy properly and pragmatically.’

According to professor Jurriaan Schmitz, one of the speakers at the meeting next week, professors also play a key role. ‘They often discuss with their PhD students which conferences to attend, or accept invitations they receive to speak somewhere themselves. That could also be done digitally, closer to home, or less frequent. Or look at the collaborations that are set up with institutions in a country like China. For those you are expected to fly back and forth frequently. It would be good to reconsider such collaborations not only from a knowledge safety perspective, but certainly also from a climate perspective.’

No time to waste

After the meeting, the initiators want to submit the plan to the Executive Board as soon as possible. ‘Especially because of the decision-making process’, says Mugele. ‘A plan like this has to go through all kinds of different bodies and meeting structures, while we would prefer to see the plan to be in place on 1 January 2023. The translation from ambition to reality is apparently not easy, even though we have no time to waste.’