TAP Portugal has become the first carrier to go live with IATA's new carbon offset programme, an initiative aimed at developing an industry-wide scheme enabling passengers to buy carbon offsets for their travel.
The Portuguese airline has timed the launch of its carbon offsets - which it is linking to a hydro-electric project in Brazil - to coincide with today's United Nations World Environment Day.
"The decision to join the IATA carbon offset program was taken last year, during my term as chairman of IATA's board of governors," says TAP chief Fernando Pinto.
"We have elected environment as a top priority for IATA's agenda. I have realized that this program was a good opportunity for TAP to offer our customers a practical tool to compensate, on a voluntary basis, for their carbon emissions, joining TAP's effort to become more and more efficient in order to minimise the company's contribution to climate change."
IATA began developing the scheme in late 2007 following a request from the board. Although around 30 airlines have launched their own offset programmes, many did not want to create their own, and there is a lack of consistency. "They vary in quality, vary in how emissions are calcualted, and vary on how airlines present them and how passengers can buy them," says Jon Godson, assistant director for environment best practice at IATA.
It is critical to have a sound offset programme for customers and one that carriers globally can sign up to. "For the passenger it is a very difficult purchase. They have to believe in the project wholeheartedly - it is essentially a charitable donation."
TAP environment manager Maria Joao Calha says: "To develop and implement the carbon offset program we have created a working group gathering a multi-disciplinary team of experts from several areas of activity within TAP."
As part of the programme, IATA will select credible environmental projects for which it can buy carbon credits paid for from offset schemes. "For the TAP offset it has chosen a hydro-electric project in Brazil," says Godson. IATA will only select projects from which it can buy United Nations so-called certified emission reduction credits. These projects are already up and running and delivering environmental benefits, says Godson.
IATA's scheme uses a carbon calculator tool approved by the UK Government, which is independently validated. This uses actual fuel burn data and load factors.
The association manages the offset project and it is integrated into the online booking process.
IATA is encouraging airlines to sign up to the scheme and wants 14, plus one global distribution system, by year-end. It has memorandum of understandings with five carriers so far, including Qatar Airways.