If you want to fly in a climate-friendly way, you can offset your CO2 emissions. He should choose the right provider for this. The differences are big, says Stiftung Warentest.

If many passengers knew what the Stiftung Warentest judges about the providers with whom they offset the CO2 emissions of their trip, their good conscience would begin to crumble: the foundation reports that most providers compensate far too little greenhouse gas to absorb the flight. Others provided insufficient evidence of the effectiveness of their compensatory measures with certificates or made rough promises instead of specific measures.

Millions of people in Germany who are currently planning their annual vacation can still breathe a sigh of relief: Stiftung Warentest shows a way to completely and verifiably offset flight CO2. This article explains how it works, what it costs, and what makes it different from other options – so you can take off with a clear conscience.

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Those who offset flight CO2 pay their airline or an external provider to do one of four things:

At present, end consumers usually offset their CO2 emissions with providers who promote climate protection projects. Some airlines also offer synthetic fuel and carbon capture options at the time of booking.

Air travel makes up a small proportion of the annual CO2 emissions of an average German. For many, however, it is one of the most difficult decisions: consumption, nutrition and housing consist of hundreds of individual decisions. Flight CO2 is usually caused by a single vacation. Compensating for greenhouse gases reduces annual CO2 emissions more than compensating for any other action.

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In addition, most people avoid CO2 emissions in other ways more easily than by flying: those who commute to work with colleagues, switch to public transport or buy an electric car emit fewer greenhouse gases. If you want to explore New York for two weeks, you can only fly. Compensation is a good idea for him.

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There are four main options for flyers who want to offset their CO2 emissions in Germany: the non-profit limited liability companies Atmosfair, Klima-Kollekte and Myclimate Deutschland as well as the Primaklima association. None of these providers are allowed to accumulate profits because of their structure. All income goes to the CO2 offset.

Depending on the provider, the prices are between 23 and 27 euros per tonne of CO2. To offset a return flight from Frankfurt to New York, economy class, consumers pay around 60 euros; for a return flight to London around ten euros. Anyone who flies non-stop to Honolulu (Hawaii) pays around 100 to 130 euros for compensation.

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Business class passengers pay about double these amounts, first class passengers two and a half to three times as much. For comparison: if the average German offsets his entire annual CO2 emissions of 10.8 tons, he pays around 250 euros.

More and more people are offsetting their CO2: Although Corona prevented many vacation trips, the sales of providers have increased significantly since 2018. Market leader Atmosfair had by far the highest turnover in 2021 with around 21 million euros.

Because consumers currently mainly use projects that offset CO2 emitted by flights by promoting climate protection projects, they should check the calculation of the promised savings: Do the subsidized solar systems actually replace fossil fuels in the region or do they only increase their energy consumption? In the latter case, the measure does not necessarily save CO2. Flyers should pay attention to certificates that prove the effectiveness of funded projects.

Also important: How do providers prove that donations actually go to the promised causes? So that the money doesn’t just get lost, they should clearly show customers where it goes.

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Finally, customers should compare how much CO2 a provider offsets for a flight. The differences are large: In addition to the emissions from the engines, Atmosfair also includes the climate effect of the contrails – so-called CO2 equivalents – in the compensation. As a result, it offsets three times more greenhouse gas emissions for the same flight than other providers and comes closest to the values ​​specified by the Federal Environment Agency’s CO2 calculator.

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If you don’t want to compare companies yourself: Stiftung Warentest has tested the four major German providers.

Atmosfair was the only provider to receive the top rating of “very good”. The Berlin non-profit GmbH only operates climate protection projects that are certified according to the high quality gold standard and disclose their costs in a verifiable manner. Conclusion: top marks in all sub-areas, repetition of the test win from 2018.

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All providers except Atmosfair have deteriorated since the test in 2018: Arktik and Klimamanufaktur are completely off the market. Primaklima and Klima-Kollekte slipped from their very good ratings to “good”, Myclimate from “good” to a weak “sufficient”.

With the exception of Atmosfair, all providers showed deficiencies in the core area of ​​the evaluation, CO2 compensation. Myclimate sets too low a value for CO2 compensation, Primaklima does not support any gold standard projects, and climate collections usually lack the equally important CER certification.

After all: In terms of transparency, performance and control, all providers score “good” or “very good”.

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Stiftung Warentest also gave bad ratings to the offers from Lufthansa, Ryanair and Easyjet. The airlines offer customers CO2 compensation options directly when booking the flight.

The providers are all committed to the principle of “avoid or reduce instead of compensate”. The CO2 compensation should make unavoidable CO2 emissions more climate-friendly, they emphasize unanimously. It should not be a sale of indulgences that climate sinners use to buy themselves a clear conscience.

This principle limits the offers somewhat: Atmosfair, for example, does not compensate for domestic German flights: the flight calculator refers inquirers to the train instead of naming prices.