Davos "carbon free" image goes up in smoke

Oil for heating accounts for the large majority of CO2 emissions in Davos

Efforts to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of the delegates at an international conference this week in Davos are likely to fall wide of the mark.

This content was published on October 2, 2007 - 11:19

Few of the participants were wearing "I'm offset" buttons at the climate change and tourism meeting in the mountain resort known for its poor emissions record.

Those attending the three-day event were asked by the organisers, led by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), to pay into a renewable energy fund to compensate for the CO2 emissions of their flights to Switzerland.

"It's not only to set a good example, we want to send a message as well. And the message is this is the kind of thing that all organisations will have to look at going forward," UNWTO assistant secretary-general Geoffrey Lipman told swissinfo.

"It may be a small contribution but the marketplace is made up of millions of small decisions and we want to be consistent in what we preach and what we do."

The delegates were informed that an individual's return flight from Brasilia, for example, was responsible for 8.5 tons of CO2 and would therefore cost $172 (SFr202) to offset. For New York the figure was six tons costing $120.

But the scheme was openly criticised by members in attendance at the opening plenary session on Monday. They either quibbled with the calculation method or the credibility of the renewable energy projects supported in developing countries.

Adding insult to injury, the main strategy paper presented at the conference stated that frequent flyers – such as those in attendance – "are not ready to support voluntary carbon offsets".

The Swiss government and Davos town council are two of the institutions promoting the initiative.

Davos emissions

Yet Davos, by its own admission, has a lot to do to improve its own climate record. A study released earlier this year by a leading research institute based in the town found that emissions per head are 25 per cent higher than the Swiss average.

Davos mayor Hanspeter Michel told swissinfo this was due largely to the fact that, as a high-altitude resort, it had to heat its buildings for much longer than most Swiss communities.

But an inquisitive visitor cannot help but notice the absence of solar panels in a community that once prospered as a health resort for tuberculosis patients prescribed sunshine and fresh air.

The report by the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research says renewable energy sources account for only 2.5 per cent of Davos's total energy needs.

However, Michel is confident the town can meet a 15 per cent emissions reduction target by 2014, "provided conditions out of our control are in place" such as new CO2 levies and environment laws to be decided at the cantonal and federal levels.

At the moment the town council is proud of the expansion of its local bus service to reduce the use of cars in the resort and is encouraging property owners to better insulate their buildings.

This was done by the owners of the Waldhotel Davos – where many delegates stayed – during a recent SFr12 million ($10.2 million) renovation.

But while the guests in the former sanatorium that inspired Thomas Mann to write The Magic Mountain can sun themselves on large, sunny balconies, the hotel is still heated with oil.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Davos

In brief

The second International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism is being held in Davos from October 1-3.

It is organised by the UNWTO with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Meteorological Organization, the Swiss government and the World Economic Forum.

The Davos meeting is a follow up to a climate and tourism summit held in Djerba, Tunisia, in 2003.

The UNWTO is reviewing its Djerba Declaration and exploring ways for tourism to respond to today's climate challenges.

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Carbon offsetting

The money paid into the voluntary carbon offset scheme is managed by the Swiss firm, myclimate.

The company supports renewable energy projects in developing countries.

myclimate says the scheme improves the quality of life for people in poor countries by creating jobs, improving local air quality and supporting a sustainable local economy.

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In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

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