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Illustration by Vivi Zhu

Carbon Offset: Should We Pay?

A potential solution to the carbon emissions caused by air travel is carbon offsetting. But should we use it to erase all our global warming sins or should we look for another solution?

Mobility has been a crucial part of NYU Abu Dhabi’s identity since its inception. Most of us fly at least a few times each semester, travelling to and from our native countries, for January Terms, study away semesters and holiday trips. But as we become more aware of the tremendous impact that air travel has on the environment, we need to ask ourselves about the damage caused by our flights.
To say that air travel is bad for the environment is a gross oversimplification. Airplanes emit 2.4 times more CO2 per kilometer per passenger than cars and 8.7 times more than [trains] (; overall, the aviation industry is responsible for two percent of [global CO2 emissions] (, which is a relatively high proportion when we consider the low number of people that fly.
So, what can we, the NYUAD community, do about the carbon footprint of our flights? Luckily, there is a solution that seems perfectly feasible: carbon offsetting.
Carbon offsetting entails paying for projects that compensate for the CO2 emissions made elsewhere. Projects can range from planting trees to investing in renewables, with many of them operating according to United Nations standards.
The ultimate goal of carbon offsetting is achieving carbon neutrality, meaning that the net CO2 emissions and CO2 collection will be zero. It is an ambitious goal but there are already trailblazers. For example, in 2018, the [American University] ( became the first university in the U.S. to achieve this goal. NYU New York aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040 and the [Senate’s resolution] ( passed last semester extends the sustainability efforts of the New York campus to the rest of the Global Network.
Once we establish that flight emissions should be offset, it comes down to the question of responsibility. NYUAD could showcase its excellence and leadership by deciding to offset the flights that it arranges for the students. In doing so, NYUAD will embrace its identity as an institution at the forefront of innovation in education.
In the greater plan for becoming carbon neutral, flight offset seems to be an easy win. “[Carbon offset] is definitely the lowest-hanging fruit. It does not require any infrastructure. It does not require massive building permits. It does not need maintenance or upkeep,” says Katie Glasgow-Palmer, Class of 2021. “As long an appropriate company is used to offset [the environmental damage], it is a win-win deal.”
These efforts would very well fit with the current transformation happening in the UAE. Although the country still has one of the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the world, it is also developing some of the world’s most ambitious energy projects, so as to transition away from fossil fuels. Just in July, the world’s largest solar power plant, was commissioned in Abu Dhabi, and [Masdar City] ( has been operating for a few years as one of the most sustainable urban communities of its size.
Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced and CO2 emissions are unanimously recognised as the [main cause of this problem] ( Universities, municipalities and governments around the world are rallying to act upon this issue and if there is a solution that the administration can implement at a reasonable cost to improve its environmental sustainability, it should be given serious thought before being turned down.
However, while institutionalized carbon offsetting is one of the ways to achieve our goal of carbon neutrality, conversations around implementing this solution should also serve as an opportunity to reflect on the personal responsibility we have towards the environment. Institutional changes will not have much of an impact if we do not make a commitment towards offsetting the carbon footprint we generate outside of our NYUAD-sponsored flights. If we push the university to cover our carbon footprint but then fly away for every possible break without offsetting our personal flights, we seem to be not much more than hypocrites. It is also important to remember that carbon offset is not an ideal solution. Flights will continue to generate greenhouse gases and other types of pollution. The best solution would be to simply fly less.
Beniamin Strzelecki is a columnist. Email him at
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