What happens with your CO2 compensation?

What exactly happens with the money you pay to compensate your CO2 emissions? Here’s what research tells us. BIO, Enabel and the FPS Foreign Affairs are already making efforts to limit their CO2 emissions as much as possible and then compensate the remaining emissions.

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This article was written just before the corona crisis. Since then, international air traffic has been at a low level. But that does not mean that sustainability and CO2 compensation no longer count. We continue to move around, make purchases and consume energy. Moreover, air traffic will resume as soon as the pandemic is under control. Sustainability and CO2 compensation therefore remain burningly topical. Climate change does not wait for corona, as we can notice all over the world.

Woman next to stone ovens

Improved cooking stoves 'in banco', made from clay and other local materials (CO2logic, Burkina Faso). © CO2logic

To combat climate change, we need to evolve towards a climate-neutral world. Essentially, that means a world without fossil fuels. However, there is often no suitable alternative yet. For example, kerosene still remains indispensable for air travel.

At the moment, many people can no longer live without aircraft. This is the case for many professionals in a globalised world: businessmen, scientists, politicians, development workers... But also private individuals like to travel by air. Moreover, our journeys by bus and train also produce CO2 emissions, in addition to the energy consumption of our homes, our food and our purchases.

Various organisations can compensate your CO2 emissions. For example, in Belgium, Treecological and Greentripper, a branch of CO2logic. The principle is simple: you compensate emissions that you cannot avoid by having the same amount of CO2 stored elsewhere. On their site you can calculate how much CO2, and thus how much money, you have to compensate.

People near saplings

Treecological closely monitors the saplings planted in Ecuador. © BOS+

Planting trees in Ecuador


Treecological – a BOS+ initiative - compensates your CO2 emission by planting trees in Ecuador. BOS+ is a partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation. ‘So far, around 30 hectares of trees have been planted for Treecological,’ reports Debbie Eraly who monitors the project in Ecuador.

Yet, the mere fact of planting trees is not sufficient. ‘We plant the trees on land that was deforested in the sixties for livestock breeding,’ she continues. ‘On that land, there are now very aggressive grasses overgrowing all other plants. In order to protect the saplings, these grasses have to be systematically removed for a period of four years. If this is omitted, scarcely one tenth of the saplings will survive.’

Treecological also seeks added value for the local communities and for biodiversity. Eraly: ‘We almost exclusively use indigenous tree species and try to enlarge or reconnect existing nature reserves.’

The exact calculation of the CO2 absorption appears to be a complex matter, especially in the tropics. ‘To this end, we are cooperating with Ghent University. In many cases, the existing models have been developed for European forests, whereas biodiversity in the tropics is much higher, requiring more complex models.’

Woman paints stone pots

Production of improved cooking stoves in North Kivu (CO2logic, DR Congo). © CO2logic

Improved cooking stoves

Since 2007, CO2logic has been compensating for CO2 emission, which makes it the pioneer in Belgium. In the first place, CO2logic focuses on companies. ‘Basically we are a consultancy company,’ says Herman Noppen, Project Director at CO2logic. ‘We calculate the CO2 footprint of a company and advise it on how to reduce its emissions. Compensation is only the very last step and only applies to unavoidable emissions.’

Compensation is done via projects in countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Benin. Some of these projects provide improved cooking stoves requiring 50% less wood. In Africa, a lot of people use coppice in relatively primitive cooking stoves to cook their meals. Coppice, as well as charcoal, are a substantial cause of deforestation. In Uganda, these improved cooking stoves result in a yearly emission decrease of 1.4 tonnes.

Moreover, the use of improved cooking stoves ensures a healthier living environment in houses. And thanks to the fact that women have to spend less time collecting wood, they can concentrate more on plant production and goat breeding. Or they can save money because they have to buy less fuel.

‘For our projects, we adhere to the demanding Gold Standard,’ Noppen continues. ‘We calculate very accurately the avoided deforestation and the related CO2 storage and thoroughly analyse whether the cooking stoves are used properly.’

In cooperation with the Belgian inspection company Vinçotte, CO2logic has developed a CO2-neutral label that is internationally recognised. A company carrying that label can guarantee that it has undertaken serious climate efforts and that it does not engage in greenwashing. Recently, BIO - the Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries, a close partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation - obtained that CO2-neutral label for the 4th year in a row.

‘Individuals can contact us as well, via our Greentripper branch,’ Noppen adds. ‘Travel operators recommend Greentripper to clients who want to compensate their trip.’


The Belgian development agency (Enabel) is also a customer of CO2logic. Enabel implements projects for, among others, the Belgian governmental development cooperation, which requires many unavoidable flights to the project countries in the South. The compensation payments go to the distribution of improved cooking stoves in Uganda.

‘Every 4 years, we issue a public procurement tender to find an organisation that can compensate for the emissions associated with our flights,’ explains Claude Croizer, Environment & Climate Advisor at Enabel. ‘In doing so, we use very strict criteria according to which the project must have a clear social impact and be organised in one of our partner countries.’

For the last public procurement tender, CO2logic profiled itself as the strongest candidate. Croizer is very satisfied with the cooperation. ‘This year, we will issue a new procurement tender that will be broader. For example, the energy consumption of our head office in Brussels will be compensated as well.’

‘Please note,’ he emphasises, ‘that we consider CO2 compensation merely as the icing on the cake, as it goes hand in hand with numerous other environmental measures. For example, we encourage our Brussels staff to cycle to work and we reimburse all costs for public transport.’

Both Treecological and CO2logic see a manifestly growing interest in CO2 compensation. A positive sign! Apparently, you can have your CO2 emission compensated by both companies, in complete confidence, but ideally only when you have done everything to limit your emission.

FPS Foreign Affairs also compensates for missions

From now on, the FPS Foreign Affairs also wants to offset the CO2 emissions from its missions. In addition, it wants to reduce its travel budget by 10% and opt for the train where possible.

These actions are part of a catch-up effort that the FPS wishes to make in terms of sustainability. Think of fewer newspapers on paper, avoid waste, insulation, energy-efficient boilers, green roofs, solar panels, bicycle allowances and so on. A Sustainable Development Unit is currently elaborating an ambitious plan.