Carbon offsetting caving expeditions


The UK will have used its carbon budget for 1.5C (the amount we can emit from now until forever) in under nine years at current emissions levels. Rapid and meaningful changes in the way we use carbon-based fuels are an absolute necessity and will have by far the biggest impact on emissions of CO2. GPF recognises that it has a role to play and the sooner we start taking action to help caving expeditions understand and reduce their carbon emissions, the better it will be for everyone 1.

Caving expeditions’ carbon footprints relate almost entirely to their travel emissions. There is a small footprint from equipment but it is dwarfed by travel. A typical 6-person expedition with 600 m of rope plus rigging gear and camping equipment will generate around 100 kg of CO2 in the manufacture and delivery of the equipment. The CO2 generated by the transport required to get the expedition into the field is much, much higher 2:

  • Europe (flights): 3,600 kg 
  • Europe (cars, 3up): 780 kg
  • Europe (trains): 420 kg
  • Europe (bus): 324 kg
  • Mulu: 24,000 kg 3

Transport is typically responsible for 95% or more of the CO2 generated by an expedition if flying or about 80% if travel is by less carbon-intensive means. Given this, choosing to only consider/offset travel is reasonable, especially as it is fairly easy to calculate and most offset providers are set up this way.

It’s very important to understand that offsetting doesn’t actually reduce emissions at all. It just allows (generally rich, white) cavers to pay someone (generally poor and brown with a much lower carbon footprint already) to do their emission reductions for them, so they can carry on as before. Nevertheless, is better than doing nothing and, in particular, for people who have not previously been faced with the quantitative effects of climate change, it brings some useful insights. 

Two lakes in a rainforest in the shape of human footprints, viewed from above.

There are a lot of providers in the market. This is not the place to discuss the validity of different providers’ claims and offerings but based on the following factors:

  • Reliability of offsets chosen
  • Cost of offsets
  • Accuracy of carbon calculators
  • Ease of use for applicants

GPF has identified two that appear to provide a service best suited to caving expeditions. These are:

Expeditions are free to use other resources if they wish to: please use the box provided on the application form to tell us who you used.

  1. See anything by Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre:
    – 8 min summary: 
    – Half-hour talk: ↩︎
  2. From ↩︎
  3. Yes, that is 24 TONS of CO2 ↩︎