Travelling at zero net CO2 emissions: an Interreg project tells how

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How can we estimate the CO2 emissions related to a research project? How can we offset them? The Italy – Croatia Interreg GUTTA project finds a way to successfully implement an EU project with zero net travel emissions.

The total direct emissions related to all travels generated by GUTTA project in 2019 were about 7 tons CO2. This corresponds to the emissions of an average Italian person during one year (according to data from the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance). This is the main result of the monitoring activity of CO2 emissions due to meeting travels of GUTTA, a project of the Italy – Croatia Interreg Programme that aims to contribute to the decarbonization of the ferry boat maritime traffic in the Adriatic Sea.

“In GUTTA we have a specific deliverable requiring us to monitor and report emissions related to project meetings and other travels for project related events- explains Gianandrea Mannarini, senior scientist at the CMCC Foundation and coordinator of GUTTA – and this could represent an innovation for EU projects.”

Fig.1: results displayed vs. time, highlighting specific project phases and meetings; column height is proportional to emissions of single journeys, column colour to carbon emission intensity

The starting point was a simple travel report that each traveler to a GUTTA meeting was required to fill. For instance, if he/she went from A to B via C, he/she had to keep notice of the transportation means used along both A-C and C-B legs. Then, emissions along each leg are estimated: the online tool is used for train, car, and plane legs. For maritime legs, carbon footprinting in online tools is still not standard and data from THETIS-MRV were used by GUTTA researchers. Not only the CO2 emissions were considered, but also the carbon emission intensity, obtained by dividing each journey’s emissions by its length.

Then, the individual travel reports were lumped by event (e.g. the project kick-off or the first Steering Committee meeting) or by Project Partner. This allows to monitor who and when generated the emissions, and this is important in view of offsetting them.
“We would like GUTTA to be the first EU project with zero net CO2 travels – Mannarini adds – and this can be done via negative emissions”. They can be achieved e.g. by funding reforestation/afforestation projects, provision of clean water supply in developing Countries (thus avoiding burning fossil fuels for purifying it), or supporting small renewable energy plants. This will also be beneficial UN SDGs like the #13 (‘Climate Action’).

How was the cost for offsetting GUTTA carbon footprint estimated? The travels emissions were considered as if they were part of the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS). This first attempt just considered the emissions directly related to travels. However, for a truly zero net CO2 project the picture should be enlarged to include both indirect emissions caused by the travels (so called scope 2 and scope 3 emissions) and other project budget lines, such as staff and equipment.
The average carbon intensity of GUTTA travels in 2019 was found to be 107 gCO2/km, which is less than the intensity of the average car in the EU, and the offsetting cost amounted to amounted to less than 200 euro. Thus, investing a little part of the project budget, GUTTA partners will know that their travels did not contribute to climate change.

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