• Overground/underground - a caving archaeology project in the Yorkshire Dales

    1st June 2-4pm at Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

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Carbon offsetting for expeditions

nobrotson

Active member
I am unable to attend HE this year but have given this subject some thought. I'm also in the process of organising a trip to Mulu and applying for a MEF grant which considers the carbon footprint of expeditions.

I think it is a tough question for grant funding bodies. Are they really going to be in the business of dissuading cavers from running expeditions to far flung destinations? Everest and Ghar Parau, they are named after distant destinations themselves. All these bodies hold large sums of donated cash and as mentioned earlier GPF hold a considerable fund just to support Mulu expeditions. It is not really feasible, however right or wrong for society, for these funding bodies to just support expeditions to North Yorkshire or three up car trips to Austria.

Perhaps the best way would be for funding bodies to cover the costs of offsetting with the grant as well as helping with equipment. Advise on methods which actually do good. Work on carbon awareness promotions and perhaps even directly fund some peat bog restoration and tree planting.

Spend heavily now as no point in having 200k in the bank whilst we are all choking and burning. 🔥
The best method of reducing an expeditions carbon footprint is to reduce the number of personnel flying to the expedition destination. This has to be a part of any serious strategy to reduce emissions from international cave exploration, no matter what other steps are taken. Otherwise you are just pissing in the wind really (though I'm all for restoring the UK's natural capital as you suggest).

A completely sensible way of doing this, for example in the case of Mulu, is to engage local people in the expedition as much as possible. This will increase capacity to explore cave locally, meaning less Brits need to fly there to explore cave. I haven't seen any local cavers names on any Mulu grant applications, and your recent application to GPF didn't once mention how you plan to engage local people in caving and increase the capacity of local cave exploration. I know there is some contact with local cavers in Mulu - I'd like to hear more about it. Maybe then we can help you develop a long-term strategy for responsible cave exploration there, with the end goal of locally-led cave exploration.

Local engagement has to be a top priority for any expedition that is serious about reducing emissions, more important than any short-term exploration gains that are made. That really difficult lead which requires high degrees of technical knowledge can wait until a time when the local cavers can do it, rather than flying a long list of crack British cavers over to do it and claiming it is somehow morally justifiable. The same with survey data which is collected by Brits, who often rely on locals to find the caves, then drawn up and presented as their own. It happens in science all the time and is referred to as 'parachute science' (google it).

All these things are just a perpetuation of the colonial mindset of feeling we have a right to do as we please in far-away countries. We need to change this mindset - it is intrinsically linked with the perpetuation of the climate emergency. You mention 'Everest' (not even the real name of the mountain, textbook colonisation of culture) and and 'Ghar Parau' as if examples of exploration done over 50 years ago in this colonial mindset are exactly what we should continue doing, just because it benefitted us back then. Times change, society will have to change and caving can either get on board or get left behind.

A lot of rich Brits like to justify their trips to places like India and Vietnam by saying that their presence as tourists is required to boost the local economy. This completely ignores the huge domestic markets for tourism that exist in these places: our population is a couple of percent of India, and their middle class is booming. Caving is no different and in fact can be part of that. The Meghalaya trip seems to recognise this and is supporting the development of caving locally, and it has been a success. Meghalayan cavers are trained on the expedition and recently came to the UK and Ireland for some training. The aim is for local cavers to be in a position to generate revenue from instructing and guiding domestically. Stuff like this is a positive step forward.
 

nobrotson

Active member
In summary, I think that the future of UK cave exploration has to continue to focus on European exploration (these trips already constitute the bulk of GPF funding right now). There is more cave in Austria than Austrian cavers can feasibly explore. Since they seem happy for us to go there, let's make the most of that. Then, if we're going to explore caves in colonised countries further abroad, we should see our presence there as part of some kind of reparation for all the shit we have caused them. This is actually pretty feasible, and some trips are already starting to do this. We can reframe GPF as a way of supporting that, alongside supporting UK cavers to explore cool caves. Let's use GPF money to help local cavers, and the climate, simultaneously, rather than negatively impacting both with the colonial exploration model.
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Even for European expeditions its best to involve local cavers and clubs wherever possible. We (the Dachstein) got Eurospeleo Projects support this year (to the tune of 200m of rope; other support including financial is available) which requires you to have participants who are citizens of at least four ESF member countries (or three if you have a citizen of an ESF 'partner country' which includes all of Africa and various South American and Asian countries). There are probably a lot more UK expeditions that could apply for this money but tend to default to just applying to GPF, I suspect.

We actually had citizens of nine different countries from people living in six/seven different countries. Four of the cavers on exped this year are also members of the local Austrian caving club, and we keep them well-informed of our activities.

Obviously engagement in a European country that already has a significant caving scene is a lot easier than trying to build it from the ground up in a poorer country much further away.
 

Ouan

Member
If the GPF becomes 'anti-long distance caving expedition' for carbon offsetting and/or ethical reasons, then expeditions will ignore the GPF - any potential grant doesn't make or break an expedition. On the expeditions I have been involved with over the past 10 years GPF funding has been less than 5% of the total budget, working out to, at most, less than £35 per caver. GPF funds are better spent on student or Dachstein-style expeditions to Europe where any grant makes more of a financial difference.
 

Fjell

Well-known member
If the GPF becomes 'anti-long distance caving expedition' for carbon offsetting and/or ethical reasons, then expeditions will ignore the GPF - any potential grant doesn't make or break an expedition. On the expeditions I have been involved with over the past 10 years GPF funding has been less than 5% of the total budget, working out to, at most, less than £35 per caver. GPF funds are better spent on student or Dachstein-style expeditions to Europe where any grant makes more of a financial difference.
This should have been the case for the last 30-40 years, but wasn’t. In fact it was often the opposite. Money was spent on the already well heeled. It would have made a significant difference to developing and encouraging younger cavers over the years. I would put an age limit of about 25 on support.
 

IanWalker

Active member
I was interested in mentions of the GPF, an organisation that I have long been aware of but now realise I know little about. So I looked it up. Perhaps it is of use to this discussion.

The first sentence on the GPF homepage is:

The purpose of the Ghar Parau Foundation is to provide grant-aid assistance to British caving expeditions that travel to all corners of the world

Which I read as meaning British people travelling around the world is a requirement for funding, though flights are not implied.

The GPF is proud of its support to Brits abroad:

Ghar Parau Foundation finds itself having assisted British caving ventures to almost every limestone region in the world – as well as a few non-limestone ones; from Castleguard – cave exploration beneath a glacier – to the Blue Holes of the Caribbean; and from Mongolia to the tropical rainforests of Borneo and New Guinea.

Regarding 'training' local cavers:

There is a proviso that up to 25% of non-qualifying people may also be considered if these are indigenous cavers from countries where their caving community is small and would benefit from participation in an international expedition.

I read that as excluding expeditions including many locals.

As for destination Europe:

The overall budget and cost to the individual are also taken into account so that a small trip to Europe will probably receive a lower grant than a large-scale trip to more remote objectives.

So funding is prioritised to groups of people travelling a long way. Again flights are not mentioned.

Googling the site for carbon/sustainable/climate/CO2 brings up very little. One mention in 2020 meeting minutes of climate impact. One trip to Greenland by boat, which unfortunately ended up swapping to a helicopter.

My overall impression is that the focus of the GPF is sending Brits abroad; preferably as many as possible, and to the most remote places. From the outset Applicants are led to thinking that these are desirable aspects, and presumably to highlight any such aspects to increase their chance of success. Sustainability barely gets a footnote. I would be pleased to be corrected by anyone who knows better.
 

nobrotson

Active member
Completely agree that GPF funding should be used to benefit expeditions with a higher young caver contingent, purely based on financial need. Its also nice that these expeditions often have fewer emissions associated with them and less of a colonial legacy to deal with. This is very much a part of our thinking when we allocate funds, though I do feel it could play a bigger role still. I don't agree with a hard age limit, and anyway 25 is arguably too low (how many 26 year old cavers own a house?), but more careful consideration of the relative financial need of projects would be a good thing I think.

My overall impression is that the focus of the GPF is sending Brits abroad; preferably as many as possible, and to the most remote places. From the outset Applicants are led to thinking that these are desirable aspects, and presumably to highlight any such aspects to increase their chance of success. Sustainability barely gets a footnote. I would be pleased to be corrected by anyone who knows better.
Your impression is correct. Personally, I think it is time for the focus of GPF to change to reflect all the factors I eluded to previously. I see this debate as the start of that.

We're getting a bit off-topic here but I think there is a clear relationship between reducing the carbon emissions of international caving expeditions by UK cavers and the official funding bodies which support those expeditions. I'd encourage all who have shown interest here to attend the session at HE if you are attending.
 

MarkS

Moderator
I think some of the above comments are interesting, particularly:
The best method of reducing an expeditions carbon footprint is to reduce the number of personnel flying to the expedition destination. This has to be a part of any serious strategy to reduce emissions from international cave exploration, no matter what other steps are taken.
Local engagement has to be a top priority for any expedition that is serious about reducing emissions, more important than any short-term exploration gains that are made. That really difficult lead which requires high degrees of technical knowledge can wait until a time when the local cavers can do it, rather than flying a long list of crack British cavers over to do it and claiming it is somehow morally justifiable.

I think fundamentally the priority of the vast majority of UK caving expeditions is the UK participants going to explore the caves (rather than some overarching objective that caves are explored and surveyed via whatever means). After all, a caving expedition is just our choice of holiday and nothing more. Reducing the number of participants is a good way of reducing carbon footprint, but also a good way of reducing the overall enjoyment for people who may otherwise have participated. Ultimately any lead (however difficult/technical) can wait until local cavers do it with minimal environmental impact, even if there is too much cave for local cavers to explore in the next few years/decades.

I'm all for encouraging collaboration with local cavers (regardless of previous colonisation history), but I think this topic stems from an acceptance that UK cavers enjoy caving expeditions and with an acceptance of that, thinking about what we can do to minimise the environmental impact.

I think an important consideration given the above is the ratio of enjoyment to environmental impact: if you'd enjoy an expedition that you can drive to in Europe almost as much as you would enjoy one in Papua New Guinea, is the additional impact of going to the opposite side of the world justified?

Just to be clear, I don't disagree with a lot of what you said, Rob, and I think that any grant-awarding-body should be considering what it can do to reduce the environmental impact of the activities it funds.
 

Badlad

Administrator
Staff member
A completely sensible way of doing this, for example in the case of Mulu, is to engage local people in the expedition as much as possible. This will increase capacity to explore cave locally, meaning less Brits need to fly there to explore cave. I haven't seen any local cavers names on any Mulu grant applications, and your recent application to GPF didn't once mention how you plan to engage local people in caving and increase the capacity of local cave exploration. I know there is some contact with local cavers in Mulu - I'd like to hear more about it. Maybe then we can help you develop a long-term strategy for responsible cave exploration there, with the end goal of locally-led cave exploration.
You clearly have a negative view of Mulu expeditions but I do hope you don't bring that to the committee review of my application in October. I would like my application to be judged on the current criteria of the GPF some of which was highlighted by IanWalker above. If GPF wish to stop supporting distant expeditions then that needs to be highlighted in the application process. If there is a focus on carbon footprint then, again, the process needs to ask questions on that. Nowhere in the current application process is there any mention of it.

If GPF do wish to only support low carbon expeditions or expeditions with mostly young cavers then I can get behind that. You just need to make that official so we all know. In any case it won't affect Mulu expeditions. There is a considerable sum that GPF hold that is ring fenced for Mulu trips. I believe it is somewhere between 50K -70K and came from the Merdeka award. There is a strict agreed criteria for judging Mulu applications for awards from this sum as I understand it and until the money is spent down it will always be available in grants. There may be a strong case for making significant awards in order to get through the fund quickly and revert to a different policy. ;)

If you'd like to invite me to GPF interview I'd be happy to tell you more about local cavers, but again there is nothing in the application process which asks that. As far as I understand GPF it is aimed at supporting British cavers going overseas, interaction with local cavers is obviously good but I've never seen GPF directly support foreign cavers. In any case, perhaps you didn't notice on my application the reconnaissance by local guides of a key cave entrance and this is also budgeted for in the finances section. All the expeditions to Mulu that I have been on have operated with locals to some extent or other, but in the main part locals see caving as an opportunity to earn money. There have only been a few Sarawak nationals who have joined the expeditions because caving was a hobby.

We have, on many occasions, offered training and participation in all aspects of cave exploration in Mulu. Mostly this has been either with paid support staff or National Park rangers. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts the NP are unable send rangers out with expeditions anymore and very very few wish to join us in their spare time. The locals do have the skills but not the inclination for mounting their own trips.

Of course, this is not strictly true. Many locals going back over 25 years have run their own caving expeditions, sadly this was only for the illegal harvest of bird's nests. They leave graffiti and mess and are not something we'd want to support. It is a complicated issue and politically not something to get involved in. Unfortunately with large sums of money involved even the locals got kicked out and replaced by mafia type gangs from across the borders. Life is never as simple as it seems on one side of the keyboard.

But perhaps back to the OP. I am interested in what other trips have done regarding offsetting and other efforts to reduce carbon. I appreciate all the views on this topic. Our trip to Mulu in December will be the 32nd UK/Sarawak expedition there. It is the first, I'm sure, to even consider its carbon footprint. That has got to be a good thing.

Cheers
 

hoehlenforscher

Active member
Not managed to read the whole thread yet, but if anyone fancys making a donation to sensible tree planting then I work for Stump up for Trees which aim to plant a million trees in the Bannau Brechiniog. This is a bottom up, farmer led approach that aims to plant the right trees in the right places. Have a read of our mission statement and feel free to push a few pennies our way.

 

nobrotson

Active member
I think fundamentally the priority of the vast majority of UK caving expeditions is the UK participants going to explore the caves (rather than some overarching objective that caves are explored and surveyed via whatever means). After all, a caving expedition is just our choice of holiday and nothing more. Reducing the number of participants is a good way of reducing carbon footprint, but also a good way of reducing the overall enjoyment for people who may otherwise have participated. Ultimately any lead (however difficult/technical) can wait until local cavers do it with minimal environmental impact, even if there is too much cave for local cavers to explore in the next few years/decades.
I'm not arguing for a reduction in the number of cavers attending, but a change in how they transport themselves there, with a move away from flying. For caving expeditions to European destinations this is easy; for places like Mulu its less easy, but not impossible. The first trip to Mulu travelled there on a boat I believe - perhaps attendees of future trips with the necessary time and means can consider similar types of 'slow travel'.

I think an important consideration given the above is the ratio of enjoyment to environmental impact: if you'd enjoy an expedition that you can drive to in Europe almost as much as you would enjoy one in Papua New Guinea, is the additional impact of going to the opposite side of the world justified?
I think this is a really important observation and one I'd encourage everyone who caves internationally to consider.

You clearly have a negative view of Mulu expeditions but I do hope you don't bring that to the committee review of my application in October. I would like my application to be judged on the current criteria of the GPF some of which was highlighted by IanWalker above. If GPF wish to stop supporting distant expeditions then that needs to be highlighted in the application process. If there is a focus on carbon footprint then, again, the process needs to ask questions on that. Nowhere in the current application process is there any mention of it.
The reason I'm saying all of what I've said in this forum is because, as you point out, you should be judged on the existing criteria. I disagree with the criteria and would like it to change, but I will judge your current application by the existing criteria. For the record, I enjoyed reading your application and thought it was of a high standard, quite a lot higher than many I read during the Spring funding round.

If GPF do wish to only support low carbon expeditions or expeditions with mostly young cavers then I can get behind that. You just need to make that official so we all know. In any case it won't affect Mulu expeditions. There is a considerable sum that GPF hold that is ring fenced for Mulu trips. I believe it is somewhere between 50K -70K and came from the Merdeka award. There is a strict agreed criteria for judging Mulu applications for awards from this sum as I understand it and until the money is spent down it will always be available in grants. There may be a strong case for making significant awards in order to get through the fund quickly and revert to a different policy.
This is an important point and one I was unaware of before I started being on the Committee (I would be surprised if many UK cavers knew about the Merdeka Award, it has not been widely publicised). I like your idea mentioned before of using the grant money to offset the trips in some way as well as to support the trip.

If you'd like to invite me to GPF interview I'd be happy to tell you more about local cavers, but again there is nothing in the application process which asks that. As far as I understand GPF it is aimed at supporting British cavers going overseas, interaction with local cavers is obviously good but I've never seen GPF directly support foreign cavers. In any case, perhaps you didn't notice on my application the reconnaissance by local guides of a key cave entrance and this is also budgeted for in the finances section. All the expeditions to Mulu that I have been on have operated with locals to some extent or other, but in the main part locals see caving as an opportunity to earn money. There have only been a few Sarawak nationals who have joined the expeditions because caving was a hobby.

We have, on many occasions, offered training and participation in all aspects of cave exploration in Mulu. Mostly this has been either with paid support staff or National Park rangers. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts the NP are unable send rangers out with expeditions anymore and very very few wish to join us in their spare time. The locals do have the skills but not the inclination for mounting their own trips.

Of course, this is not strictly true. Many locals going back over 25 years have run their own caving expeditions, sadly this was only for the illegal harvest of bird's nests. They leave graffiti and mess and are not something we'd want to support. It is a complicated issue and politically not something to get involved in. Unfortunately with large sums of money involved even the locals got kicked out and replaced by mafia type gangs from across the borders. Life is never as simple as it seems on one side of the keyboard.
Appreciate the additional insight. I know there is quite a bit of local involvement in Mulu, which is why I was surprised that it wasn't mentioned much in your application (though I do admit to missing the detail on the reconnaissance and finances, apologies). Applications from other expeditions to non-European destinations in recent times have highlighted links with local cavers to a greater degree, even though it is not specifically asked for, so there is clearly an appreciation that it is important despite our application process not covering it. I'm glad you have an appreciation of it too and would be surprised if you didn't considering you've returned quite a few times now (doubt that would have been possible without good local relations, though that doesn't always mean equitable relations...)

But perhaps back to the OP. I am interested in what other trips have done regarding offsetting and other efforts to reduce carbon. I appreciate all the views on this topic. Our trip to Mulu in December will be the 32nd UK/Sarawak expedition there. It is the first, I'm sure, to even consider its carbon footprint. That has got to be a good thing.
Agree. I'll stop banging on now, but glad you've offered some opinions for me to take to GPF committee on the matter :)
 

Fjell

Well-known member
The 1978 expedition to Mulu had six cavers out of a 100+ contingent of RGS people. It was heavily supported by Shell Sarawak, whose CEO at the time was George Band, who was a climber on the 1953 Everest expedition. So they got a big chopper and much lolly. I believe it remains about the biggest scientific expedition ever mounted outside of Antarctica. A lot got done.
 

nobrotson

Active member
Completely agree that GPF funding should be used to benefit expeditions with a higher young caver contingent, purely based on financial need. Its also nice that these expeditions often have fewer emissions associated with them and less of a colonial legacy to deal with. This is very much a part of our thinking when we allocate funds, though I do feel it could play a bigger role still.
Ah, I see where some confusion arose, my apologies, poor comms from me. Currently, we do not consider carbon officially (which I sort of implied we did), however we do consider the presence of younger cavers via the Alex Pitcher and Ian Timney awards and also more informally by committe discussion at the meeting where we weigh up everyones comments and decide how much support to give an expedition. The informal assessment is more of a 'rule of thumb' and interplays with other factors such as the quality and detail of the application, and the number of other applications with similar numbers of young cavers getting trained in exploratory caving (in the spring round, there were many, so we tried to split it between them based on this factor; in this autumn round, there are very few younger cavers, so I doubt it will be much of a factor).
 
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The 1978 expedition to Mulu had six cavers out of a 100+ contingent of RGS people. It was heavily supported by Shell Sarawak, whose CEO at the time was George Band, who was a climber on the 1953 Everest expedition. So they got a big chopper and much lolly. I believe it remains about the biggest scientific expedition ever mounted outside of Antarctica. A lot got done.
There were rather more than six cavers on the 1978 RGS/Sarawak gov expedition and the helicopters were from the Royal Malaysian Air Force. Many participants got free flights from the RAF via. Hong Kong and Brunei garrison transport, or with Cathay Pacific; times change!
Nobody sailed from the UK, but most did travel jp and down the Baram River by express boak t o Marudi and then longboat. I think the boat trip would be hard to arrange now, more's the pity.
 

mikem

Well-known member

nobrotson

Active member
I’m in France at the moment with pretty poor internet reception meaning I’m struggling to open and check the report below.

I've just been reading up on the carbon offsetting scheme used here. It's an interesting approach, but quite complicated and not as clear-cut as you might hope for.

The total carbon footprint of the expedition was calculated to be 31.105 tonnes. This was claimed to have been fully offset by the process of 'retiring 35 Natural Capital'. This means 35 Natural Capital Credits (NCCs): 1 NCC is responsible for offsetting 1 ton of Co2. NCCs are part of the Natural Forest Standard, which was created by two British companies as a way of making sure that carbon offsets done in accordance with the REDD+ programme (big UN programme for sequestering carbon via reforestation and reducing forest degradation) are transparent, locally-led, and include provisions toward biodiversity and local communities where the offsetting is happening. The offsetting is via a company called 'Go Balance', who also sponsored the expedition £3000. The actual offsetting project which the NCCs benefitted was the Trocano Araretama Project, a project in Brazil which at face value seems pretty legit and laudible, all sounds pretty good and is using the right language.

However, despite what NFS says about transparency, I can't work out where the money came from to fund these NCCs, and exactly how much money has been spent thusfar. There is a document which details the methodology for quantifying how many NCCs should be awarded to a particular project here, but even then without a better idea of the exact numbers involved its all a bit opaque as to how much cash went in, from where, and how it was then spent (more precisely than just 'local development' or similar).

In summary, I don't think this approach is something I would endorse without a lot more info regarding how the accounting works, in a way which is easy to understand and follow. As others have said, I think that local projects such as Moors for the Future and Yorkshire Dales Woodland Restoration Group would be better places to put cash towards offsets. Happy to change my mind if someone can clearly explain where the money comes from for the NCCs at Go Balance, how much money, and exactly how it was spent over the course of the project.
 

Badlad

Administrator
Staff member
As you say, Natural Capital Credits, seem an opaque way of dealing with carbon emissions. The name just reeks of profit to me. I noticed the office was in central London - probably not with the cheapest overheads and the language in the letter explained nothing. Sponsoring a climate research trip to Greenland must be very useful for credibility. Win, win as the expedition can claim to be carbon neutral. But hey, that is just the cynic in me coming out :);)
 

ChrisJC

Well-known member
Saw this in this week's Private Eye:
 

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cap n chris

Well-known member
I'm not buying into this and am dismayed that there will be an inevitable witchhunt against people who enjoy and exercise their freedom to travel the world.
 

mikem

Well-known member
The general public travelling the world has probably contributed more to world peace than anything else.
 
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