The Carbon Column – Carbon offset or carbon cop-out?

In this post I discuss the issues surrounding carbon offsetting and why I think they are a last resort

Big Zero Report 2022

Net zero is mainstream.

The build up to COP26 saw the rise of commitments; 153 countries have put forward new emissions targets.  More than 5,000 businesses and nearly one third of the FTSE 100, have signed up to the United Nation’s Race To Zero campaign. These commitments show determination to make net zero a reality.

Now it is time for action. Turning the talk into the walk.

It is not going to be easy. We need a major overhaul of our systems. We need to rethink the way we interact on a global scale.

We need to reduce our emissions drastically. Businesses play a huge role in achieving this.

When I speak with businesses, some state they don’t know where to start, some say they have started, some even say they are already carbon neutral (carbon neutral and net zero are different, but I won’t get into the technicalities on this post).

How are businesses already carbon neutral when others are stating they don’t know what to do?

Carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsetting allows people and businesses to purchase certificates for projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere or protect forests and land from being destroyed, in theory.

For carbon to be offset, the emissions need to be locked away. Forever. Popular projects include tree planting as it is relatively cheap. There is access to a wide range of offset projects including renewable energy projects from wind, solar and hydro, cleaner cook stoves for households in sub-Saharan Africa, improving recycling practices, clean water projects and biodiversity projects to name a few. Different schemes offer different projects.

These projects are what we need. We need to do all these projects to improve people’s lives all over the world.

But not use them to justify our actions of emitting carbon, or to claim we are acting in the best interest of the environment by buying our way out of meaningful action.

Why do I think there are issues?

First, protecting forests in one region might lead to increased logging in another region. The demand for the material or land won’t have changed. Even though the forest may become protected, we still see violation and illegal logging.

Second, there is no way to guarantee the trees planted will remain standing. In years to come, these trees could be destroyed from demand for infrastructure or wildfires.

Third, it is difficult to determine if the projects would happen without the funding from offset schemes. It is important to ensure offset projects are additional.

I don’t think offsetting is all bad. Certain schemes have real positive impacts and require funding from businesses to go ahead. It will play an important role when we have done everything to reduce our emissions. Offsetting should be our last consideration. Not our first.

If you can, offset whilst you continue to take action to reduce your carbon footprint. Don’t use it as an excuse to not take action.

Please get in touch if you have thoughts around this, or any other net zero topic.

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