What’s Going On Here?

Over the last 18 months organisations and NGOs that provide carbon offsetting services have seen a significant increase in investment. This is thought to be due to growing public awareness, thanks in part to public figures such as Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough as well as Extinction Rebellion and the school strikers.


What Does This Mean?

Carbon offsetting means calculating the carbon dioxide emissions of an activity, business or entire lifestyle and then paying a scheme for the equivalent amount (in theory) to be removed from the atmosphere. Schemes can include investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency projects and tree planting.
 
Companies such as Climate CareClimate Stewards and Gold Standard have recently noticed a spike in offsetting as much as a fourfold increase. So this is great news! Right?

Unfortunately, carbon offsetting is a controversial topic which is far from a magic bullet to tackle the climate crisis…


So what are the pros and cons of offsetting?

Cons

  • Carbon offsetting encourages ‘business as usual’ – for people to continue living a carbon intensive life ‘guilt-free’ without actually reducing their emissions.
  • The market can be poorly regulated and not very transparent, so it’s very hard to know if your offsets are doing what they’re supposed to do.
  • Some schemes can actually have negative effects such as tree-planting schemes displacing indigenous communities and creating monocultures.   
  • It is an opportunity for companies to partake in ‘greenwashing’, such as oil companies like Shell selling offsets at the gas pump, encouraging the continued exploration and use of fossil fuels. 
  • Some schemes may have happened regardless of someone paying for an ‘offset’, which is very difficult to prove. 
  • Voluntary take up rate is low at around 1%, and is not affordable to everyone.

Pros

  • Taking action is better than doing nothing. Many of the well regulated schemes are very worthy of support so doing this alongside reducing emissions is not a bad thing. 
  • Putting a cost on high carbon activities can increase awareness and provide an incentive to reduce them. 

And of course the increased interest in offsetting also means an increased interest in the climate crisis in general, which can only be good news!


Be Curious!

  • If you do choose to offset, research the provider thoroughly. Environmental organisations advise projects that are certified by Gold Standard, a benchmark for ‘high quality’ offsets which must meet specific criteria. 
  • Be wary of tree-planting schemes, which have come under a lot of criticism due to difficulties guaranteeing they will remain permanent and associations with displacing local communities. 
  • You could also consider ‘DIY offsetting’ and simply donate to charities or projects you trust and truly believe in when participating in unavoidable high carbon activities.

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