Steve Thairu Mbaki

Carbon Offsetting (Why it Doesn’t Work)

Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for your greenhouse gas emissions by supporting projects that reduce or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When you offset your emissions, you are essentially paying someone else to reduce their emissions on your behalf. There are many different types of climate protection projects, such as: planting trees, investing in renewable energy, improving energy efficiency and capturing and storing carbon dioxide.

Carbon offsetting is not without its critics. Some people argue that it is a way for individuals and businesses to avoid taking responsibility for their own emissions. Others argue that its quality can be difficult to verify and that some projects may not actually be effective at reducing emissions. When you buy carbon offsets, you are essentially buying a credit equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide that has been avoided or removed from the atmosphere. These credits are traded on a global market and their price varies depending on the type of project and the quality of the offset.

Despite these criticisms, this can be a useful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is important to do your research and choose projects that are credible and effective.

Here are some of the pros and cons of carbon offsetting:

Can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsCan be expensive
Can support sustainable projectsThe quality of carbon offsets can be difficult to verify
Can be a way for individuals and businesses to take responsibility for their emissionsSome projects may not actually be effective at reducing emissions
Can be seen as a way for individuals and businesses to avoid taking responsibility for their own emissions

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to offset your carbon emissions is a personal one. There is no right or wrong answer, and the best decision for you will depend on your individual circumstances. If you are considering offsetting your carbon emissions, here are a few things to keep in mind: Do your research and choose projects that are credible and effective, make sure that the project you choose is aligned with your values and don’t rely on carbon offsetting as a substitute for taking other steps to reduce your emissions. Carbon offsetting is not a perfect solution, but it can be a useful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If you are looking for ways to reduce your impact on the environment, carbon offsetting may be a good option for you.

The effectiveness of carbon offsetting can be a subject of debate, and while it’s not accurate to say that carbon offsetting doesn’t work at all, there are several challenges and limitations associated with it. Here are some reasons why carbon offsetting might be considered ineffective or problematic:

  • Additionality and Verification: It can be difficult to verify whether a carbon offset project is truly additional and results in emissions reductions that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. There is also a risk of double counting, where the same emissions reduction is claimed by both the entity generating the emissions and the entity selling the offset credits.
  • Permanence: The long-term effectiveness of certain projects is uncertain, as factors like wildfires, logging, and changing land use can lead to the release of stored carbon. Carbon offset projects can sometimes result in unintended consequences, such as deforestation shifting to another nearby area.
  • Complexity and Lack of Transparency: The carbon offset market can be complex and difficult to navigate, and it’s not always clear which projects are genuinely effective. Accurately measuring emissions and calculating the appropriate amount of offset required for a given activity can be challenging
  • Delaying Real Emissions Reductions: Relying heavily on carbon offsetting can divert attention and resources away from direct emissions reduction efforts.
  • Ethical Concerns: Some argue that carbon offsetting can create a moral hazard by allowing businesses and individuals to continue emitting carbon without making substantive changes to their behaviour.
  • Economic and Social Impacts: Carbon offset projects can have economic and social impacts on local communities, particularly in developing countries where many offset projects are located.
  • Market Volatility: The carbon offset market can be subject to price volatility, which could impact the financial viability of offset projects and discourage long-term investment.

It’s worth noting that while there are challenges and criticisms associated with carbon offsetting, it can still play a role in overall climate mitigation efforts when implemented carefully and transparently. However, it’s important to view carbon offsetting as just one tool among many for addressing climate change, rather than a standalone solution. Combining offsetting with direct emissions reductions and systemic changes is crucial for achieving meaningful and sustainable results in the fight against climate change.

The phrase “profits over science” in the context of carbon offsetting suggests that financial gain is prioritised over the genuine effectiveness and scientific rigour of offset projects. This concern highlights the potential for companies and organisations to engage in carbon offsetting primarily for marketing and public relations purposes, without ensuring that the offset projects they invest in are scientifically credible and result in real emissions reductions. There are several ways in which this issue can manifest:

  • Greenwashing is a technique used by companies to make misleading or exaggerated claims about the environmental benefits of their products or services. This can be done to give the appearance of sustainability without actually making meaningful changes.
  • Low-quality offsets are carbon offset projects that do not result in the emissions reductions they claim. This can happen if the projects are not well-designed or managed, or if they are not verified by a reputable third party.
  • Lack of due diligence is when companies do not do enough research to ensure that the carbon offset projects they support are legitimate and effective. This can lead to them supporting projects that are not actually reducing emissions, or that are even harmful to the environment.
  • Focus on image rather than impact is when companies prioritise improving their public image over actually reducing their emissions. This can happen when companies are more concerned with appearing green than with actually being green.

To address the problem of “profit before science” in carbon offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, several important steps can be taken, such as third-party verification, transparency, and compliance with standards. By taking these steps, we can help ensure that the GHG offsets market realises its full potential to reduce GHG emissions and combat climate change. Companies should follow established standards and protocols for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and involve verified third parties that are scientifically sound and have mechanisms in place to ensure the quality and effectiveness of projects. Ultimately, addressing climate change requires a comprehensive and responsible approach that prioritises real emissions reductions over short-term gains and superficial efforts.

It is important to be aware of these potential problems when considering carbon offsetting. However, it is also important to remember that carbon offsets can be a useful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions if done properly.

This video summarises it beautifully!