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What is carbon offsetting?

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The popular , yet controversial method to limit greenhouse gas emissions is constantly under criticism

Carbon offset has been a hot topic in the global effort to combat climate change.

Inviting governments, businesses and even individuals investors in the scheme to reduce their own carbon emissions carbon offset is “one of the most popular and controversial methods to cut greenhouse gas emissions” Vox reported.

Businesses ranging in size from Amazon from Amazon to Shell and even countries like Norway and the UK as well as Norway are purchasing carbon offsets to “help to achieve the net for their net-zero emission objectives” The news site stated.

Holidaymakers are also taking to offsets as “a way to fly guilt-free” according to Reuters. However, some critics are questioning whether this practice is really “a method to reduce emissions”. These are arguments to support as well as the arguments against.

Pros: Funds projects

If “done correctly” carbon offsets can “inject enormous sums into the underfunded climate solutions” according to The Financial Times. In a piece on behalf of the World Economic Forum, Bronson Griscom, the senior director of environmental solutions for natural climate in Conservation International, highlighted several “success stories” of projects that have gained from offsetting.

The examples include a plan which reduced the reforestation of an region of the Peruvian Amazon by 75%, which resulted in an equivalent reduction in carbon emissions that is equivalent to “taking nearly one million vehicles off the road every year”.

It is also worth noting that the Costa Rican government also generates $30 million annually for conservation of forests via carbon credit sales. This has contributed to the conservation of thousands of acres of forest.

Cons: ‘flawed’ estimations

The process of calculating carbon footprints and emissions carbon footprints is “a complicated and flawed procedure” According to The New York Times. “At the very least, it gives an estimate. It is usually presented in kgs equivalent to carbon dioxide.”

Even if these figures are correct, offsets can be “a super-misunderstood world that doesn’t have any control” according to Jamie Alexander, director of Drawdown Labs, a nonprofit which works with tech companies to develop climate solutions.

Greenpeace found that “the major issue offsets don’t lie in the fact that what they provide isn’t good trees or efficient and renewable energy for people in poorer communities is all excellent things, but that they don’t deliver what they claim on the label.

“They aren’t actually cancelling out – or compensate – for the emission them.”

Pros: technological developments

The criticism of trade carbon credits is not new, however companies are striving to tackle the issues of efficiency and transparency with innovative technology. Patricia Wyllie of Founders Intelligence who wrote for she said that these breakthroughs offer the solutions needed to make carbon offsetting “a actual tool to help transition us” to more sustainable methods of operation.

Wyllie noted that some firms use GPS to monitor and track the deforestation and tree planting While others are working with local communities to aid in offset projects through providing stable income in addition to planning for forest reforestation via drones. Direct carbon capture (DCC) is another new technology that is gaining popularity.

Cons: Lack of regulation

There is “no need” to those purchasing carbon offsets to divulge “who uses offsets, and the number” according to The Financial Times. This system of offsets is “voluntary and not regulated, which is in contrast to market for compliance, such as the European Union’s emissions trading system”.

A report issued by the an investment banking institution Credit Suisse earlier this year said that the market is an “wild West” that has “poor transparency” and “low (if there is any) correlation between credit quality and price”.

Former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney has stated that there are “lots of fraud” going on in the banking system, which “does actually cause harm”.

Pros: just one of the solutions that are needed

Responding to the report released in April by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in April of this year, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas declared that “there’s no magic bullet for combating the climate crisis” however, there is “an array of viable real-world solutions that are at our disposal” which include “reversing the decline of the carbon sinks”.

Carbon offsets could be one of the solutions required to combat the climate crisis, and its effectiveness could be increased by more investments in DCC as well as other measures to reduce carbon emissions.

Con: It’s not always the best way to add some thing

Independent investigative news outlet ProPublica declared that any real measure of carbon offsetting’s effectiveness is based on what’s known as “additionality”. The supposed environmental benefits “are only valid” in the event that offsets finance projects like windmills or solar farms which “would not have been built without credits”.

A study conducted by the European Commission into UN-sanctioned offset projects showed that more than three-quarters of the projects were unlikely to have led to further reductions in emissions. This means that the majority of these plans would’ve already been completed regardless, even without offset funds.

This means that “in the majority of cases, it is obvious that carbon offset does not actually work” according to Friends of the Earth, but “it is evident that it depends on what projects are getting supported”.

Pros: climate concerns drive action

Despite the concerns about carbon offsets trade is growing which has generated huge amounts of interest and investment. “Many businesses are being pressured by their customers and shareholders to increase the market to offset carbon emissions” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“There are some things that aren’t able to be eliminated completely,” Columbia Business School Professor Bruce Usher told the newspaper: “And so your only option, at the end of the day is to make use of offsets”. stated that offsets “can be beneficial when used in a responsible manner” however, at an individual basis, individuals must ensure that offsets are “credible and permanent, as well as additional and confirmed by the market standards of the voluntary market”.

Cons: Lack of consistency

Another important aspect in the debate over offsets is whether schemes offering carbon removal are long-lasting. To stop the effects of climate change greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases have to be removed from the atmosphere effectively for the duration of time.

“Tree cultivation is popular offset plan, largely because it’s much less costly than other options,” the environmental campaigners network added. “But it is true that trees can go up in flames.” Some critics have been pointing to the last forest fires that devastated projects along west coast of the US west coast. The west coast produced offsets that were purchased by big companies like BP as well as Microsoft.

However, taking proactive measures to reduce emissions would ensure the same carbon management. A report released in 2015 of the Stockholm Environment Institute found that 75 percent of the credits granted did not represent actual reductions in emissions, and that if countries had reduced pollution on their own instead of relying on offsets global CO2 emissions could be 600 million tonnes less.