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CARBON OFFSETS:WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW ARE THEY WORKING



  May 10, 2024

CARBON OFFSETS:WHAT ARE THEY AND HOW ARE THEY WORKING



1. What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets are a form of trade. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as planting trees or investing in renewable energy projects. These projects are meant to "offset" the emissions produced elsewhere, effectively balancing out the amount of emitted GHGs.

2. Why are carbon offsets used?

Companies and individuals use carbon offsets as a way to mitigate their own carbon footprints. By investing in environmental projects around the world, they can compensate for the emissions they cannot reduce directly. This practice is particularly common among companies aiming to achieve 'net-zero' emissions or improve their environmental credentials.

3. Why might carbon offsets be considered futile?

While the concept of carbon offsets is appealing, their effectiveness is often questioned for several reasons:

Lack of Transparency: It can be difficult to verify the actual impact of the offset project and whether it genuinely contributes to additional carbon reductions.
Permanence Issues: Some projects, like forestry, face risks such as wildfires or deforestation that can release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, negating the benefits of the offsets.

Double Counting: Sometimes both the buyer and the project’s host country claim the same reduction in emissions, leading to inaccuracies in global emissions accounting.

Delay in Benefits: Projects like reforestation take years to mature and effectively sequester significant amounts of CO2, which does not help immediate reduction needs.

4. What recent developments have influenced the perception of carbon offsets?

The Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi), a U.N.-backed nonprofit, initially planned to allow companies to use carbon credits to offset emissions from their supply chains. However, internal findings from a preliminary draft suggest that such offsets might be largely ineffective. This has sparked debate within the organization about the role of offsets in corporate climate strategies.

5. How is the market for carbon offsets growing?

Despite criticisms, the voluntary market for carbon offsets is expanding, driven by increasing interest from major corporations like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon.com. The market size is still relatively small, about $2 billion, but is expected to grow as more companies commit to net-zero targets and look to offsets as a solution.

Understanding these aspects of carbon offsets helps clarify both their potential benefits and their limitations in addressing climate change.


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