Carbon offsetting is based on calculating how much CO2 is emitted by a certain activity that you are doing, and then funding a project designed to reduce carbon emissions by the same amount elsewhere, such as renewable energy or forestry. This is supposed to “neutralise” the effect of your emissions.
Carbon offsetting is deeply controversial on a number of levels.
Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs)
There is an important issue to be aware of when choosing offsets, and that is that there are actually two offset markets. The first is the voluntary market, and the second is the much larger ‘compliance’ market, which allows companies to buy themselves out of their actual legal obligations through a UN scheme called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Recommended offset types – renewables
There is a strong argument that renewables are the best form of official offset, as they are addressing the central structural issue that is causing climate change: our reliance on using fossil fuels for energy.
As a rule of thumb, it is better to support wind and solar projects than any form of biomass (including biogas). Not only is biomass potential limited as growing fuel takes up so much land, but also, while biomass can do good, it can also do enormous harm if not executed well.
How much you ought to give
The overriding reason for objections to carbon offsetting is the narrative that it promotes about everyone’s moral responsibilities. It is, after all, based on the belief that there is a certain amount that you are morally required to do, which is to get a hypothetical score table to zero.
If you accept this narrative, you can calculate your emissions using the free carbon calculators available on the websites of any carbon offset company, and decide what to give based on the carbon prices on the market. Climate Care’s standard portfolio price is £7.50/tonne, although if you give directly to projects many prices are much lower – some are in the region of US $1/tonne.
The Gold Standard
The Gold Standard requires projects to benefit the local population as well as cutting carbon, and it certifies about 19% of global offsets.
Ethical Consumer recommend the Gold Standard out of all of them because it is the standard most supported by social and environmental groups. However, it is worth being aware that the tiny amount of independent scrutiny it has been subjected to has still raised major issues.
So my conclusion is its best to reduce the carbon we are personally responsible for burning. If you have to drive / fly / use non renewable power etc do offset, its better than doing nothing !
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