As we are currently in a global climate emergency, we are faced with a situation where urgent action is required to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, or risk irreversible damage to our planet. Large corporations and individuals have taken part in carbon offsetting in efforts to fight climate change.
Carbon offsetting is the concept of taking an action such as planting trees, in order to compensate for high levels of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial and human activities. The aim of this is to reduce or prevent the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases (GHG) into the atmosphere.
Carbon offset projects
Some significant producers of GHG are industries which require activities such as flying, shipping, heating buildings and manufacturing in order to produce their product or service. For many large businesses these activities may be an integral part of their current operations model and in order to reduce their GHG emission they would either need to reduce their output or dramatically restructure their current models, which would come with its own challenges. As a compromise many of these businesses opt to offset their emissions by participating in carbon offset projects designed to reduce the same amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by an amount similar to the amount that they have emitted into the atmosphere.
Examples of projects
Reforestation is the process of planting trees. As new trees are planted and old trees are maintained and protected, credits are created based on the reduced emissions of carbon due to the protection of older trees and the carbon that is captured by the new trees. Companies can purchase carbon credits which will allow them to emit a certain amount of unavoidable carbon emissions. The purpose of this is to reduce the number of credits over time which encourages companies to find ways to reduce emissions. Forestry has become a popular method in doing so, due to deforestation. It protects the wildlife and ecosystems and is done all around the world from the UK to the rainforests in Brazil. This is the most typical carbon offset project; however, it is not the cheapest option.
The building and maintenance of renewable energy sources such as solar panels, wind or hydro sites all around the globe is a great way to offset emissions. Companies invest in these projects not only to make up for their emissions but to also boost the levels of renewable energy on the grid. This reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and has the possibility to create jobs and increase the amount of people who use renewable energy sources.
Waste to energy
This project focuses on converting waste to energy e.g. converting methane into electricity. Landfill gas is also captured as well as human or agricultural waste in smaller villages. This project can have the same impact on smaller villages as clean drinkable water. Projects in Vietnam are training people to not only build, but also maintain biogas digesters that have the ability to convert waste into clean, sustainable and affordable energy.
What is Net Zero?
As we plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the future, some people believe offsetting is slowing down that process as they target it by 2050. Net zero carbon emissions is the balance between the greenhouse gases that are produced and the amount that is removed from the atmosphere. We will achieve net zero when the amount of human caused emissions we create, is no more than the amount removed. It is consensus among scientists internationally that this will prevent climate change.
What is the problem with Carbon offsetting?
Carbon offsets are controversial because people believe that it just does not go far enough. Sceptics insist that offsetting is a distraction by large companies that are not willing to lose money to take vital action on GHG gas reduction and ultimately climate change. Companies have been accused of what is known as “greenwashing”. This is when a company poses as an environmentally conscious establishment for marketing purposes but is not making any sustainability efforts.
The pros and cons
· Global warming and climate change can be slowed down
· It aids environmental projects that would not otherwise secure funding
· Increases the chances of reducing the carbon footprint of businesses
· Applies pressure on businesses and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. While most offset projects are voluntary, some projects are required in certain jurisdictions with local regulations
· Offset projects improve the ecosystem, preserves forests, provides sustainable agriculture and generates renewable energy in third-world countries
· Is not a complete fix for the problem of greenhouse gas reduction
· Companies can be accused of “greenwashing” if carbon offsetting is used superficially
· Offsets tend to be expensive and have no return on investment. Which makes it harder for companies to put their profit into this effort
· Some feel that offsets let polluters of the hook easily
· There is no telling if carbon measurements are accurate and if methods of monitoring them can be trusted