“Carbon offsets” are a means by which businesses, governments and other entities can pay for projects that cut greenhouse gases in order to “cancel out” some of their own emissions.
The topic is contentious, as Carbon Brief’s special series on carbon offsetting has revealed.
The week began with an in-depth Q&A exploring the principles underpinning offsetting and explaining when and why problems have emerged.
Carbon Brief also published new analysis examining which companies are relying on offsets to make “net-zero” claims – and mapped where journalists and campaigners have reported cases of offset projects going wrong.
To conclude this week-long series, Carbon Brief hosted a free webinar that asked how carbon offsets can be reformed.
A video of the recording (below) is now available to watch on YouTube.
The webinar featured four panellists, all of whom have considered this question in their professional and personal lives:
While all four webinar participants saw the need for considerable change in how carbon offset markets work, their views on what needed to happen diverged considerably.
Haya was clear from the outset that, having studied offset quality for over 20 years, she has consistently found evidence that carbon-offset projects are “over-crediting” – namely, they overestimate the amount of emissions they are cutting:
“The level of over-crediting is really significant. We’re not talking 20-30% overcrediting, we’re talking five times, 10 times, 12 times over-crediting…In the end, I will argue that we need to move away from offsets. I don’t see a way to fix this market.”
The panellists discussed different ways in which offsets could be done differently, including a so-called “contribution” approach. This involves entities buying offset credits, but not counting the emissions cuts towards their own targets, meaning climate action could be supported without misleading claims being made.
Axelsson emphasised that, in her view, the money that can flow from offset purchases to “parts of the world that need that financing” is important.
Therefore, she said her focus is more on ensuring that there are high-quality offsets on the market, with more of an emphasis on offsets derived from long-term emissions storage projects. She added:
“You don’t wash your hands of something once you’ve invested. You have to watch and steward and curate it and make sure communities are involved.”
George, whose organisation promotes and advocates for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Guyana, stressed the importance of considering the rights of these groups when considering carbon-offset projects:
“Things like that can work only if we are informed properly and respect is given…Decisions that are made are impacting Indigenous peoples’ rights, our food security, land tenure security and everything else.”
Barata agreed with other speakers that without a strong regulatory framework “you do have a system where it’s everyone for themselves, nobody checks the quality” of offsets. However, he emphasised that change was possible, stating:
“I’m worried about credit quality very much – and that’s why ICVCM has been set up – and we do hope that over the next few months we will be able to change significantly the landscape of carbon credits.”
Over the course of the webinar, panellists also took questions on REDD+ forest protection schemes, new UN carbon markets and who should be responsible for reforming the trade in offsets.
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