Carbon Offsets are responsible for a huge debate within the environmental and sustainability sectors. Do they help? Are standards adequate to achieve the goal of the scheme? Should they be banned? This article presents an argument in support of carbon offsetting, covering the basic theory and issues behind the idea.
by Peter Garvin, Green Economy Post
The carbon offsetting market is one that has come under tremendous scrutiny. Many sources have claimed that the practice is inadequate at best and totally useless at worst.
The debate goes on, but with new standards emerging and old ones being strengthened, can it still be argued that offsetting has no place in the fight against global climate change? I personally believe that carbon offsets are should be an integral part of the early stages of the battle.
The theory of carbon credits centers around the view of the world as one CO2 emitting entity. Carbon credits are generated by reducing emissions from a particular source. In doing that the overall planetary emissions are reduced.
When the credits are sold to a buyer, he/she/them have purchased the right to say that they are, in essence, producing 1 ton less carbon (per credit) than they actually are, because in theory they have financed a 1 ton reduction in overall global emissions. So, if a company producing 100 ton per annum buys 100 credits, they can claim to be carbon neutral because they have financed a global reduction in emissions of the same amount as they produce – thus effectively canceling their business emissions out in a global context.
In this example, the primary aim of offsetting has been achieved – world emissions have been reduced, and therefore credits can be viewed as a viable commodity. This is of course assuming that the credits purchased are of a high quality! This is another post in itself, but for the sake of this post we should consider an offset to be of the Gold Standard (an accolade that ensures best possible practice in emissions accounting and wider sustainable development.
Problems arise when a company buys credits to allow it to produce more emissions without running into legislative problems. This occurs mainly under emissions trading schemes where emissions are capped and companies must attempt to stay within them. If they fail, there is an option to buy offsets to discount the amount they go over. This is a difficult one to judge.
Yes, it can be said that in this way offsets allow companies to carry on producing more than they should, but as offsets only came about due to these emissions trading schemes, it can be argued that the emissions levels of the companies buying to avoid legislation are dropping anyway as a result of the constriction of the scheme, and that by offsetting excess, emissions reduction targets are being met in a worldwide context if not in a local one. The overall goal is still achieved.
It is true that the cleaning up of emissions in developed countries does need to take place, but as any environmental professional knows, this is neither a straight forward nor rapid process. Carbon offset trading, by placing a price on emissions, brings emissions reduction to the attention of company directors. It applies a cost that can be reduced and thus drives environmental improvement.
So, for me, the answer to the question “Carbon Offsetting: Deal or No Deal” is a definite “Deal”. After all, is there a better solution in the mean time?
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