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Carbon offset, is there such a thing? (Click on the image to get to its source at utsläppsrä

It is becoming increasingly popular among companies, organizations and individuals to offset their carbon emissions from (for instance) air travel, car trips or energy use, by purchasing carbon credits from a carbon offsetting company. These carbon credits normally fund environmental projects around the world, often in developing countries. The idea is to compensate the amount of emitted carbon dioxide by, for example, planting trees or supporting water projects in developing countries. The buyer is then considered as taking responsibility for his or her emissions, thus contributing to sustainability and climate mitigation. We know that forests store carbon and considering that the forest cover in the world has declined by about half due to human activities, it would theoretically be possible to reduce the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere by restoring these forests.

Carbon offsetting does not reduce the actual greenhouse gas emissions. Each air travel or car trip has a carbon footprint. A climate benefit is only made if the trip is not taken. In the best case scenario the emissions can be compensated in due course, but the question is, how fast?

Political consideration of carbon offset

Carbon offsetting is a tool in the international climate mitigation work. The UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is a so-called flexible mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. The CDM system is designed to allow industrialized countries to invest in projects in developing countries, by selling and trading so-called carbon credits (Certified Emission Reductions: CERs), in order to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide. Each CER credit is equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide.

In practice, the CDM has not worked well. The rules are extensive and the administration has been time-consuming. The Swedish Nature Conservation Society concluded already in 2005 that many of the CDM projects up to then had contributed little to sustainable development in the host country. They had not led to any significant technological improvement either. Swedwatch and the Stockholm Environment Institute point out that the criteria for what is considered sustainable development vary between countries. Occasionally, the sustainability aspects of the projects are not followed up on, and guidelines for consultations with local people and other stakeholders are lacking.

How can carbon offsetting be done?

Drawbacks of carbon offsetting

Alternatives to carbon offsetting

To start with, identify activities with an impact on climate change and calculate emissions, then head over to the solutions pages to get suggestions.

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