Good Ways to Carbon Offset & What is Proper Carbon Offset?

People are often asked to offset their carbon when buying a ticket for an airline or there are ways where you can offset you carbon to plant a tree. How much does it cost? Where are the places to offset your carbon effectively? It’s a pretty difficult thing to navigate, and people are looking for a way to be equitable all the time.

Would be great if you could chip in your knowledge.

I recently asked a colleague to look into this, as we’re looking to offset all our client business travel. What I learnt was that planting a tree isn’t a good way to offset carbon emissions but that offsetting emissions isn’t a huge cost! This is a summary of what I’ve been told…

What is carbon offsetting?
Funding a project designed to reduce carbon emissions by the same amount of CO2 you emit elsewhere, such as renewable energy or forestry. This is supposed to “neutralise” the effect of your emissions.

The projects on the Gold Standard website (below) seem to range from $10-$18 (approx. £8-£14) per ton.

If we had more information, e.g. annual mileage for each mode of transport we could look into using this free calculator they have on the same website for small businesses: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/small_business_calculator.html

Recommendations
Give to “Gold Standard-approved projects” - https://www.goldstandard.org/get-involved/make-an-impact

Energy efficiency projects are promising candidates for ethical offsets, as many of them would be a good thing irrespective of the climate. For example, one of the main types is improving the efficiency of cooking stoves in poorer countries, where indoor air pollution from open fires and smoky stoves is responsible for about [four million deaths per year. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en

Things to avoid
Official offsetting gives you a “cheap and easy quantifiable win” but some cuts are sustainable and some are not. A calculation of the cost of offsetting with Certified Emissions Reductions calculated that on average, only about 30% of the money makes it to actual projects, with the rest being taken by verification costs, overheads, and project developers’ profits.

Tree planting - To many people, carbon offsetting means planting trees; however, tree planting is actually now relatively uncommon. The key criticism is to do with permanence. CO2 has a long lifetime in the atmosphere, so when you release carbon dioxide from fossil fuels it is going to stay there permanently but trees are generally just temporary stores of carbon - they absorb CO2 slowly until they reach their maximum size, and then they sit there. But if you want them to continue to hold your carbon for you, you must then ensure that they remain there – maybe for centuries. At a time of growing pressure on land resources, that is a big ask. There have also been a number of major tree-planting offset scandals in which local people were evicted from the land to make way for the trees, or the trees were allowed to die almost immediately after planting, or inappropriate species were used that damaged native forests.

REDD projects (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) - these offsets are also controversial, as the causes of deforestation are often complex social issues and it is hard to be sure that they are helping rather than hurting.

For more info, see: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/energy/short-guide-carbon-offsets

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My bro @Alex_Beckett signed up to forest carbon to offset carbon emissions from his business.

Check out https://www.forestcarbon.co.uk/what-we-do/process#/

The great thing is they offset carbon in the U.K. and create biodiversity here with the proceeds. What do folk think?

Investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects only abates prospective carbon emissions. Planting and maintaining vegetation can remove retrospective carbon emissions.

Once trees reach their maximum size, sustainable felling is required and the wood left within the forest to break down naturally. It’s true that, during this process some stored carbon would be released. The rest is converted. New whips can be planted in the tree’s place to start their awesome task of absorbing CO2.

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I know I should cut down on air travel, but when I do, I ensure I offset my carbon usage with ClimateCare. Visit: their website

This year ClimateCare won its 2nd Queen’s Award and continues to be the number One ranked B Corporation in the UK.

With the help of our partners, clients and stakeholders they say they achieved:

  • 33 million tonnes of CO2 cut
  • 34 million lives improved around the globe
  • $10.6 billion of value for the people and the planet

It’s easier and cheaper to do than you would imagine. I wish it could be made a compulsory part of buying an airline ticket so we could all do it automatically. I’ve suggested this to my MP but no reply so far and unfortunately it does not seem to be in the proposed Environment Act.

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Hi everyone, I run an NGO called Climate Stewards - you can find us at www.climatestewards.org. When I was a student (with Tom Beckett!) I was pretty sceptical about carbon offsetting for some of the reasons others have mentioned in this thread. However, I am now convinced that voluntary offsetting has an important role to play in getting to carbon neutral.

Climate Stewards’ strapline is ‘Reduce what you can, offset the rest’. Offsetting won’t solve the problem alone, and we all need to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint (I have taken the train to Russia, Croatia, France and Italy in recent years). But carbon offsetting gets people to calculate their carbon footprint, and by doing this they start to understand the implications and what they can do to reduce their footprint.

As well as our online carbon calculator we have developed a carbon fooprint calculator tool out of Duplo which is really popular at events - and you should see peoples’ faces when they see the footprint of one flight compared to their annual car mileage or train travel.

There are lots of good offset projects out there, many of which bring tangible benefits to local communities alongside mitigating CO2. Our partners are all small community-based organisations supporting community forestry, water filters, cookstoves and fire-less cookers - between them these improve biodiversity, reduce deforestation, improve health, and save money and time. The cost of offsetting a flight is usually around 5-10% of the flight cost - a small voluntary tax which not only compensates for our unaviodable emissions, but brings tangible benefits to those feeling the impact of climate change.

We work with our partners to calculate the actual carbon savings from the project, conducting baseline and regular monitoring surveys, building in insurace buffers and providing long-term support to the communities where we work to ensure that projects are sustainable.

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Thanks Caroline, super helpful! Great to hear that you think it will make a difference…

Important article to add to this discussion.

‘Offsetting is worse than doing nothing. It is without scientific legitimacy, is dangerously misleading and almost certainly contributes to a net increase in the absolute rate of global emissions growth.’ https://www.nature.com/articles/484007a

Tom,

This might be a good article to work on to get people talking as well.

I have some sympathy with this argument. This is why I don’t agree with a frequent flyer tax. If we tax people who fly more than 3 times a year, the impression will be given that is OK to fly up to three times. We need to challenge this sort of behaviour and complacency. At least carbon offsetting on all fights would make people think, but it’s not enough.