Carbon Offsetting

Having written a number of blog entries about carbon offsetting around a year ago, I’ve been watching the mounting debate over them with some interest. While I appreciate much of what George Monbiot has to say, I wasn’t impressed with his claim that carbon offsets are ‘the new indulgences.’ The emotive rhetoric masked a real issue of how we can ensure that measures to combat climate change are fair to the poor, and don’t simply let the rich buy our way out of obligations.

Today I spotted a story on the BBC website about the testimony of Jutta Kill (of the Forests and the European Union Resource Network) before a committee of British MPs investigating carbon offsets.

The first thing that struck me was that while the story is labelled as being about offsets in general, it appears the testimony was directed purely at those which are based on planting trees. Not all offset schemes work that way, and those we chose to support are focussed on building an infrastructure, through investment in clean energy, to help reduce future emissions.

Similarly, not all such schemes are selling themselves as a complete solution to global warming. There are those who would like to do themselves out of a job, by showing us how much carbon we’re generating and so focus our minds on reducing that. And for those of us who are in a life situation where we’re unlikely to ever be able to shake the transatlantic flying habit, it’s good to know that we can at least offer something back to the environment.

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  1. I thought you might be interested in this new report that is available online

    The Carbon Neutral Myth – Offset Indulgences for your Climate Sins is available online at:

    “Carbon offsets are the modern day indulgences, sold to an increasingly carbon conscious public to absolve their climate sins. Scratch the surface, however, and a disturbing picture emerges, where creative accountancy and elaborate shell games cover up the impossibility of verifying genuine climate change benefits, and where communities in the South often have little choice as offset projects are inflicted on them.

    This report argues that offsets place disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints, distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change. Promoting more effective and empowering approaches involves moving away from the marketing gimmicks, celebrity endorsements, technological quick fixes, and the North/South exploitation that the carbon offsets industry embodies.”

  2. Thanks Kevin. I’ll try and take a look at that.

    I definitely agree that carbon offsets _can_ have that effect, but I’d want to argue that, at least for now and so long as they are properly contextualised with their flaws out in the open, there is a place for them.

    We need ways to manage the transition to a lower carbon society and where funding generated from carbon offsets are invested in projects which generally reduce future carbon output then they can be a good stepping stone.

    If they reduce the west’s footprint, then that will help the whole world, even if the overall solution will definitely need to be more systemic.