Carbon Offsetting

What is Carbon Offsetting?
Each of our everyday actions consumes energy and produces carbon dioxide emissions e.g. taking holiday flights, driving our cars, heating or cooling our homes and offices. Carbon Offsets can be used to compensate for the emissions produced by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving somewhere else.

Is offsetting the solution to climate change?
Offsetting provides a mechanism to reduce GHG emissions in the most cost-effective and economically-efficient manner. Offsetting plays a vital role in combating climate change, but is not alone, the solution. Climate change will only be addressed if each and every one of us takes responsible steps to REDUCE our CO2 emissions as much as possible and offset the remaining unavoidable emissions.

What does CO2-e or carbon dioxide equivalent mean?
There are several different greenhouse gases (e.g. methane) as well as carbon dioxide and each has a different strength of effect on global warming. Carbon dioxide equivalent takes into account the different global warming potential of different greenhouse gases and expresses the cumulative effect in a common unit. Carbon dioxide equivalent is calculated by multiplying the actual mass of emissions by the appropriate Global Warming Potential (GWP) factor. This enables emissions of different gases to be added together and compared with carbon dioxide.

What are carbon credits?
Carbon credits represent greenhouse gas emissions either being prevented from entering the atmosphere or reabsorbed from the atmosphere from projects such as improved technology or forest planting. Usually measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, they form a basic unit/tradeable commodity of a carbon market. A carbon credit is sometimes also defined to represent a carbon reduction that is independently accredited to ensure that a tonne of CO2 equivalent from one project is the same as a tonne of CO2 equivalent from another project so they can be traded. The term ‘carbon credit’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘carbon offset’.

What does the term “carbon neutral” mean?
The result of reducing the emissions generated from an activity or entity to zero through a combination of measures including:

  • Reducing emissions at source for example through using energy more efficiently
  • Replacing polluting energy sources with clean renewable sources
  • Offsetting emissions by reducing an equivalent amount of carbon elsewhere

In the absence of a global standard on what it means to be carbon neutral, there is currently debate on the scope of the emissions should be. For instance, should this include only energy consumption, vehicle related fuel consumption and air travel – or also waste, water and consumables? If individuals want to make a carbon neutral claim they must be clear and transparent about what calculations and assumptions they have used to measure their carbon footprint and what actions support their intentions to be carbon neutral. For example, a soft drink company who wants to make a carbon neutral claim must be clear about whether its claim only covers the emissions associated with the processing of the liquid, or whether it also covers the manufacture of the bottles and cardboard packaging and recycling (life-cycle emissions associated with its product).

Why do carbon offsets help our environment?
One tonne of carbon offset activity represents one tonne of CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent) that has been reduced from the atmosphere and believed to accelerate climate change. Purchasing carbon offsets helps to channel funding towards new industries and energy solutions required for a low carbon world.

Are carbon offsets just a license to pollute/way to alleviate guilt?
There is no single solution to preventing and slowing climate change. Purchasing carbon offsets is one part of a wider range of initiatives which includes:

  • Reduce – look for opportunities to reduce energy consumption such as switching off your lights
  • Replace – use fuel alternatives with low or no emission options
  • Offset – your remaining emissions that can’t be reduced or replaced, for instance through activities such as car or air travel. Purchasing offsets is something quick and easy that you can do today that will reduce your greenhouse gas emissions.

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