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To Offset or Not To Offset?

A useful article about this tricky topic from Carbon Savvy

Offsetting is controversial - but if we don’t offset will we lose the baby with the bathwater? We look at the what, why and how of this aspect of CO2 reductions, and how individuals and organisations can engage.

What are offsets?

Offsetting your carbon footprint (or that of an organisation) means paying for carbon savings elsewhere. Offset projects usually take place in the Global South. They include both CO2 sequestration projects such as forests, mangroves and seaweed farms, and CO2 avoidance projects such as providing cookstoves to reduce fuel use, preventing deforestation, or replacing coal fired power stations with wind and solar. They must (a) be certified by independent third parties and (b) cause a reduction in CO2 that would not happen otherwise.

Why invest in offsets?

Making small changes at home or at work to reduce our carbon footprints by around 5 -10 % per year is too slow to avert climate change. To make bigger reductions it’s cheaper and easier for many people to purchase offsets. From the planet’s perspective whether we reduce our carbon footprint to zero or fund carbon reductions elsewhere makes no difference - as long as the total amount of CO2 emissions goes down.

How do I buy offsets?

There are two markets. The compliance market is for those companies who are legally obliged to pay for carbon removals. The voluntary market is for organisations and individuals who wish to reduce their carbon footprint. Search “buy carbon offsets” online to find a variety of offset providers. Prices will typically range from £10 - £40 per tonne. You can find out more about the offsets provided by Carbon Savvy below.

Are offsets reliable?

Different certifying bodies guarantee different standards with ‘Gold Standard’ and ‘Verra' being the most rigorous. Although some offsets have less rigorous certification processes and may not achieve all that they claim, offsetting still causes billions of tonnes of CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere every year by funding vast nature regeneration projects, energy efficiency schemes, and the implementation of renewables.

Why do we need offsets?

Because the time scale for reaching net zero is tight, large scale carbon reductions are needed. These cost money to implement and the lack of funds is slowing down decarbonisation. Offsetting is one of the most effective schemes to inject cash into carbon reductions activities. It does this by enabling individuals and organisations to pay for reductions directly. The global effect is massive.

How much should I spend on offsets?

There is not enough scope for offset projects to mitigate all our emissions, so it is essential that we reduce our emissions as well as purchasing offsets. What proportion of our funds should we put to each? Offset prices are likely to increase, so buying more today is better than waiting until tomorrow. Carbon reductions are often more expensive than offsets. Therefore if you have a carbon saving budget we recommend spending ⅔ on carbon reductions (such as insulating your home, buying organic food or switching transport types) and ⅓ on offsets.

Three approaches to offsetting

  1. Buy a couple of tonnes annually to reduce your carbon footprint by 10% per year, and support the UK in achieving its target of 78% reductions by 2035.

  2. Offset your entire carbon footprint for this year and become carbon neutral. This one comes with quite a feel-good factor!

  3. Purchase offsets equivalent to twice your annual footprint each year in order to gradually offset your life to date. To know that your whole life has had zero contribution to climate change really makes you rest easy.

Here’s to a beautiful low carbon future and an enjoyable journey all the way there,

Mukti Mitchell & the Carbon Savvy team


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