Thursday, November 26, 2009

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: Carbon Offsets - The Voluntary Market and Its Failings

By Ben Beiny

Carbon offsetting is the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, through projects which range from planting trees to distributing energy-saving light bulbs. There are two main types of offset: Regulated and voluntary. As the name suggests, regulated offsets must be in line with the rules laid out by the Kyoto Protocol. These regulations are known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and contain two important points:

1. The carbon offset must produce measurable and authentic reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases.
2. The carbon offset must be an activity which would not otherwise have happened (known as additional).

However, voluntary offsets do not adhere to a given standard. Instead, each voluntary offset provider will often write their own guidelines or rules. This leads to differences in quality and a rising controversy over many of the offsets within the voluntary sector.

Ultimately, carbon offsets are not going to stop climate change; besides every other issue, it just isn't a sustainable activity. To date, offsets have found most success as a marketing tool for corporates who want to go "carbon neutral". They can continue to emit, then offset in a way which is unclear, and finally claim carbon neutral status - adding green credentials to their products which show the customer how responsible they are. Carbon offset companies place disproportionate emphasis on the impact of the individual on the environment, constantly reminding you to "measure your carbon footprint", but neglecting to tell you that your emissions are minimal compared to say, the cement industry, which accounts for more than 5% of all man-made CO2 emissions in the world.

There are much more effective ways to have a positive impact, without 95% of your money going to profits and overheads of offset companies. Energy efficiency in your home, in your car and in your lifestyle is a good start. Investing in renewable technology for your communities or homes through a scheme like those in the grant section is another good option. Carbon offsets are becoming a distraction from major issues on climate change: campaigning for governments and the multi-national companies that fund them to sign up to binding targets which really carry some weight could well be a better use of your time.

For more information and insight into climate change, carbon offsets and energy - or simply to download the Spanish feed in tariffs visit our educational climate site here:

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