Does ‘offsetting’ work?

Recommended reading

The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets

By Kevin Anderson, climate scientist

Article in Nature

“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.”

An Even More Inconvenoient Truth: Why Carbon Credits For Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing

By Lisa Song, investigative journalist at ProPublica


Selected quotes

“the desperate hunger for these carbon credit plans appears to have blinded many of their advocates to the mounting pile of evidence that they haven’t — and won’t — deliver the climate benefit they promise.”

“In case after case, I found that carbon credits hadn’t offset the amount of pollution they were supposed to, or they had brought gains that were quickly reversed or that couldn’t be accurately measured to begin with.”

“Ultimately, the polluters got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting CO₂, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last.”

“The uncertainties of carbon accounting, which get magnified by large-scale programs, are so nebulous, scientists don’t even know how much they don’t know.”

These 4 Arguments Can’t Overcome the Facts About Carbon Offsets for Forest Preservation

By Lisa Song, investigative journalist at ProPublica


Lisa Song’s response to criticism to her article An Even More Inconvenient Truth.

If Carbon Offsets Require Forests to Stay Standing, What Happens When the Amazon Is on Fire?

By Lisa Song, investigative journalist at ProPublica


“Because carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for about 100 years, protected forests must remain intact for a century to offset the pollution; this requirement is written into the Tropical Forest Standard. That plan can go up in smoke the moment a country elects a president like Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in Brazil in January and de-funded environmental agencies, cut back on enforcement and encouraged the clearing of the Amazon for beef and soy production.”

“Jeff Conant, who directs the international forests program at the advocacy group Friends of the Earth, said Brazil absolutely ‘should receive some money from the global north,’ but not as offsets that give companies a ‘loophole’ to continue emitting carbon. Conant said the offsets debate has been ‘a distraction’ from what he considers the real solution: strong regulations and keeping fossil fuels in the ground. ‘We’ve been saying for over a decade that we need regulation, we need demand-side measures, we need to take responsibility for our own consumption up here in the north,’ he said.”

A Nonprofit Promised to Preserve Wildlife. Then It Made Millions Claiming It Could Cut Down Trees


Mass Audubon — a bird conservation group — made millions from carbon credits by claiming it could aggressively log its forests.

“The program allows forest owners like Mass Audubon to earn so-called carbon credits for preserving trees. Each credit represents a ton of CO2. California polluters, such as oil companies, buy these credits so that they can emit more CO2 than they’d otherwise be allowed to under state law.”

Managing Uncertainty in Carbon Offsets: Insights from California’s Standardized Approach


“Ultimately, relying on carbon offsets to lower compliance costs risks lessening total emission reductions and increases uncertainty in whether an emissions target has been met. As a result, offsets can be understood as a way for regulated emitters to invest in an incentive program that achieves difficult-to-estimate emission reductions rather than as quantifiable and verifiable reductions equivalent to reductions under a cap. Substantial ongoing regulatory oversight is needed to contain uncertainty and avoid over-crediting.”

Does carbon offsetting work?

By Mike Childs, Head of Science, Policy & Research at Friends of the Earth


“So, does carbon offsetting work? In most cases, sadly it does not. It’s a con.

“If a business or someone you know tells you they are going net zero, ask them just how far they are going in cutting their emissions. If someone tries to sell you an offset project, ask them if they will guarantee the carbon will be locked up for thousands of years and that the project has zero chance of being funded in any other way.

“The reality is that we – government, businesses and individuals – need to cut our emissions by as much as we can, as fast as we can. We also need to invest in projects that will remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere. It’s not either/ or, it’s both. The same is true of nature. We need to protect what nature we have left, and we need to restore habitats, not one or the other.

The biggest problem with carbon offsetting is that it doesn’t really work

By Alia Al Ghussain, Greenpeace


“Offsetting projects simply don’t deliver what we need – a reduction in the carbon emissions entering the atmosphere. Instead, they’re a distraction from the real solutions to climate change. As a result, offsetting allows companies like BP and Shell as well as airlines to continue with their unsustainable behaviour while shifting their responsibility for the climate onto the consumer.

“Offsetting schemes provide a good story that allows companies to swerve away from taking meaningful action on their carbon emissions. Offset schemes also serve to make fossil fuels more palatable to increasingly eco-conscious consumers.

10 myths about net zero targets and carbon offsetting, busted


“Products and travel that are sold as ‘climate neutral’ or ‘climate positive’ due to offsetting, do still have a carbon footprint. Such marketing is misleading and may even lead to more emissions as the offsetting incentivises increased consumption. We contribute more to climate solutions by consuming and travelling less.

More views on ‘offsetting’

Mike Clarke, former RSPB’s CEO

“With perhaps over a fifth of the world’s bird species list at risk from climate change, aviation is potentially set to consume more than half the UK’s carbon budget by 2050. Increasingly, habitat restoration to capture carbon will be needed to reduce the total amount of greenhouse gases, not to offset emissions.

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist

“There’s no climate leadership in asking someone else to pollute less or plant more trees so you can carry on as before. We’re in a climate emergency and mass tree-planting needs to happen alongside reducing emissions from aviation, not as a way to get around it.