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Carbon Offsets: What You Need to Know

Carbon Offsets: What You Need to Know

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is a great way to take responsibility and neutralise unavoidable carbon emissions.

The boring definition of carbon offsetting is “any activity that compensates for the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases by providing for an emission reduction elsewhere.” 

In plain English, Carbon offsetting is a great, practical way to balance your carbon footprint while making the world that much more sustainable and green. Choosing to offset a tonne of carbon means that you are preventing one tonne of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

How does carbon offsetting work?

This could take the shape of an investment in clean energies or even purchasing credits from emissions trading schemes, both of which help contribute to a cleaner and greener future. These projects can then continue to reduce emissions and develop the technologies we desperately need to keep our planet healthy.

Green energy projects like those we support – such as wind turbines in Rajasthan, India or biomass in Ceara, Brazil – are vetted using strict criteria to calculate how much carbon dioxide they will remove from the atmosphere. A price per tonne of CO2 removed is then calculated, which businesses and individuals can purchase.

You can check out all of the carbon offsetting projects we have supported here.

It is relatively low cost and accessible to businesses and individuals alike, at an average price of $12-15 per tonne. At this price, a year’s worth of gas and use for the average UK household would cost around £45, and a return flight between London and LA around £20 to neutralise. 

Some choose to calculate and offset their entire carbon footprint, while others look to offset just a specific activity. Flying is the most common activity that people choose to offset as a stand-alone as it is easily calculated and has a high carbon footprint relative to almost all other activities.

Isn’t there some controversy surrounding carbon offsetting?

There are some who question the efficiency of carbon offsetting as a practice. There are two main reasons for this: some projects are more effective than others, and that it may legitimise the idea that having a high carbon footprint is okay.

It is certainly true that some carbon offsetting projects are much more effective than others. This is why it is so important to work with a provider who has a rigorous vetting process for their participants. This will ensure that they are doing exactly what they say they are and the numbers reported are robust. Our carbon offsetting partner – Gold Standard – has long been recognised as a leader in this field. Founded WWF and other international NGOs, and working closely with the UN and World Bank, their credibility is unrivalled. 

Critics have compared carbon offsetting to the Catholic practice of selling indulgences. This enabled those with money to pay a penalty which supposedly absolved them of their sins. Admittedly, there is nothing to stop people from taking this approach, but we fervently warn against it.

We need to be mindful not to slip into this trap. With the ever-building threats from climate change, it is essential for us all to make all reasonable efforts to lower our carbon footprints first and foremost. What cannot be cut should ideally be offset.

With the ever-building threats from climate change, it is essential for us all to make all reasonable efforts to lower our carbon footprints first and foremost. What cannot be cut should ideally be offset.

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Carbon offsetting is an essential part of the bigger picture of how to tackle climate change. But it alone is not the answer. What really counts is how we as a global community can reduce and reverse our environmental impacts before it is too late.

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