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Does Carbon Offsetting work?

  • 5 min read

How many trees to carbon offset? The truth.

At Spruce refillable cleaning products, we think there is always a solution to any problem. When it comes to climate change, we get frustrated because there are lots of actions that governments and corporations can take to help but many don’t listen to the facts, or they do listen but don’t want to do anything about it. More often than not, governments and corporations do like to scam us. 

Environmental organisations and activists are trying to tell us that carbon offsetting is being used as a distraction from real climate change solutions. Our planet is warming up alarmingly fast, so we need immediate action. Burning fossil fuels, deforestation and farming livestock are just a few of the causes of unnatural Co2 emissions created by human activity. There was a slight dip in carbon emissions in the UK due to the pandemic, however it has been predicted that Co2 emissions are set to rebound to near the levels they were before the pandemic. And what will big oil corporations such as Shell keep doing? Using carbon offsetting to be “seen” as taking responsibility.

how many trees to carbon offset

What is carbon footprint offset? 

The Guardian argued that one of the worst outcomes of Cop26 was that countries were given the go ahead to keep using carbon offset projects. In the Paris Agreement 2015, countries set out to stop the planet from warming over 1.5 C. The goal is to reach net zero, which is when greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by the removal of them out of the atmosphere. The aim is to drop emissions by half by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. 

One way different countries have decided to reduce pollution is through carbon offset projects. However, The Institute of Applied Ecology stated that about eight out of ten offsetting projects that rich countries depended on to meet their climate targets were considered improbable to have provided any benefit to the climate. Carbon footprint offset involves companies investing in activities that they state will prevent, reduce, or remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. An offset occurs when a business compensates for an increase in emissions in one area by decreasing emissions in another. If a company increases their emissions, they can use emission reduction credits (also known as carbon credits) to cancel out the rise in emissions. Companies start off by measuring their carbon footprint, they set a strategy that involves decarbonisation and then offset the remaining emissions. There are steps which each company will take to offset, the cycle is:

 carbon offsetting (Source: Mainer Associates)

Emission reduction credits are earned when an organisation reduces pollution to a level that meets regulations. It can be used by the company, or the owner can sell ERC’s to companies that need to offset their emissions. A trade occurs between two businesses when one business that is polluting too much pays another business for an ERC for the other company to make up the difference.

Carbon offset examples. 

Airline and fossil fuel companies will use carbon offsetting projects to seem like they are doing good by the environment, because on the face of it, they appear to be balancing out their own carbon footprints. Take BP for example, they are one of the largest oil (a fossil fuel) companies in the world. They have a program called Target Neutral which involves different carbon offset projects, which is meant to balance out the emissions they produce. Examples of projects they have undergone is sending energy efficient cook stoves to developing countries and protecting rainforests in Brazil. Although this is a good thing to do, as Greenpeace stated, actions like this usually do not cancel out (offset) the emissions to which they are linked.

1. Reforestation and conservation

During the COP26 conference, 100 countries agreed to stop deforestation by 2030. One way is through tree planting. Tree planting got quite popular, especially with airline companies such as EasyJet and Heathrow. These companies offer a carbon offset service, so if you are flying with them, they will plant a certain number of trees to offset the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the fuel burned during your flight. Fossil fuel-based companies such as BP and Shell have also taken part in tree planting projects. Although it is extremely important to restore forests and we should be doing this anyway, Greenpeace stated that a newly planted tree would take 20 years to capture the amount of Co2 that a carbon offset scheme promises. They also said that we would have to plant and protect a vast number of trees for decades to offset even a fraction of global emissions. Isn’t that crazy?

carbon offset examples


2. Community projects

There are several community projects such as the BP cooking stove project which we mentioned earlier. BP provide greener cook-stoves to developing countries, so they do not have to burn wood or coal to cook their food. Although this is an important thing to do, many people are concerned it PR stunt. Isn’t it ironic that they are burning fossil fuels themselves and will continue to but will turn to cooking stoves as the answer. It seems to us like they are just finding ways to continue with their business and look like they are environmentally friendly, when they are one of the biggest contributors towards climate change. Sadly, in some instances, carbon offsetting projects have caused communities to suffer, with some people being forced from their homes and ancestral land, such as Sengwer people being evicted from their homes in the Embobut forest for the purpose of reforestation.

3. Waste to energy with Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

This is when they capture carbon from chemical plants such as coal and convert it into energy such as electricity. It involves three steps; capturing the carbon dioxide produced, it is then compressed and transported and then stored deep underground by being injected into rock formations. Oil companies such as BP and Shell have set out to spend billions on new oil and gas (BP in 2020 stated that they would be spending 71 billion) but have invested in carbon capture and storage projects to offset the emissions produced from this. However, an IPCC report stated that any production from new oil and gas fields is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5C. The ones that are already in production (not new), are already incompatible, so we do not need any more.

We are by no means saying that projects such as planting trees and delivering cooking stoves are bad because these actions are important. However, carbon offset projects are obviously a gateway for big corporations to keep polluting the planet. Governments also need to work in harmony with Indigenous communities to manage the land fairly, in projects such as reforestation. Drilling new oil and building new coal plants while investing in carbon offset projects is incredibly harmful and is hypocrisy at its finest. Sadly, most carbon offsetting projects such as carbon capture do seem to be a greenwashing scam which allows corporations to continue to pollute our earth. Although this information feels a bit overwhelming, we are still hopeful and are not going to be disheartened. We hope that there will be drastic change, and no distraction tactics in the future.

Written by Zara Huxley 

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