Can Carbon Offsets be a Part of the Solution?

Historical Background on Carbon Credits

“Carbon credit” on Wikipedia

Arguments for Carbon Offsets:

  1. Anyone who has an obligation to reduce carbon is going to pay a cost. It makes sense to reduce that cost wherever it can be done without compromising the carbon reduction achieved. The more the cost is reduced, the more likely a given level of carbon reduction ambition—individual, national or global—is going to be regarded as affordable and therefore politically achievable. The wider the range of potential emissions reduction options, the more likely it is that the cost can be reduced. One person’s, company’s or country’s range of options may all be comparatively high-cost compared with what is available across the whole world. Since reducing GHGs in one part of the world is exactly as effective as reducing them in another, there is no good reason to limit reduction options to what is on the territory or in the direct control of the individual or country. There is a make or buy decision to be made every time. And that is what offsetting is: deciding to buy rather than make.

Arguments against Carbon Offsets:

  1. Critital report on the real impact of carbon offsets: US Forest Service Study on Carbon Offset:
    The final quote: “Offsets are an imaginary commodity created by deducting what you hope happens from what you guess would have happened.”
  2. The Economist online debate on carbon offsets:“…Carbon offsets or credits are, in theory, a great idea for reducing a firm’s or an individual’s emissions. In practice they have proved impossibly difficult to successfully implement without fraud. My work and the work of others who look critically at the existing markets for carbon offsets strongly suggest that in far too many cases it is impossible to separate fraudulent offsets from true reductions…”

Preliminary Conclusions:

Although this review of carbon offset options is very shallow, it has highlighted a number of serious practical issues with the offset process in general and forest offsets in particular. The theory is sound, but real-world issues of verifying additionality, created enough emission reduction, leakage, and scaling up the necessary infrastructure to global levels are daunting.

Thus, consumers cannot feel completely confident that buying offsets accomplishes the intended emission reductions.

Note: It is important to distinguish carbon offsets from a cap-and-trade system, which could optionally include carbon offset trading.

What do you think?