Could Carbon Offsets Face Their Final Curtain?

Irish Journalist Headline: "Criticism Mounts Against Carbon Offset Credits as Activists Call for Their Exclusion from Climate Strategies"

The market for carbon offset credits is currently facing a resurgence of criticism as more than 80 nonprofit organizations come together to oppose their use in climate strategies. These activists argue that carbon offsets undermine genuine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and call for their complete exclusion from climate regulations and guidelines.

Carbon credits, also called offsets, have been used as a tool to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions by allowing companies and governments to invest in projects that purportedly reduce or remove emissions elsewhere. This practice gained traction as part of efforts to achieve net zero emissions targets.  Under this mechanism, entities could compensate for their emissions by funding projects like reforestation or renewable energy initiatives. In 2023, the total volume of carbon offsets used (retired) by entities to negate their carbon emissions reached around 180 million MtCO2e. However, critics argue that carbon offsets do not contribute to real emission reductions. Instead, they allege that offsets allow high-emission industries and countries to continue polluting while outsourcing the responsibility for emissions reductions to other regions or sectors. This approach, they contend, undermines the urgency and effectiveness of direct emission reductions needed to fight climate change.

Joint Statement Against Carbon Offsets
In a significant collective effort, prominent organizations including ClientEarth, ShareAction, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and Greenpeace have issued a joint statement condemning carbon offsets. They argue that relying on offsets deflects attention from the critical need to curb emissions at the source. They further claimed that it fails to mobilize adequate financial resources for climate action, especially in developing countries. The statement emphasizes that voluntary and regulatory frameworks for climate transition planning should exclude offsetting. It challenges the notion that offsets can serve as a substitute for genuine emission reductions.

Controversies and Challenges
The debate over carbon offsets has intensified amid efforts to revive and normalize their use within climate finance frameworks. Recently, a contentious move by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to endorse the use of credits for offsetting supply chain emissions has sparked criticism. Critics argue that such endorsements undermine the credibility of emission reduction targets by allowing companies to offset their most substantial emissions sources rather than eliminating them. Moreover, concerns persist about the reliability and accountability of carbon credits. Some studies have highlighted significant quality issues, including inflated claims about the environmental benefits of offset projects.

Government and Institutional Responses
Despite the criticism, some governments, including the United States, have supported the integration of carbon credits into climate finance strategies. The federal government recently endorsed the use of these credits as a legitimate tool for achieving climate goals. This move signals a divergence in global perspectives on their role in emissions reduction strategies. Additionally, prominent environmental organizations such as Conservation International, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Nature Conservancy have backed the SBTi’s proposal to expand the use of carbon credits. These organizations argue that well-regulated and transparent carbon markets can play a complementary role in financing emission reduction projects, particularly in sectors and regions where direct reductions are challenging or costly to achieve.

Critique of Carbon Credit Effectiveness
Critics maintain that carbon offset credits send misleading signals about the true costs and efforts required for effective climate action. Moreover, there are concerns that reliance on carbon credits could disincentivize investments in transformative technologies and infrastructure necessary for sustainable development. They specifically noted that: “Carbon credits send a misleading signal about the efforts required to pursue climate action, and they undermine carbon prices by providing a false sense of the existence of ultra-cheap abatement options around the world.”

What The Data Shows About Using Carbon Offsets
On the other side of the debate, industry reports show that companies, particularly large businesses, that use carbon credits to offset their environmental footprint are more likely to achieve more in slashing their emissions. As shown below, data from the research by Ecosystem Marketplace, the use of voluntary carbon credits (offsets) brought these results:
– Companies in the voluntary carbon market are 1.8x more likely to be actively decarbonizing year-over-year.
– They are 1.3x more likely to have supplier engagement strategies, involving employees and customers in climate action.
– The median voluntary credit buyer invests 3x more in emission reduction efforts within their value chain, including renewable energy consumption and RECs.
– Voluntary carbon buyers are 3.4x more likely to have approved science-based climate targets.
– They are 1.2x more likely to have board oversight of their climate transition plans.
– Companies in this market are 3x more likely to include Scope 3 emissions in their climate targets, despite the challenges of controlling these emissions.

The debate surrounding carbon offset credits underscores broader challenges in global climate policy and finance. While critics maintain that offsetting mechanisms divert attention and resources away from essential emission reduction efforts, proponents argue that well-regulated carbon markets can mobilize capital for climate projects and facilitate emissions reductions.

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

Leave a Replay

Scroll to Top