Licence to pollute: the sham of carbon offsetting. It does not remove/negate your carbon
People seem to be waking up to the reality of their carbon emissions. Some people anyway. And some are buying “carbon offsets” to supposedly balance out their carbon emissions -especially those from flights – by investing in projects such as forest planting. But the problem is that most offsetting is near worthless. It has been riddled with scams and failures. Planting trees is a great idea, but the trees only reabsorb the carbon over decades, not immediately, and only if they are cared for and survive to become fully grown trees. Just planting saplings, that don’t get watered and die in a few years is useless. Offsetting is often paying some organisation/company to do something to reduce CO2 emissions, so they are a bit lower than they might have been. That does NOT remove the carbon that the flight has emitted. That is now in the atmosphere and will remain there for decades or centuries. Offsetting that removes the amount of carbon your flight has emitted needs to do that permanently. Trees are great, but when they die in ? 60 -80 years time, that carbon goes back into the atmosphere. Many offsets are paying for actions that would have been done anyway, as they save the company money. They are not additional savings. Offsetting helps people keep flying, hoping they have salved their conscience with a small donation. That is unhelpful.
Licence to pollute: the sham of carbon offsetting
“Aviation will try anything apart from leaving fossil fuels in the ground”
BY ANDREW PENMAN (the UK Daily Mirror )
14 NOV 2019
Environmental groups are calling it the Greta Thunberg effect, after the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist.
It’s the huge rise in companies and individuals buying “carbon offsets” to supposedly balance their pollution by investing in projects such as forest planting and protection in the Third World.
One company that supplies offsetting projects says it has seen a 1,000% increase in business over the past 18 months.
But offsetting has been riddled with scams and failures.
One high-profile disaster was the Coldplay plan to plant 10,000 mango trees in India to offset the carbon produced by jetting around the world tour to promote their second album.
Singer Chris Martin modestly gushed: “This is the greatest idea that anybody has come up with recently”, encouraging fans to contribute £17 per tree.
Poor farmers were not paid to look after the trees, many of which died from drought or were burnt – releasing the very carbon into the atmosphere that they were supposed to be storing.
The Australia airline Qantas is currently offering its passengers the chance to offset their flight carbon emissions by investing in a scheme to protect forests in a part of Papua New Guinea called April Salumei, home to 163 local communities.
I first came across this area when I exposed UK company World Futures Limited , which used cold callers to con £2.5million from the public by flogging carbon credit investments that proved worthless. The company was shut down in the High Court in the public interest.
Qantas, which was unconnected to the World Futures scandal, insists that its offsets in April Salumei are sound.
“100% of your contribution goes towards verified carbon offset projects that meet strict international standards, including the Verified Carbon Standard and the Gold Standard,” it says.
The Verified Carbon Standard is managed by an organisation called Verra , which maintains: “We can accurately quantify benefits.”
Yet it has told me that it is six years since April Salumei was verified: “The April Salumei project proponent has not submitted any monitoring documentation since 2013, therefore we have no record of activities at the project site since then.”
It has no idea what’s happened to public money paid to support it, saying: “It is not under our purview to monitor financial flows. We recommend contacting the project developer to obtain a response to this question.”
I tried. The developer of the scheme, an Australian called Stephen Hooper of Rainforest Project Management, has not replied to me.
Meanwhile the Papua New Guinea government says that the project has not been operational for “some time”, though in August it announced an agreement with local leaders to get it going again: “The aim of the agreement is to recommence implementation of the project through resolution of landowner disputes which has stalled the progress of the project for some time.”
In another messy example, Virgin Airline passengers used to be able to buy carbon offsets in a project in Odday Meanchey in Cambodia.
That was until last year, when the airline withdrew because, far from being protected, much of the forest was being destroyed. Virgin said it had supported the project at a time when it conformed to Verified Carbon Standards, but “things can change in the years between verifications”.
Another case involves a burger chain in Sweden that has been singled out for praise by the United Nations after claiming to be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces.
Max Burgers apparently achieves this feat partly through carbon offsetting by funding tree-planting in Uganda.
The trees are meant to grow for 25 years, but researchers from Sweden’s Lund University discovered that some farmers cut them down when they stop being paid after 10 years, warning: “One cannot be sure that the trees will remain”.
There are no plans for replanting them and the likelihood is they’ll be replaced by cash crops such as coffee.
A spokesman for the burger chain said that planting trees was the best solution to the global warming crisis – apart, critics would point out, from not releasing greenhouse gases in the first place.
The forest fires ranging around the world at the moment, from Australia to Brazil, shows that schemes to offset emissions by storing carbon in trees can so easily and quickly – and literally – go up in smoke.
Last month International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, boasted of a commitment to “net zero carbon emissions by 2050”.
“By doing so, it will contribute to both the UK government’s commitment to a net zero carbon economy by 2050 and the United Nations’ objective to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees,” it said.
The key word is “net”.
It will not achieve zero carbon emissions, it will merely try to balance the carbon that it pumps out with projects to soak it up.
The airline industry is pinning its hopes something called Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA.
“It is forecast that CORSIA will mitigate around 2.5 billion tonnes of Co2 and generate over $40 billion in climate finance between 2021 and 2035,” says IATA , The International Air Transport Association.
One expert who has long studied reduced emission schemes is Chris Lang of the website REDD-monitor.org , and he’s scathing about CORSIA.
“The reason that the aviation and other large polluting industries like offsets is that they let them appear to be addressing climate change while at the same time continuing to burn fossil fuels,” he said.
“The one guaranteed thing that happens under carbon offsetting is that the carbon emissions still take place, because the flights still happen, meanwhile the offsetting may not succeed.
“In order to address the climate crisis the single most important thing we have to do is reduce emissions from burning fossil fuel, there’s no way around that.
“Aviation and other polluters will try anything apart from leaving fossil fuels in the ground.
“CORSIA only kicks in in 2021, it’s voluntary and only covers international aviation, not domestic flights.
“If you accept that the climate crisis is existential and we need to react quickly then the aviation industry is doing the opposite.”
He also attacked the social injustice inherent in some offsetting schemes know as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation or REDD, which means business as usual for the rich while families in the Third World pay the price.
“There’s a dramatic inequity,” he said. “Offsetting schemes like REDD allow rich people in the north to continue their massively polluting lifestyles while having a serious impact on some of the poorest people on the planet because all of a sudden they are not allowed to clear a small area of forest to grow food for their family.
“It’s a direct conflict between the livelihoods in the north which are allowed to continue as normal, and the poorest of the poor in the global south.”