Greenpeace calls for end to carbon offsets – they just allow large polluters to continue as normal

Greenpeace International has said that carbon offsets are allowing the world’s biggest polluters to forge ahead with business plans that are threatening global climate goals. The offsets do not have the effect of lowering global emissions, either now or in future. The practice of buying carbon offsets means polluting companies – such as airlines – can buy carbon credits from projects that reduce or avoid the release of CO2 elsewhere. Examples would be mass tree plantings or solar farms.  Instead of making every effort to emit less CO2 themselves, the companies hope equivalent amounts of carbon are being removed from the atmosphere, by others. This cancels out the reduction in CO2 emissions achieved by the provider of the carbon credit. Few carbon credits are reliable, and can guarantee carbon is not emitted, or is removed from the atmosphere.  One of the most popular is planting trees. When a tiny sapling is planted, if will (if all goes well and it does not die from neglect, or the impacts of worsening climate change) only become large enough to sequester much carbon in several decades. Eventually the tree will die, returning the carbon to the atmosphere. The only real offset would be permanent, for-ever, underground storage of carbon.

Greenpeace calls for end to carbon offsets

6th October 2021   (Reuters)

Carbon offsets are allowing the world’s biggest polluters to forge ahead with business plans that are threatening global climate goals, the head of Greenpeace International said in an interview.

The model allows polluting companies to offset their emissions by buying credits from projects that reduce or avoid the release of climate-warming CO2 elsewhere, such as mass tree plantings or solar power farms – which could be worth $50 billion by 2030 according to a task force created to scale up the market. read more

Environmental advocates such as Greenpeace say this is allowing big emitters like oil majors to put off cutting their own emissions and avoid divesting from hydrocarbons, a primary source of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. read more

“There’s no time for offsets. We are in a climate emergency and we need phasing out of fossil fuels,” Greenpeace’s Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said at the Reuters Impact conference.

She said one issue with planting trees as offsets was that it takes 20 years for trees to grow and offset emissions happening right now. In the interim wildfires could destroy the chance of reductions.

“These offsetting schemes … are pure ‘greenwash’ so that the companies, oil companies, can continue to do what they’ve been doing and make a profit,” she said.

There have also been issues with how the credits are counted.

In April CarbonPlan, a group that researches the integrity of programmes designed to offset emissions, said that 29% of the forest carbon offsets it analysed in a $2 billion programme in California overestimated the amount of emissions they were offsetting, totalling 30 million tonnes or about $410 million. read more

Greenpeace’s warning comes at a decisive moment for the voluntary carbon market, whose proponents acknowledge the need to become more transparent and accountable. read more

Delegates at the U.N. climate conference next month are expected to work on designing a market to channel money into offset and emissions removal projects in the fight to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

However companies will need to stop investing in any new oil, gas and coal supply projects if the world wants to achieve net zero on schedule, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in April – the global watchdog’s starkest warning yet to curb fossil fuels. read more

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See earlier:


Chris Stark (CCC) on how aviation needs to cut its emissions, only using CCS – which it must pay for – as a last resort

The Head of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), Chris Stark, has given evidence to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) on the aspirations of the aviation sector to get to “net zero” by 2050, and the government’s “jet zero” plan. He said aviation, unlike other transport sectors, was unlikely to meet targets for net zero by 2050.  The sector should pay for costly engineered carbon removal technologies (CCS) rather than rely on using the planting of trees to claim they are reducing CO2 emissions.  And these offsets and removal technologies should only be used as a last resort, after direct cuts of carbon and emissions by the industry itself. He said carbon removal technologies are not a “free pass” for the industry. Removals are expensive, and the sector should pay for them themselves – which would put up ticket prices. It was regrettable that the DfT’s transport decarbonisation plan had not mentioned the necessity of reducing air travel demand. There is a danger that the tech does not deliver. The plans need to be assessed every 5 years, and though that is a difficult choice for government, demand management may have to be considered in future.


Study shows carbon offsets, by forest protection, used by major airlines are based on flawed system

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An investigation by the Guardian and Greenpeace’s Unearthed has found that the forest protection carbon offsetting market used by major airlines for claims of carbon-neutral flying faces a significant credibility problem, with experts warning the system is not fit for purpose.  Air passengers can buy offsets that, allegedly, help prevent the emission of a quantity of carbon, so they can claim their flight was “carbon neutral”.  The theory is that money is needed for projects to keep intact areas of forest healthy, and prevent deforestation. That depends on knowing how much forest there was, how much would have been destroyed unless the offset money had been paid, and how much has been saved in good condition. In practice, that is not easy to calculate. The study found there is often considerable over-counting, with schemes saying there would have been far higher rates of deforestation than were likely. And some of the areas that remained forested did so for other reasons – like government policy – not the offset money. If forestry offsets are to be used, it is vital that the methodologies they use to calculate the reduction in emissions – and additionality – are rigorous and accurate.

European Commission under fire for including ‘carbon sinks’ (eg. forest) into EU climate goal of 55% cut on 1990 level by 2030

The EU has a current target of cutting carbon emissions by 40% on the 1990 level by 2030. But with the European Green Deal, it has been proposed that target should be increased to 55%. Some European countries do not want this – while climate experts say even greater carbon cuts are needed.  The European 55% target would include use of “carbon sinks” in the figures, so there is an assumed amount of carbon being absorbed by forests etc, meaning net carbon emissions would appear to be lower than they really are. This might be a difference of 2% or else perhaps 5%.  Some environmental campaign groups said this use of carbon sinks was “an accounting trick” and “Relying on forests to reach climate targets sends the wrong signal that it’s OK to keep polluting because the land will absorb it.” In Europe, forests are currently a net carbon sink because they take in more carbon dioxide than they emit.  But their capacity to absorb CO2 “has been shrinking” over the years, and if left unchecked, could further decline – due to cutting down trees and forest, and damage to them from fires, pests, more demand for biomass, and impacts of climate change. Mature forests have to be kept healthy, and just planting new saplings is not enough.


REDD forest CO2 offsets used by Virgin shown to be ineffective – much of the forest has been cut down

Virgin Atlantic tries to make out that it is a “green” and responsible airline. It has given its passengers the chance to buy “carbon offsets” to pay for the carbon emitted because they flew. But it has emerged that the forest project, in Cambodia, that Virgin got its passengers to obtain carbon credits from is wholly inadequate. While the hope is that buying an “offset” means carbon is taken out of the atmosphere somewhere, the reality is that forest offsets do not work reliably. The scheme used by Virgin, they said in good faith, only seems to monitor forest project to ensure they meet the necessary criteria, every 5 years. The scheme Virgin used was checked in 2013, and seemingly the right boxes were ticked. Subsequently much of the forest was cleared by the Cambodian military. It no longer exists. So any carbon “offsets” bought by passengers are worthless. Carbon has NOT been taken out of the air – there is cleared land instead. This demonstrates that forest offsets should not be used. They would only work if forest is kept complete and healthy for decades. That cannot be guaranteed. Virgin has now admitted the scheme has not worked and has pulled out of it. Worryingly, this sort of cheap forest “offset” is exactly what ICAO hopes to use, in its CORSIA scheme, to give the impression that growing aviation CO2 is being mopped up elsewhere.


EU study shows most carbon offsets do not work – aviation sector plans depend on them

Carbon offsets are not working, according to a study by the European Commission. The concept of carbon offsets is to allow polluters to pay others to reduce their CO2 emissions, so they can continue to pollute. This is usually considered the cheapest (“most cost effective”) way to make token gesture carbon cuts. The EC research found that 85% of the offset projects used by the EU under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) failed to reduce CO2 emissions.  EU member states decided not to allow the use of offsets to meet European climate goals after 2021. The global market-based measure adopted last October by ICAO relies exclusively on offsetting in its attempt at “carbon neutral growth” for aviation from 2020. Yet Europe is now endorsing the approach at ICAO to address international aviation emissions using the same approach that this report so thoroughly discredits. The problem with offsets is that they are often not making the CO2 cuts suggested, or that the cuts would have happened anyway.  To make matters worse, the ICAO agreement so far fails to include important safeguards which would exclude the worst types of offsets eg. forestry credits, or ensuring adequate transparency about the offsets used. With CDM offsets trading for as little as €0.50 a tonne, offsetting will not cut CO2 – nor will it incentivise greater aircraft efficiency.