Carbon offsets: scam or saviour?

Carbon offsets can be a huge force for good in the world but they have also attracted a lot of negative attention in the past due to their roll in 'greenwashing.'
Csaba Szabo
4 mins

Carbon offsets can be a huge force for good in the world but they have also attracted a lot of negative attention in the past due to their roll in 'greenwashing.' Many companies use offsets as a way to capture the residual carbon in their operations. However, it can be difficult to understand why we need to use them in the first place, the right type of offsets to buy, and how to ensure that they are verified.

Why is carbon a problem?

Greenhouse Gases were first discovered by Irish physicist John Tyndall in 1859. The term describes how gases, like carbon, increase the ability of the earth's atmosphere to trap heat within the atmosphere. This typically hasn't been a problem in our planet, with carbon regularly being released into the atmosphere through volcanoes for example. However, we have been pumping above and beyond the amounts of carbon that our planet can naturally capture which is leading to extreme weather events, forest wildfires, and increasing sea levels.

Two activities have exacerbated this problem:

  1. Increased deforestation: 10,000 years ago, 57% of the planet was covered by forests. We have since lost over a third of these forests with much of this happening in the last 200 years. This has drastically reduced our planets ability to capture this carbon and regulate our planets weather systems.
  2. Increased carbon: At the same time that we have decreased our ability to capture carbon, we have increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by over 1200% in the last 100 years, from 3b tonnes to 36b tonnes.

All of this puts us on track for one of the worst crises of our generation. One that Larry Fink of Blackrock (managing over £6 trillion in assets) noted that no issue ranks higher.

How do carbon offsets help?

Carbon offsets can help to solve this problem but they are not a silver bullet. We can't continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere at our current levels and just plant trees in the hope that this will solve the problem. We must rapidly decarbonise our economy and reduce our total emissions while also restoring our planets natural solutions to capturing carbon. There are three types of carbon offsets that exist to capture our emissions, these are:

  1. Natural. Plant-based solutions such as tree planting, use a plant’s capacity to capture carbon via photosynthesis. These are the classic offsets and cover things such as reforestation, soil sequestration and peatland protection. These solutions are useful for the fact that they also provide local wildlife with a habitat.
  2. Chemical: A more niche category that is emerging is chemical-based solutions. These solutions use naturally occurring processes to speed up the absorption of carbon, with examples like Project Vesta which uses olivine and the oceans to capture carbon.
  3. Technical: More technical solutions like Climeworks capture carbon directly from the air. This can be an incredibly impactful way of capturing carbon emissions but can cost up to $200 per tonne of CO2. At the moment, the technology is in its infancy but there are plans to reduce the cost over the coming years through investment.

How to verify carbon offsets?

Some offsets can be priced as low as $2 per tonne, and some can be priced at $200. Why the difference? Often it can come down to the methods described above and/or the cost to verify the offsets themselves. For an offset to be verified, it must satisfy 7 conditions:

  1. Permanent: the offset must remove carbon permanently and completely
  2. Measurable: the amount of carbon that the project has captured must be measurable
  3. Transparent: the day-to-day monitoring and verification of the project must be open and honest
  4. Additional: the project must show that the carbon removal wouldn't otherwise occur without someone having bought the carbon offset in the first place
  5. Avoid leakage: meaning that the project can't cause emissions to be released elsewhere
  6. Independently audited: a third party needs to verify the projects impact
  7. Registered: Lastly, the project needs to be officially registered in registrars such as the Gold Standard.

How can Dodo help?

On the whole, carbon offsets are vital to our planets health and wellbeing. At Dodo, we invest in projects on your behalf that are natural, fully verified and registered through the Gold Standard to ensure that your offsets are actually capturing the carbon that your company has released. You can check out more on our projects here where you can find more information about how we are investing in reforestation, peatland protection and reducing the amount of fuel used in cookstoves.

If you want to become carbon neutral, you can get a quick measurement of your emissions here!

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