Whether you believe in the Climate Crisis or not, there is a fact that cannot be denied: we are using Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate. Earth Overshoot Day, that marks the day in which humanity’s demand for ecological resources exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year, keeps coming earlier and earlier every year, and as the global population keeps growing and so does Demand for resources, things will only get worse. The increasing pressure we are putting on the natural ecosystems has the effect of slowing down the metabolism of our planet inhibiting its ability to regenerate resources.
One of the resources our planet is getting slower and slower in absorbing and recycling is Co2 (carbon dioxide). Carbon dioxide, along with the other greenhouse gases, has always been present in our atmosphere, contributing to the liveability of our planet by keeping it warm. However, since 1960, GHG’s concentration has grown from 300 parts per million up to about 415 parts per million turning this positive warming effect into a threat to the future of our planet.
Since the industrial boom, in fact, GHS’s emitting human activities have drastically intensified, ramping up the GHG’s concentration in the atmosphere. This, added to the decrease in forest coverage, one of the two major sources of natural carbon capture, have put under pressure our oceans that are slowly losing their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide due to the higher concentrations.
source: Global Cooling Or Warming: Can CO2 Levels 'Suddenly' Change By Natural Processes.
As the effects of climate change become more visible as well as its connection to human activities, a growing number of people, companies and governments have started looking into ways to mitigate their emissions. In particular, the concept of Carbon Footprint has become a major indicator used to measure climate-change related effects of individuals, companies and government activities.
The two strategies being implemented by governments and communities across the globe are Mitigation, to revert the increase in GHG’s concentration, and Adaptation since some of the changes in climate and natural ecosystems are considered irreversible. Within the Mitigation practices, that aim to bring back the carbon dioxide equivalent concentration to pre-industrial levels, we find Carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting is the reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases done in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.
Today, there are two markets for carbon offsets. A compliance market in which companies, governments, or other entities buy carbon offsets in order to comply with caps on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit that in 2018 has seen $57,8 Billion in carbon credits trading. A voluntary market, individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources with an estimated size of $300 Million.
The first Carbon Offset scheme, at a country level, was introduced with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol established emissions trading by allowing countries that have emission units to spare (emissions permitted to them but unused) to sell this excess capacity to countries that are over their emissions limits.
Countries with commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions must meet their targets primarily through national measures. As an additional means of meeting these targets, the Kyoto Protocol introduced three market-based mechanisms, thereby creating what is now known as the carbon market:
As the programs applied under the guideline of the Kyoto protocol have shown clear limits, Article 6 of the Paris Agreement has introduced major changes to these markets coming into effect after 2020. While with the Paris agreement all the signatories countries of the agreement have to meet their emission reduction targets there are still doubts on one of the two schemes introduced (Article 6.2) as its credits, called Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs), will not have a Control Body to measure the integrity and effectiveness of the emission reduction measures.
On the other hand, the past few years have seen an interesting growth in voluntary adoption of Carbon offsets by individuals and business in the attempt to partially, or completely, reduce their carbon footprint. Carbon offsets produced under a voluntary standard are called the Verified Emissions Reductions (VERs).
Most of the carbon offset projects fall in these categories:
As this market has started to offer interesting financial returns, it has attracted the attention of many people with little interest in the environmental cause a more for the financial one. This theory is confirmed by a study of the EU saying that about 85% of the offsetting projects are not working.
If you are looking to offset your carbon footprint voluntarily, both as an individual or as a business, you will need to make sure that your money support a certified offsetting projects. A certified project follows specific standards to ensure that it is genuine. The two main certifications are the Gold Standard which has been endorsed by numerous environmental charities and the Voluntary Carbon Standard or VERRA, developed by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), The Climate Group and the World Economic Forum.
How much should you offset? It’s pretty much up to you how many tonnes of CO2 equivalent you want to offset. You could either look up at the average emissions per capita of your country or get an Impact assessment for a specific set of emissions you would like to offset.
Looking at the numbers though, it is quite clear that offsetting alone won’t be the solution to the problem. To limit the temperature increase to an acceptable level, we should reduce current Global Emissions by about 25 Gigatonnes before 2030 or 50%. That would be roughly the amount of Co2 absorbed by 30 billion trees in their lifetime (40 years on average). Even switching all Electricity and Heat generation to renewable sources wouldn’t be enough. Whereas Offsetting strategies could be a short term solution, they also pose a threat as they can lead to complacency and can delay a crucial transition for people and businesses towards more sustainable practices.
Our mission at ECo is to inform people and businesses about the short and long term positive effects of emission reduction such as cleaner air and cities, better health, and higher economic returns. The transition doesn’t have to happen overnight with a radical shift in practices, but should rather be undertaken as a journey to rewrite bad habits to create lasting change.
Follow us if you want to discover how to easily start this journey.