Carbon offsetting is increasingly being used by sectors like aviation as a way to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But a new policy insight by the think tank Green Alliance says that, as the integrity of current carbon offset schemes is questionable, there is no guarantee that a future increase in offsetting will be effective at tackling climate change.
It says the only way to ensure the quality and claims of offset schemes is through a national ‘office for carbon removal’. The study highlights that well run offset schemes could provide the UK with a huge new source of funding for nature restoration.
Existing carbon offset schemes have been widely criticised for their poor environmental credentials. They are badly regulated and rarely deliver what they promise. Seventy three per cent of credits created under the current biggest carbon offsetting scheme, the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, are unlikely to lead to real additional carbon reductions or removals. This has led to accusations that offsetting is a licence to continue polluting and delay efforts to reduce emissions.
However, as the economy recovers from the current crisis, the increasing purchase of carbon credits by airlines could be a new source of funding for nature restoration in the UK. Under a new carbon offsetting scheme, known as CORSIA, airlines are expected to spend between £4 billion and £18 billion per year on carbon credits globally by 2035. The report argues that, in its current form, CORSIA is not ambitious enough to make the necessary contribution to meeting the global goal set by the Paris climate agreement, or the UK’s legal net zero carbon obligation, and must be strengthened.
James Elliott, policy adviser at Green Alliance said: “Offsetting has become a dirty word for environmentalists because of bad carbon credit schemes and the risk it will be used as an excuse to keep polluting. But when you look at the numbers it’s obvious we have to remove and store a huge amount of CO2 from the atmosphere if we are to reach net zero and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Boosting tree planting and low carbon farming, alongside developing other carbon removal technologies, like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, is an urgent priority.Our proposals would enable the UK to take advantage of a substantial new funding stream for nature via aviation offsetting, while showing the world how these schemes can be done well.”
Download the full report: The flight path to net zero: Making the most of nature based carbon offsetting (PDF)
And read more from Jim Elliott in: Carbon offsetting is controversial, but unfortunately we need it on GreenAlliance's Inside Track blog
As an environmentalist, I’m not a big fan of offsetting. Not only does it probably lead to increased pollution, absolving us of responsibility for our emissions, but carbon credits have also been notoriously poor at actually delivering the carbon reductions they claim. I’ve not set foot on a plane since 2011 as I struggle to justify flying, even with a carbon offset. Nevertheless, I’ve just written Green Alliance’s latest policy insight exploring the role offsetting could play in getting aviation to net zero, and how it could boost funding to restore nature and biodiversity in the UK. And I am hopeful. Here’s why.