There is a certain amount of cynicism around the term ‘offsetting’. Much of this comes from doubts surrounding whether or not schemes actually deliver the carbon savings promised, concern over double-counting and a view that they are simply a convenient greenwashing mechanism.
However, there is more to offsetting than you might think and the rigorous practices and standards of high quality carbon credits provide more assurance that outcomes are, not only measurable and verified, but also make it a requirement that they provide additional value beyond merely compensating for emissions.
What is a carbon credit?
Put very simply a carbon credit is a tradeable certificate that stands for one tonne of carbon dioxide (tCO2). It represents carbon that has been avoided, reduced or sequestered through a project and can be purchased as a means of offsetting emissions elsewhere.
GREENWASHING IS NOT SUPPORTED
Let’s first dispel the myth of green-washing. We don’t deny this is a possibility. However, studies have shown that offsetters (e.g. amongst CDP respondents) are also those who do more to reduce their own emissions. In our experience, offsetters are companies conscious of their emissions and trying to do something about it. Let’s not forget, cutting emissions, particularly across all Scopes, is a challenge. More often carbon credits are purchased as a part of a larger carbon strategy for emissions reduction.
According to international best practice, this is how it should be. Offsetting shouldn’t be about discouraging emissions reductions, but a supportive exercise and sellers are required to encourage companies to set themselves ambitious targets for reduction. Reputable companies selling credits will be extremely passionate about genuine climate action by the best means possible.
OFFSETTING BEST PRACTICE
This international best practice is set out and developed by the International Carbon Reduction & Offset Alliance (ICROA). This is a non-profit made up of leading carbon reduction and offset companies. Here is an introduction to the rest of the Code of Best Practice:
- Measurement of the emissions must be performed in accordance with international standards (e.g WRI/WBCSD GHG protocols) – offsetting projects need to measure the emissions savings, and doing so with a known standard ensures consistency and accuracy as well as an internationally recognised and verifiable method of measurement.
- Credits must be real, measurable, permanent, additional, independently verified and unique – members of ICROA commit to selling credits that are all of these things. Projects will need to prove their credits meet the criteria and are subject to rigorous additionality tests and third-party auditing before being certified. An auditor will also carry out periodical visits to the project for ongoing audit.
- Use third party registries to retire and remove carbon credits used for offsetting – every credit will be signed a serial number, this ensures it is unique. When a business purchases a credit, this credit is issued, transferred and permanently retired in publicly accessible emissions registries. This ensures against double counting and that the credit can’t be sold or used more than once.
IDENTIFYING BEST PRACTICE
You should be looking out for some of the following logos and purchasing from an organisation that is a member of ICROA, upholding the rigorous standards for best practice. Each of these logos means that the project in question has been validated, verified and registered, in accordance with international best practice.
CONTRIBUTING TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Carbon offsetting projects (such as cleaner cookstoves initiatives and renewable energy projects) all impact individuals and communities. Therefore, it is vitally important that they add value beyond compensating carbon emissions for someone else. Stimulating local economies, providing incomes, improving health, educating, counteracting inequalities and/or sharing new technologies to promote sustainable futures are just some of the co-benefits that should be expected from high quality carbon offsetting projects that are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This is what most off-setters are looking for and what every credible carbon credit should do.
Offsetting can play a part in a strategy for carbon neutrality. To find out more and start your own countdown to zero carbon, download our eBook today.