Carbon Offset meaning
Carbon offset meaning
Process of achieving carbon neutrality.

The carbon generated from living our everyday lives is one of the major contributors to climate change. Carbon offset schemes are a method of reducing our impact, by investing money into bodies working to fight climate change. But it is important to first understand what the carbon offset meaning is.

What is Carbon Offsetting?

Carbon offset meaning: a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.

There are two main ways of placing a price on carbon: carbon taxes and Emissions Trading Schemes (ETS). Carbon taxes set a price on carbon emissions and leave the total amount of emissions reductions up to the market to determine, based on the price set. Emissions Trading Schemes, also known as cap-and-trade systems, mean emitters need a permit for every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit.

As we drive to work, watch TV or even purchase food shipped from overseas, we add to our carbon footprints. Our ‘carbon footprint’ is a measure of the emissions we are generating.

Carbon offset schemes allow individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world in order in an attempt to balance out their own carbon footprints. But even in the case of energy-based schemes, many people argue that offsetting is unhelpful – or even counterproductive – in the fight against climate change. Firms like Gold Standard allow you to do this, and you can even choose which projects to invest in. However, given that this doesn’t make your activities carbon neutral – it just displaces the ownership – people should be looking to invest in sustainable projects, in addition to reducing their own carbon emissions – not one or the other.

People most commonly choose to use a carbon offset scheme for a specific activity like flying. More airlines than ever are now offering customers the opportunity to offset their emissions at checkout. There are also third-party companies available for airlines that do not yet allow you to offset flights.

Another method of reducing emissions is by giving companies a certain number of carbon credits. Their allowance of carbon credits determines how much carbon the company is permitted to emit. Exceeding this limit will result in a fine, as stated by the Paris Agreement. Companies that use less than their allotted carbon credits can sell them in a process called carbon trading. This provides incentives to pollute less.

Carbon Offset Issues

With more companies using carbon offsetting to reduce their carbon footprint, people have been questioning their motives. Claims of “greenwashing” have been making news recently. This is where companies create the public perception that their products are eco-friendly, in order to increase sales. This raises the question as to whether the products we use really are eco-friendly. However, with more strict criteria appearing about how money for carbon offsetting is spent, greenwashing instances should decrease.

One way that money from carbon offsetting is invested is in carbon capture technology. However, as stated in a desmog article, the effectiveness of carbon capture is questionable,

“Carbon capture technologies are inefficient at pulling out carbon, from a climate perspective, and often increase local air pollution from the power required to run them, which exacerbates public health issues. Replacing a coal plant with wind turbines, on the other hand, always decreases local air pollution and doesn’t come with the associated cost of running a carbon capture system”.

The way companies use money generated from carbon offsetting will affect the success of this strategy.  Yet, the best strategy is still up for debate. 

Carbon offsetting has been a largely successful method of generating awareness of, and reducing our, carbon emissions. But, there are issues around greenwashing and the best way of investing the money generated.

Despite the controversies, carbon credits are making companies more responsible for their emissions. While this may not yet be the perfect solution, it is definitely a step in the right direction.