Carbon offsets

Carbon offsets pay for projects that reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Are they all equal?
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  • Updated:16 Sep 2008



What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets are sold as a way for consumers and businesses to reduce their environmental impact. By buying an offset, you pay to support projects that remove greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or stop them getting there in the first place. When too many GHGs build up in the atmosphere, the result is climate change.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Unregulated market

A year ago there were about 20 Australian companies offering carbon offsets; now there’s close to 60. But the market is mostly unregulated and parts of it have been likened to the ‘wild west’.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently raised concerns that, “Consumers may be facing misleading and deceptive conduct associated with this emerging market.” And a 2007 report by the University of Sydney found that the term ‘carbon neutral’ is being exploited for PR and financial purposes.

The concern is that well intentioned consumers, trying to do the right thing, are being taken for a ride.

Carbon Offset Watch

Carbon offsetting can work, but the market is susceptible to consumer rip-offs. So what’s the best way to offset your carbon emissions?

CHOICE joined with the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology, Sydney, and the Total Environment Centre (TEC) to form Carbon Offset Watch and find out. We tell you where you can find offsets that are likely to result in real greenhouse gas emission reductions — if the Federal Government makes the key changes we’re looking for.

Where do you start?

A company might say it’ll offset emissions you’re responsible for and gladly take your money, but how do you know the emissions will really be offset?

The obvious place to start is to check that the offsets the company is selling have been accredited by an independent standards scheme. The problem is there are many schemes in the market. Some are government schemes; others are from for-profit companies, non-profit NGOs and organisations with charitable status, both from Australia and overseas.

Our government standards aren’t necessarily the best — even offsets accredited under federal and state government schemes aren’t additional at present. And the government schemes also fall short of best practice on other grounds too. Nevertheless, offsets that are independently accredited (whether by a government or other scheme) are still a much better bet than offsets that have no third-party accreditation whatsoever.

Check the rankings

Carbon Offset Watch ranked carbon offset retailers, taking into account the offsets they sell and the accreditation schemes the offsets are certified by. Check the ratings before making your decision.


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