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

03.Tips for buying offsets

What to consider when purchasing offsets

  • TrafficBefore buying offsets, reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. For example, find out how to use less energy in your home.
  • Only buy offsets from a retailer that provides detailed information about its products, services and the projects used to generate offsets. Request further information if necessary.
  • Choose a retailer that helps you estimate your carbon footprint and explains how the footprint is calculated.
  • Choose offsets that are independently accredited by a recognised scheme. Carbon Offset Watch considers The Gold Standard and Clean Development Mechanism to be the best indicators of high-quality offsets.
  • Offsets from projects that change or prevent the underlying activities that create greenhouse gases, such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, avoided deforestation and diverting waste from landfill, are better ways to combat climate change in the long term. Others, such as tree-planting schemes, aren’t as good for carbon offsetting but can have separate environmental benefits, such as contributing to biodiversity.
  • Get documentary evidence of your offset purchase. Ensure that the retailer guarantees to ‘retire’ the offset from the market on your behalf, or transfers ownership of the offset to you so that you can retire it yourself. This means the offset you bought can’t be sold again.

Policy point: offsets should be ‘additional’

Perhaps the most important attribute of a carbon offset that you purchase as an individual is that it’s additional — that is, the carbon reduction wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t bought the offset. Otherwise there’s no real extra reduction in emissions and the money you spent didn’t make a real difference.

At present, no carbon offsets created from projects in Australia are additional, because they’re all counted towards our legal obligation to reduce emissions under the Kyoto agreement. So when you buy these offsets voluntarily, you’re paying for emission reductions that would have happened anyway. Effectively, individuals and businesses that buy voluntary offsets are subsidising those who don’t, and helping Australia to meet its mandatory targets.

CHOICE, ISF and TEC want the Federal Government to prevent this double counting as soon as possible, by simply amending the accounting for carbon offsets, so that the offsets consumers and businesses voluntarily buy are additional to Australia’s Kyoto obligations. The changes should be applied retrospectively, so that any offsets sold since Australia ratified Kyoto aren’t counted towards our mandatory greenhouse gas reductions.


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