Carbon offsets

Who should you trust when it comes to buying carbon offsets?
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In this investigation, we look at the voluntary carbon offset market. 

Can consumers trust that validated carbon offsets are genuine, or is it still the Wild West out there?

Do consumers trust carbon offsets?

A decade ago, British band Coldplay released its hit record A Rush of Blood to the Head. Reportedly concerned about the carbon emissions produced by the album, the band decided to offset this by having 10,000 mango trees planted in India.

In theory, this sounded great – the trees would absorb the carbon, the mangoes would feed villagers, and Coldplay felt good about their green credentials.

Alas, it was not to be. A few years later, it was reported that many of the mango saplings had died, and that much of the water and money promised to the villagers for caring for the saplings never arrived.

So it’s no surprise that when CHOICE asked its members if they had considered offsetting their carbon emissions, several said they were put off because of a perceived lack of accountability and oversight in the industry.

Angela Veerhuis said: “I’d be concerned about paying for it now as I’m not sure about industry regulation. Until I know what kind of planning goes into these arrangements, I won’t participate.” Ben Archer told us, “[I] haven’t and won’t, unless I find a company that actually does something to offset. Most claim [to do it], but don’t prove it.” 

Even CHOICE member Simon Reus, who has bought offsets, questioned their efficacy. “I have done it multiple times over the years when flying or hiring a car, and I’m happy to do it, however I have always wondered who regulates these programs to ensure the money goes where it should.”

Carbon standards

The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) is an international standard that ensures carbon reductions meet quality standards and are independently verified, numbered and listed in a central database.

The Gold Standard (GS), established by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), certifies offset projects that demonstrate greenhouse gas reductions and positively impact the economy, health, welfare and/or environment of the community where the project is located.

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) is a voluntary Australian Government carbon offsets scheme that enables farmers and land managers to generate carbon credits by reducing agricultural emissions, such as nitrous oxide and methane, and sequestering carbon in vegetation and soils. These credits can then be sold to individuals and businesses wishing to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) verifies claims of carbon neutrality in Australia. To verify carbon neutral claims, the NCOS specifies that organisations must buy their offsets from projects verified under eligible schemes. These include credits issued under the CFI, VCS and GS, among others.

For more information about saving energy, see Power and energy.



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