‘Carbon credits’, ‘carbon trading’, ‘cap and trade’, ‘carbon neutrality’ and ‘carbon offsetting’. The technical, complicated and distant words might have been created with noble intentions when put into plans at government and corporate levels. But one might question if the various terms come down to finding ways to keep emitting carbon and other greenhouse gases even though the ‘environmental waste bin’ is overflowing. How to find effective approaches to tackle climate change in a jungle of abstract measurements?
Have you ever been offered to carbon offset when travelling or when buying things? Be aware that many of these can’t equal out the polluting effect. We have to view it from a planet view, the ecosystem we all are a part of, not through economic regulations.
“We cannot offset our way out of climate change,” states John Oliver in his satirical program Carbon Offsets. Behind the light-hearted, sarcastic approach the British-American comedian, writer, and political commentator has a serious message: Corporates can’t keep polluting with greenhouse gas emissions under the concept of offsetting. The expression ‘carbon offsetting’ is not only integrated into the corporate world, but we are now getting offers to join in on an individual level. But there’s simply not enough room on the planet for planting ‘good deeds’ like trees, elsewhere on the planet, to compensate for the way we live. The offset system puts profits over the natural world and its dynamics and functions. The equation does not add up, we have to focus on reducing greenhouse gasses.
Planetary or economic rules?
We have lived on borrowed time for a while, based on the rules of free-market economics and consumption. But how much more deforestation and climate change stoking can we do with one hand, while offsetting with the other hand via schemes often not as efficient as claimed?
As Greenpeace writes in the article ‘The biggest problem with carbon offsetting is that it doesn’t really work’ that to be serious about tackling climate change, carbon emissions need to be stopped from getting into the atmosphere in the first place. As they say, “A newly-planted tree can take as many as 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon-offset scheme promises. We would have to plant and protect a massive number of trees for decades to offset even a fraction of global emissions. Even then, there is always the risk that these efforts will be wiped out by droughts, wildfires, tree diseases and deforestation.”
It doesn’t help that the system isn’t transparent and standardised, “… there is no standardised way to trade carbon credits and no way to verify the compensating activity behind them,” as the article ‘What’s wrong with carbon offsetting?’ in The Week points out.
Developed countries’ exploitation of lesser developed countries’ natural resources have been known about for some time. The 2014 article ‘The carbon World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme 'complicit' in genocidal land grabs – NGOs’ states that, “Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 500 million acres of land in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean was acquired or negotiated under deals brokered on behalf of foreign governments or transnational corporations.”
The article points out flaws in the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme, including ‘financing REDD+ readiness activities.’ In this programme, companies in the developed world purchase carbon credits to invest in reducing emissions from forested lands. This is viewed as carbon emissions’ reductions. ”In practice, however, REDD schemes largely allow those companies to accelerate pollution [via their own industry] while purchasing land and resources in the developing world at bargain prices.” These schemes also reduce indigenous peoples’ access and rights to their forests.
Furthermore, the goal of carbon offsetting isn’t functional in practice. According to the article ‘Cop26’s worst outcome would be giving the green light to carbon offsetting’,“… offsetting doesn’t stop carbon entering the atmosphere and warming our world, it just keeps it off the ledgers of the governments and companies responsible. According to the Institute for Applied Ecology, about eight out of 10 offsetting projects rich countries relied on to meet their climate targets under the Kyoto protocol were deemed unlikely to have delivered any climate benefit. Offsetting has been tried and it has failed – to pursue this as a solution now is nothing more than greenwashing and would blow a huge hole in the Paris agreement.”
Economic aspects are often given attention in the media and on political agendas. We wish to bring focus on balancing the way humans live with the rest of the natural world, which supports us in so many ways. This could be the interwoven connectedness which is explored in deep ecology, an environmental movement regarding human life as one of many equal components of a global ecosystem. It’s not just a philosophical approach, but it’s the physical world and its laws we live with. A Global Footprint Report from WWF-UK and 3Keel’s concludes, “… the UK must reduce its global footprint by three quarters by 2030 to meet planetary limits.”
In the article ‘Carbon offsetting is not warding off environmental collapse – it’s accelerating it’, the Natural Climate Solution Campaign is mentioned as a tool to draw attention to the need of revival of ecosystems in a time of climate breakdown.
Focus on reducing emissions where you are
Even though it might feel out of our hands as citizens when the frame for climate change actions needs to be set on a societal level, we can still contribute. Being critical, choosing your products and lifestyle carefully and writing your elected representatives, encouraging action, are some of the things we can each do. In Scotland the majority of people acknowledge that climate change is related to human activities, but is that always taken into account when voting? When looking into election material, the standpoint of politicians on the matter is not always clear. Could it be that MSPs and MPs need a reminder from us on why climate change is important for us and our vote?
Not only do we vote at elections. What we put in the shopping cart, our means of transportation and where we go on holiday are also choices which influence market forces, and they are directly linked to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Net Zero is another term often used on a societal level. It’s “…a state in which the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere.” (https://netzeroclimate.org/what-is-net-zero/)
The Scottish Government has a goal of reaching Net Zero on a national level by 2045. There are governmental supported initiatives such as funding opportunities, but how to get to Net Zero can still seem unclear. It’s a path not yet rolled out but still in the making as we go forward.
At Surefoot, when we work toward Net Zero with organisations, the focus is on how to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience to thrive at the same time. Read more about Net Zero with Surefoot, or please get in touch if you want to hear more.
Please contact us, if you have a story to share about dealing with reducing greenhouse gas emissions in your community and how you strengthen your ability for resilience. On Insights we share opportunities and examples, to inspire and motivate each other in climate friendly activities. Write to email@example.com if you have story to share.
Text by Gazelle Buchholtz, Surefoot associate.
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.