Carbon Offsets and the Environment: Using Carbon Credits as a Means to Lower Greenhous Gas Emissions

Air Pollution

In the battle against global warming, people are becoming more aware of the effect of their lifestyle on greenhouse gas emissions. No matter how committed a person is to lowering their carbon footprint, occasions will occur where a person’s actions will add significant carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, such as when flying. In these situations people should consider Carbon Offsets and Carbon Credits.

Carbon Offsets

According to The Climate Trust, one of the largest buyers of offsets in the United States, “A greenhouse gas (GHG) offset is generated by the reduction, avoidance, or sequestration of GHG emissions from a specific project. Offsets are so named because they counteract or offset greenhouse gases that would have been emitted into the atmosphere; they are a compensating equivalent for reductions made at a specific source of emissions.”

Although the largest market of Carbon Offsets is in the compliance area, where governments have to purchase such offsets to meet legal limits set by the international community, over the last number of years a voluntary market in Carbon Offsets has developed. These are known as “Consumer Carbon Offsets”. Individuals, companies and sometimes even governments purchase these offsets to neutralize their own unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources.

Carbon Offset Providers

Carbon Offsets are offered by many companies, usually in the renewable energy field and the reforestation industry. Individuals or companies wanting to offset unavoidable carbon emissions can invest in wind turbines to provide electricity or can provide funds to companies that carry out reforestation projects. Most of these Carbon Offset providers are available on the Internet and they provide the consumer with Carbon Calculators to estimate their greenhouse gas emissions and then provide them an opportunity to offset these emissions with a financial donation. Consumers can expect to pay $5 – $ 20 per ton of Carbon Offset, depending on the company chosen.

Purchasing Carbon Offsets

When buying Carbon Offsets, buyers should ensure that the:

  • organization is a bona fide provider of Carbon Offsets.
  • The consumer should determine what the project is, where it is occurring and how it will lower greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The consumer should also ensure the project has “Additionality”, in other words that the project would not have happened without the user’s investment. If the project would have happened anyway, then there is no offset.
  • Most importantly, the consumer should ensure that the provider has third party accreditation. In the voluntary market, a number of industry standards exist including the Voluntary Carbon Standard, Green-e Climate and the WWF Gold Standard.
Carbon, Air Pollution

Carbon, Air Pollution

Limitations of Carbon Offsets

Although Carbon Offsets and Carbon Credits allow companies and individuals the opportunity to lower their carbon footprint and to mitigate unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions, they are not a solution to the problem of global warming. Many climate experts view Carbon Offsets as an easy way out of real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The voluntary market in Carbon Offsets may encourage people to continue leading a lifestyle which adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by just paying extra money for the privilege. Nonetheless the voluntary market continues to grow.

A study by the Ecosystem Marketplace, titled, “State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2007” states that “the voluntary markets are evolving rapidly. They also show that 2006 was a year of significant growth with many new retailers, brokers, and other actors entering the market. Since 2002 the number of organizations supplying Carbon Credits into the market has grown by 200%, with online retailers being the fastest growing sector of the marketplace.” This growth in the market has helped in the development of the renewable energy field and especially in reforestation.

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