Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a crucial term for companies with carbon emissions. In simple words, it is a distraction placed by companies to avoid the reality of their actions. Carbon offsetting is a

theoretical concept wherein carbon emissions cancelled by the planting of trees. The practicality of this theory is far from the fairy tale. 

Though the hypothesis makes sense, various factors exist that don’t go hand in hand with helping the environment. 

What factors break the theory?

  • Loss of habitat for tribals, wildlife and plants.
  • Unstoppable deforestation.
  • The decline of forest cover.
  • Never-ending emission of carbon at the same or more in quantity.

What do companies do for diversion?

  • Invest in forest prevention projects.
  • Invest in projects that store or reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
  • Invest in plant tree projects.
  • Projects to reduce fossil fuels that cause Global Warming.

According to a recent joint investigation conducted by The Guardian and Unearthed Greenspace, revelations stating that even the mere carbon offsetting of influential airline companies is flawed and nowhere near “carbon-neutral flying”. 

Verra is a US non-profit that governs the world’s leading carbon credit standards using Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). Administering projects that help reduce carbon by checking if the project didn’t exist, how much damage would’ve occurred? Convert the difference into carbon credits. These carbon credits then sold to companies that need to meet a specific range of credits based on their carbon emissions.

When they examined ten forest protection projects that airlines used pre-pandemic, shocking facts came to light. The predictions of damage that could’ve happened without the project were discrepant with the previous data. The compensation was more than slightly overestimated.

Moreover, predicting which trees most likely would get knocked down in the future and as a whole how efficient the project is in making a difference should’ve played a vital role. 

Verra has denied all the findings against its “phantom carbon credits”. A scientist and project auditor Thales West stated that the techniques are not “robust” enough. It could imply that the project does not affect reducing climate change. 

Gold Standard, an organisation similar to Verra, certifies carbon credits. However, the CEO of the company Margaret Kim says that they don’t accredit REDD+ projects.

What are REDD+ projects?

  • REDD+ (Reduce Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a scheme to help forest owners protect nature. 
  • It’s a fact that the world’s most dense forests happen to be in developing countries. Due to several aspects, it is tempting for them to exploit these forests and gain a lot. 
  • To stop that from happening, REDD+ allows forest owners to raise money for preserving it by calculating the value of the carbon sink; a particular system assigns carbon credits. 

Why does Gold Standard not certify REDD+ projects?

  • Despite the efforts, black sheep activities do take place in these forests that manipulate the result. 
  • Margaret Kim says, “A project can cherrypick proxy areas. So a reference region set up can be most convenient to a project to maximise its baseline deforestation rate”.

Verra, a certifier of REDD+ projects, pointed out the positive side of the “flawed” scheme. They said that these projects provide financial, technological, and economic support that otherwise would’ve lacked in those rural areas. They mentioned how this would provide a source of income to deviate from the thought of exploiting the forests. 

Companies with carbon emissions like airlines take advantage of the flawed system with no robust and a single internationally accepted system to regulate forest protection projects. They take up an unchecked small-scale forest protection project, commonly use Verra as the source of carbon credits and give NGOs money for preserving nature. 

Though the carbon offset market was small till 2019, the last couple of years has seen an incredible spike calling for a strict check on the system. 

There were six airlines under fire, including British Airways and EasyJet. In response to the accusation, respective parties addressed the issue. 

Verra stated that the Guardian did not understand how their methods work, the investigation is flawed.

British Airways said they are committed to net zero emissions by 2050; offsetting is an essential piece of their near-term plan and fossil fuel alternative in progress. 

EasyJet brushed it away as a temporary measure while a permanent solution is on the way.

Leo Murray, an environmentalist, said that “A carbon-neutral flight is just a comforting fiction”.

Written By: M. Likhitha

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