greenhouse gas emissions

Businesses relying on carbon offsets to avoid cutting emissions

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Carbon offsets are being used by firms to mask insufficient efforts to eliminate their own emissions, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has said.

The global market for voluntary carbon offsets – which are the removal of emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere – has grown rapidly in recent years.

But in a new report, the CCC said that offsets often deliver fewer benefits than claimed, and they may discourage out other environmental objectives in the rush to capture carbon.

It looked at the evidence on the impact of voluntary carbon markets and offsetting and suggested that stronger governance to ensure high-integrity carbon credits was needed alongside clearer guidance for businesses to encourage them to cut their own emissions before turning to offsets.

“Businesses want to do the right thing and it’s heartening to see so many firms aiming for early net-zero dates,” said Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, which is a statutory body set up to advise the UK and devolved governments.

“But poor-quality offsets are crowding out high-integrity ones. Businesses face confusion over the right approach to take. There is a clear need for government to make standards stronger and point businesses towards an approach that prioritises real emissions reduction ahead of offsetting. Those businesses that choose to support the economy-wide transition to net-zero should get the credit they deserve.”

While many businesses have named ambitious dates for reaching ‘net zero’, achieving them through an over-reliance on offsets is undermining the economy-wide transition, the CCC added.

It wants the government to make a clearer definition of a ‘net zero business’ in the UK to help them pursue a strategy that complements the national targets. A business or organisation should only be considered to be net zero when it has reduced its emissions as far as possible to be at or close to zero and permanently removed CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for any remaining emissions, the CCC said.

Other environmental regulations such as the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code should be bolstered to direct private investment towards new forestry and peatland restoration, which are two of the largest policy gaps in the government’s current Net Zero Strategy, it added.

A study from Bangor University last year found that the UK’s efforts to tackle carbon could be undermined if it did not restore its carbon-rich peatlands.

The CCC suggested that voluntary carbon markets could also help to pay for nature recovery or more permanent forms of ‘engineered’ greenhouse gas removal technologies, but prices would need to increase considerably to be effective and it’s unlikely that offsets alone can fill the funding gap.

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