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In the News

Is carbon offsetting a model with dangerous flaws?

Graham Watson

27th January 2023

There's nothing more painful than watching closely held opinions being challenged. But this Guardian article suggests that the carbon offsetting market is fundamentally flawed. Who would have thought it?

It's always struck me that policing all the claims made in relation to carbon offsetting, use of palm oil and so on could be utterly spurious given that the claims of big business are only subject to scrutiny by non-profit organisations.

You might be unsurprised to learn that I've never paid for the offsetting of carbon emissions when flying for precisely this reason. That and the free rider problem.

What is carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is a way to balance out the carbon emissions that you produce by funding projects or activities that reduce or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This can include things like planting trees, investing in renewable energy, or implementing energy-efficient technologies.

The idea is that by offsetting your carbon emissions, you can neutralize the impact of your own carbon footprint and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Criticisms of carbon offsetting

  1. Additionality: One criticism of carbon offsetting is that the projects or activities that are being funded may have been going to happen anyway, regardless of the funding. This is known as "additionality," and it raises questions about whether the carbon offsetting is truly making a difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Leakage: Another criticism is that carbon offsetting projects can lead to "leakage," which means that emissions may be reduced in one area, but they may increase in another area as a result. For example, if a carbon offsetting project shuts down a coal-fired power plant, but that power is replaced by a new coal-fired power plant in another location, the overall emissions may not have been reduced.
  3. Transparency: Carbon offsetting can be complex, and it can be difficult for consumers and organizations to know whether the projects they are funding are truly effective in reducing emissions. This can lead to a lack of transparency and accountability, which can make it hard for people to trust that their carbon offsetting investments are making a real impact.

These are a few examples of the criticisms of carbon offsetting, but it's important to note that carbon offsetting can be a valuable tool in the fight against climate change when it is done properly and with transparency.

Graham Watson

Graham Watson has taught Economics for over twenty years. He contributes to tutor2u, reads voraciously and is interested in all aspects of Teaching and Learning.

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