Carbon Offsets are a Delusion

Jul 9, 2021
Any government, corporation, industry or nation, that is relying on carbon offsets to justify claims to be “Net Zero” is relying on bogus accounting – looking at the credits whilst sweeping the debits under the carpet.

A whole industry of consultants and offset providers, aided and abetted by national governments, have hoodwinked, the public and lulled us all (and themselves) into a false sense of security.

How carbon offsets are supposed to work?

  • Someone somewhere does something ADDITIONAL that either draws down CO2 from the atmosphere, or reduces the amount of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere.
  • They can calculate the amount of CO2 drawn down, or the emission reduction achieved and can claim carbon credits to sell on carbon trading markets.
  • Emitter Industries, corporations, nations, local, state and federal governments can buy carbon credits to cancel out some or all of their emissions in their quest to achieve net zero, or promote themselves as reducing emissions, even though they are continuing to emit unchanged.
  • The higher the value of carbon credits, the more valuable the activities that mitigate emissions.  Rewarded by the sale of their carbon credits in the carbon markets, this should boost carbon mitigation activities.

So far so good!  But what does this really mean?

  • Reducing emissions is not the same thing as drawing down carbon.  When you reduce emissions, you are reducing harm that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place, but when you drawdown carbon from the atmosphere, through forestry or carbon drawdown agriculture you are actually taking carbon out of the atmosphere.  Arguably only carbon drawdown should be eligible for credits?
  • Carbon offset programmes are more or less credible in the ways that they account eligible carbon credits.  Carbon price defaults to the cheapest (often least credible) carbon mitigation.  There are proprietary carbon markets, national markets, regional markets and the international market mediated by the UN Kyoto emissions trading standards.  https://unfccc.int/process/the-kyoto-protocol/mechanisms/emissions-trading
  • Regardless of the quality of the programme, carbon trading is still flawed!

Looking at the CO2 going into the atmosphere:

Without carbon offsets:

  • A newly seeded forest or a farm switching to carbon drawdown agriculture will capture carbon from the atmosphere as the trees grow and as soil carbon increases.  Carbon is sequestered in the timber being grown or into agricultural soils.  The forest and farm are reducing their impact on dangerous climate change.  A CREDIT to the planet!
  • A carbon emitter that reduces its emissions, reduces its harm to dangerous climate change.  A CREDIT to the planet!
  • The emitting industries, corporations, nations, local, state and federal governments continue to emit CO2.  A PROBLEM to the planet!

With carbon offsets:

  • The forest or farm sells carbon credits to the carbon market now owns the carbon emissions made by the emitter that bought their credits. On their carbon balance sheet, their forest is no longer sequestering carbon, their emissions reductions have no longer occurred.  Their CREDIT to the planet is cancelled by their DEBIT.
  • The carbon emitter that reduces its emissions, sells its emission reductions to the carbon market. CREDIT SOLD, no emissions reduction, NO CREDIT to the planet!
  • The emitting industries, corporations, nations, local, state and federal governments that contribute to dangerous climate change continue to emit, but have purchased (at bargain prices) the right to offset/PRETEND that they are no longer emitting.

With or without carbon trading, exactly the same emissions have occurred – the only difference is who gets to claim the emissions reduction.  The purchaser of carbon credits has done nothing more than bought the right to lie about their emissions. Carbon trades and offsets are a dangerous delusion!

But what about the timber produced by the forester?  Normally timber is considered an especially environmentally friendly product because of its sequestered carbon.  However, if the sequestered carbon has been sold off in a carbon trade, the timber can no longer claim sequestered carbon – it is carbon neutral, so no longer particularly beneficial environmentally.  BUT this is routinely ignored, the forester selling carbon credits AND claiming that the timber has sequestered carbon is double counting the CREDIT.

Why does this all matter so much?

Firstly, it matters because:

·        Nation states are to varying degrees depending on carbon credits in the international carbon market to claim emissions reductions against their climate accord commitments. https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/NDCStaging/Pages/All.aspx .  (Nation states failed to resolve how to implement Article 6 “Delivering Climate Ambition Through Market Mechanisms” – the carbon offsets clause of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at COP25 in Paris. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/openps-2019-0012/html). UN policy should not be relying on such a fundamentally flawed mechanism.

  • Federal, State and Local governments are also basing their policies and activities substantially on carbon trading and offsets.  Politicians are spruiking their achievements based on the same flawed mechanism.  In Australia, the Coalition’s (Tony Abbott’s) Emissions Reduction Fund is completely based on carbon offsets and trading. https://www.industry.gov.au/funding-and-incentives/emissions-reduction-fund
  • Corporations and industry sectors are greenwashing their products based on the same flawed mechanism and whole supply chains and perceptions of Green products are therefore distorted.

Secondly, it matters because we can’t delude ourselves about emission reductions any longer.  Whilst it may have been legitimate 30years ago to use carbon markets to motivate the cheapest carbon reductions, by trading between opportunity sectors for drawdown or efficiency improvement, it is no longer a valid strategy.  For our children and grandchildren to have a survivable future, we NEED:

  • Every home, industry, business, government to genuinely eliminate emissions without cheating by 2030 (not 2040 or 2050 when the remaining 6 of 15 compounding climate feedback mechanisms get triggered) https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252;
  • AND we need every scrap of viable agricultural land to adopt carbon draw-down, drought resilient agriculture;
  • AND we need every remaining scrap of viable land to be reafforested;
  • AND this is STILL not enough to get back to safe CO2 emission levels, because there simply isn’t enough viable land for afforestation or agricultural land to adopt carbon draw-down farming.  So, we will STILL need dangerously risky geoengineering to manipulate global climate within safe levels.

So, there is no longer any justifiable trade of carbon credits between any of these activities – ALL are needed for a survivable future and with extreme urgency!

Carbon trading and offsets are no longer justifiable and must be rejected by every level of government and internationally – all else is dangerously delusional for what we need to do urgently to provide our children and grandchildren with a survivable future.

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