Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Carbon Offsets: Development, Reccomendations and Warnings

I have commented on carbon offsets several times before. I currently have no problem with the use of carbon offsets if they work.

Perhaps that sounds obvious but many greens seem to be weary, not only for practical reasons--and there are a lot of dodgy services out there--but for a whole range of other reasons that i wont venture into here.

If you want to buy a carbon offset then they key desire is for the offset to be genuine, secondary issues such as the affect of the offset on local people and ecosystems are also important.

My Personal Recommendation: MyClimate (Via Sustainable Travel Intnl)

1. Is one tone of emissions reduction actually one tone?
  • Additionality: Is the project being used to claim reductions only happening due to your funding?
If afforestation is used in your carbon offsets you have the added issues of:
  • Permanence: You have to be sure that the carbon will remain 'locked up'.
  • Leakage: Are you sure that new trees won't push farmers onto new land such as old forest which will invalidate the project?
2. Are the projects that you are funding environmentally and socially benign?
A couple of good reports on carbon offsets: Exploring the Market for Voluntary Carbon Offsets and Voluntary Offsets for Air Travel Emissions (Tufts Univ.)
Key Points:
  • Caution is advised, regulation is likely to come into place in the coming years but the industry is at a very early stage.
  • Additionality and permanence are virtually impossible to grantee for forestry projects as the effects of climate change on forests are unclear.
  • In terms of transparency and rigour, offsets coming out of the NSW forestry projects are amongst the best around. Carbon Planet uses credits from these sources. In terms of benefits to biodiversity TreeFlights is one of the best companies around; it is arguable that it might be worth buying e.g twice the emissions offsets from organisations like these to ensure that you are truly carbon neutral as well as supporting reforestation with diverse native species.
  • To be guaranteed real and permanent carbon offsets, the best option may well be to avoid sequestration and use projects that involve sustainable development and energy efficiency in the developing world. MyClimate carries out such projects, descriptions of its projects here.
A little more information about MyClimate

Quote from Tufts University Report:

"Despite the high price of their offsets, myclimate’s high project standards, its transparency and good calculator makes it an excellent choice for offsetting air travel emissions."
From Report By REEP:

MyClimate (Switzerland), an NGO founded in 2002 as a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Switzerland), offers offsets for air travel and advisory services on carbon management, project development, and environmental communication.

Its target
markets include individuals, travel agencies, and companies. Projects meet CDM criteria and follow Gold Standard guidelines; however, the projects are too small to meet the transaction costs necessary to register under CDM.

MyClimate invests only in renewable energy or energy efficiency projects in developing countries, but specifically states that it does not support forestry sinks projects due to the risk that the carbon might be released back into the atmosphere in the long term. Projects include solar power water heaters in Eritrea and Costa Rica, biomass in India, and methane to sewage in South Africa. Local sustainable development and strict additionality rules are claimed to be foremost priorities for MyClimate. A ‘team of experts’ from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology is responsible for verifying the projects.

The cost to the customer is EUR 7 / 1000 km for shorthaul flights and EUR 4.5/ 1000 km for long-haul flights, roughly yielding EUR 23/tCO2e.
UK Environmental Audit Committe launch enquiry into offseting.

Who has written on this before (other green blogs): WorldChanging, Grist, Treehugger

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At 9:53 PM, Blogger Dave Sag said...

Hi Calvin, Thanks for saying such nice things about us. But you neglected to link to Carbon Planet in the body of your text so I thought I'd add this comment. You are right in that we do have a forestry focus, but we are expanding our carbon credit offerings as we source credits that meet the high standards of the NGAC scheme.

There are two big problems as I see it. 1) is we already have too much CO2 in the air and 2) we are emitting too much CO2 still. Properly managed forestry and other sequestration projects address problem 1, wheras energy reduction credits affect problem 2. Both problems need to be addressed in my opinion to be effective. Luckily it's not a case of one or the other, people are free to share the love around as it were.


Dave Sag - CEO Carbon Planet and writer of Carbon Footprints.


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