Do carbon offsets work?

Carbon offsets are designed to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to help wind back the dial on warming temperatures. But do carbon offsets actually work?
August 4, 2020

This article explains how you can identify quality carbon offsets that have the best environmental impact.

What is carbon offsetting?

Although renewable energy continues to gain traction, we don’t yet have economy-wide clean energy and infrastructure. Therefore, even with significant efforts to reduce company emissions, for most organisations it is nearly impossible to cut all company carbon.

But many companies want to be accountable for their own pollution and not harm the environment.

This has led to the introduction of carbon offsets, which allow businesses to take environmental action beyond their own area of influence.

Each carbon offset you purchase equals one tonne of emissions avoided, removed or captured from the atmosphere. Carbon offset projects include reforestation, renewable energy, methane removal, energy efficiency, biodiversity conservation, biomass projects, and more.

You can use carbon offsets to ‘cancel out’ your company’s carbon emissions and go carbon neutral today. That’s how SMEs are leading the charge to carbon neutrality.

Why is carbon offsetting important

Alarming evidence now indicates that tipping points, leading to irreversible changes to the climate and ecosystems, are less than 10 years away. Drastic action to halve global carbon emissions before 2030 required to prevent ‘runaway’ climate change.

Why is carbon the problem?

Greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, helping to regulate the earth’s temperature. But over the past century, humans have disturbed the natural balances by hyper-loading the atmosphere with carbon, through the burning of fossil fuels. At the same time, we have been destroying nature’s way of regulating this (i.e trees) through deforestation and land clearing. As a consequence, the naturally occurring layer of gas around the earth, which acts as a blanket to keep in the heat, is getting too thick. This is causing excess heat to be trapped, leading to increasing temperatures.

Atomospheric C02 levels
The greenhouse effect - Global Climate Change Explorer

A new report by 11,258 scientists in 153 countries warns that the planet “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency” and that we must urgently reduce our carbon emissions.

As such, carbon offsets have quickly mainstreamed to help capture and prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Do carbon offsets work?

Is carbon offsetting the answer to climate change? Some argue that carbon offsets are a 'band-aid solution' that allows companies to continue to pollute without actually reducing their emissions.

It’s true that some companies may offset emissions without making meaningful reductions. However, in practice, this is really the case. The process of going carbon neutral usually leads to improved environmental performance and helps companies to expose and address their key environmental impacts.

More importantly, we know that even with clean energy gaining momentum, there is a huge gap that needs to be met to keep global temperatures to well below 2 degrees. Without greater investment in projects which reduce carbon in the atmosphere, it will not be possible to achieve (or come close to achieve) net zero emissions by 2050.

The right kinds of carbon offsets guarantee a quantifiable and actual reduction in greenhouse gases and therefore are crucial in the fight against climate change.

Which carbon offsets work?

Like any product in the market, there are high and low-quality offsets for sale. Thankfully, the number of dodgy offsets has diminished as most offsets follow strict international standards and are independently audited.

The Australian Standard sets out a number of integrity principles that ensure any offset used to make a carbon-neutral claim results in an actual and genuine emission reduction.

The following carbon offset units are eligible under the Australian Standard:

Among those recommended under the Australian Standard, the most stringent and high-quality offsets, as endorsed by international markets, are believed to be ‘VERs’ issued by the Gold Standard and ‘VCUs’ issued by the Verified Carbon Standard.

Why do verified carbon offsets work?

High-quality offsets share the following characteristics as set out by the Australian Standard:

  1. Additional - it must be shown that the project (and carbon removal) wouldn't otherwise occur, were it not for the carbon credit funding the project
  2. Permanent - the project must remove carbon permanently
  3. Measurable - the impact of the project must be quantifiable
  4. Transparent - monitoring must be clear and thorough
  5. Address leakage - the project can't create a material increase in emissions elsewhere
  6. Independently audited - a third party needs to verify and confirm the project's impact
  7. Registered - the carbon offset needs to be officially registered

How much do carbon offsets cost?

The cost of an offset ranges from $5 to $45 per tonne. The difference depends on the project location and type, verification body, and amount of offsets purchased.

Do Australian or international carbon offsets work better?

The best carbon offsets go further than just reducing carbon levels by also delivering other environmental, social, and economic benefits. For this reason, the location of an offset project is important.

Australia - There are a number of benefits of funding offset projects in Australia. For example, some Australian carbon offsets provide support or employment opportunities for Indigenous people to rejuvenate and conserve their land.

International - International projects have significant benefits too. Climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions. As such, there is a real need to support developing nations transition to clean, renewable energy. Additionally, certain international offsets provide vital employment opportunities and improve energy infrastructure in underdeveloped regions, helping to lift disadvantaged communities out of poverty.

¿Por qué no los dos? (why can't we have both?) - Pathzero offers verified Australian and international offsets. If you can't decide which, Pathzero allows clients to bundle projects together for a more diverse impact.

What carbon offsets does Pathzero offer?

Pathzero has partnered with South Pole to bring you a selection of verified carbon offset projects.

The following international leading certified carbon offsets are used by Pathzero:

Verified Carbon Standard and Gold Standard verifications for Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets that work

Pathzero has hand-picked the following offset projects based on their high-level impact and proven effectiveness:

  • Mount Sandy conservation - a biodiversity conservation project. Nestled between the Coorong National Park and Lake Albert in South Australia, Mount Sandy protects one of the last pockets of bush and wetlands in the region. The project brings together non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians by promoting land conservation using methods that have been employed by Traditional Custodians, the Ngarrindjeri people, for millennia.
  • Koru Wind - Located in the town of Lapseki in Turkey’s Çanakkale province, the Koru Wind Power Plant comprises 16 turbines spread across several hilltops. The project reduces Turkey’s greenhouse gas emissions, whilst also contributing to the extension of the country’s national power generation into wind power.
  • Siam Cement (Biomass to Energy) - by shifting to renewable biomass instead of fossil fuels, five Thai cement manufacturing plants can substantially reduce their carbon emissions – leading to environmental and socio-economic benefits for surrounding communities.

Each of Pathzero’s projects was chosen as they align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs intend to create a better world for people and our planet by 2030. Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the SDGs are a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the environment.

Purchase carbon offsets and go carbon neutral today

Frustrated by a lack of climate action by politicians and large businesses, small companies in Australia are stepping up and leading the charge to carbon neutrality. This inspires action within local communities and creates a ripple effect of pressure and positive change. For more information, read How can I get a carbon neutral certificate?

Companies of all sizes now realise that by failing to be accountable for their own pollution (i.e organisational carbon emissions) the company is actively choosing to harm the environment.

Pathzero allows small and medium-sized businesses to measure their emissions in minutes and go carbon neutral today. Click here to read our article on measuring your company's carbon emissions.

Purchasing carbon credits is a great way to take effective and instant climate action. Click here to get started.

Carbon offsets are now widely used by companies, governments, and individuals around the world to fight climate change. Otherwise known as ‘carbon credits’, carbon offsets are designed to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere to help wind back the dial on warming temperatures. But do carbon offsets actually work?