Carbon offsetting is truly a scammer’s dream scheme.
It’s a bookkeeping trick intended to obscure climate wrecking-emissions. It’s tree planting window dressing aimed at distracting from ecosystem destruction.
It is the next big thing in greenwashing — and we must not be fooled.
The climate crisis is real, and we all need real solutions
Meanwhile, the fraud of carbon offsetting is built upon many of the hallmarks of a classic con:
- Greed drives it — Big Oil and corporate polluters want to keep putting profits over people and the planet.
- It feigns compassion — The same climate villains want to publicly appear to be taking climate action to help their image. It’s total greenwashing.
- It preys on fear — With climate impacts already increasing worldwide, we are all afraid of experiencing the worst-case climate scenarios.
- It takes advantage of uncertainty — Climate denial and misinformation bankrolled by Big Oil has intentionally fostered unnecessary and counterproductive confusion despite the science being clear that we urgently need to drastically reduce carbon emissions in order to stay on track for the Paris Agreement 1.5°C warming limit.
We need real solutions, we need to get emissions down to real zero without being distracted or derailed by offsets and so-called “net zero.”
To set the record straight, let’s break down why carbon offsetting is a false solution to the climate crisis and how it is used for greenwashing by those who want to keep polluting and profiting.
What is offsetting?
Carbon offsetting is a licence to keep polluting, and distracts us all from the real work of cutting emissions. It is where companies and governments try to meet their carbon reduction targets while still emitting carbon.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you run a coal-fired power station. The coal you burn and the CO2 you emit goes into the atmosphere and heats our world. That is incontrovertible. But offsetting then encourages you to point at a forest and say, “I’m paying for those trees not to be burned so now we’re even.” Of course, this does nothing whatsoever to change the fact that the CO2 from your coal plant is now warming the atmosphere — it just lets you show a balance on paper.
Uncover polluters’ offsetting scams
Offsets emit injustice
There is a reason that Indigenous Environmental Network and Indigenous Climate Action held a protest against offsetting at COP26, the UN’s annual climate conference: Offsetting incentivises the commodification of nature and allows powerful corporations to take over the lands of vulnerable communities, risking human rights abuses. Offset schemes often exclude local and Indigenous Peoples from land management practises that allow them to grow food and preserve biodiversity.
Carbon offsets put a price on nature. We cannot allow the richest nations and corporations to commodify nature, and buy off lands in poorer countries for offsets, so they can keep polluting the atmosphere. Nature-based offsetting projects distort economies and take land and resources away from the local communities that need it most. Nature should remain off limits to corporate control for climate offsets.
Offsets distract us from the climate actions we need
Sure, we know that offsetting is bad for people and for the planet. But, it gets worse actually.
On top of the damage it enables, offsetting also distracts us from needed climate action. It gives the false impression that there’s a way out of the crisis without every government and business cutting their own emissions which leads to delaying or dampening ambition to do the real work.
We can’t afford that. We’re already way behind where we need to be.
Say NO to offsets and ‘Net Zero’
You’ve probably heard some company or organization throw out a Net Zero emissions pledge. These are the other side of the counterfeit offsetting coin. Basically, Net Zero is what you “achieve” by pretending that you can balance out continued emissions from burning coal by protecting a forest or planting trees.
Net Zero pledges also assume that there are no limits to compensate one’s own emissions with reductions or increased carbon removal elsewhere. They ignore the fact that plants need time to grow, whilst cutting fossil fuel emissions has immediate results. They assume that adding up all Net Zero pledges would get us to the 2050 vision of globally not emitting more carbon than can be reabsorbed. But it won’t.
Net Zero is good enough for greenwashing but not what the planet needs.
Instead of Net Zero, Greenpeace wants governments to be aiming for ‘Real Zero’ emissions.
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This is all clearly bad. Why does anyone want this?
Offsetting and the Net Zero approach are popular because they allow carbon emitters to keep on emitting while masquerading as green. They can also be cheaper than paying fines for missing emissions reduction targets. Voluntary ‘carbon credits’ from schemes investing in forest protection or restoration can be bought for less than $10/tCO2. For example, when a European power plant fails to comply with its mandatory emissions reductions targets, it needs to pay more than 5 times.
Wait, so why are they talking about offsets at COP26?
Unfortunately, offsets and carbon markets landed on the agenda for COP26. These discussions threaten to swamp the negotiations, leaving little room for more urgent agreements on climate finance and commitments to phase out fossil fuels.
Those who want to pretend that offsetting isn’t a scam point to Article 6 of 2015’s Paris Agreement for justification. Article 6 is only nine paragraphs long but conflicting interpretations threaten to open the door for climate distractions instead of climate actions.
Greenpeace interprets Article 6 as promoting cooperation between countries to slash emissions. But most countries and industries say Article 6 should give a green light to the creation of a global market in carbon offsets. That would be bad.
Offsetting is a dangerous scam, it doesn’t work and expanding it will just delay real action.
Gee, do ya think carbon offset credits is a scam? Europe knows it is. Do ya think Michael Mann and his hockey stick is a fraud? Anyone who reads the Climategate E-mails knows he's a crook and if Greenpeace spreads Mann's fraudulent hockey stick propaganda you are crooks too. The CO2 global warming hoax will go down the drain the same way Lysenkoism did. Obama now has 2 ocean-side homes totaling 30 million dollars. Now that's someone who believes in decreasing his carbon footprint. Gore now has 3 energy wasting mansions and I'm supposed to decrease my carbon footprint for these hypocritical clowns? But the whole CO2 global warming thing is a scam with big money pay-offs under the table all over the place , right? I know, you will say I'm being paid by the oil companies to be a "denier". Will you let the oil companies know I'm waiting for my first check. It's not fair that everyone is cashing in on this scam but me.
I completely agree with you
Carbon credits are a scam, designed to make money not save the planet. A Macadamia farm in Queensland Australia has mulched its tree off cuts and waste and returned them to the soil around its Macadamia trees. Good farming practice, increases output and is very commendable. However this also gives the farm $500,000 worth of carbon offsets EVERY year, which can be sold to carbon polluters to continue to pollute, all very well in practice, but who has assessed that this farm has earnt these credits in the first place and what are the certifiers credentials. Wouldn’t you think that these people would do the right thing for the planets sake, and not expect to receive $500,000 every year for what is essentially good farming practice, what hope has our planet.
You believe in the IPCC’s AGW sham based on only ~10,000 years of data. The most potent greenhouse gas [and shield] is H2O, not CO2, H4C, SO2, NO2, etc. The temperature rate between 1859 and today is identical to the 100,000-year interglacial with warm periods between 4,000 and 20,000 years. Most scientists who believe AGW aren’t climate scientists and the majority of the latter hold no position (Popular Technology).
CO2 data from ice cores goes back 800,000 years. At time of 100,000-year interglacial CO2 = 270ppm (never been above this level) Today CO2 = 408ppm Which oil company funds your work alysdexia?
Plant life dies at 150ppm. The planet went as low at 180ppm 20,000 years ago. CO2 is plant food. We're barely struggling out of the plant food deficit that nearly eliminated all life of Earth.
There are good offsets and bad offsets. It is not black and white. I can buy offsets from some corrupt developing country with very poor due diligence, based on destruction of refrigerants (which should of course happen anyway). Or I can support wonderful UK based tree planting under rigorous schemes such as The Woodland Carbon Code. If you like trees. Then good quality tree planting offset should not offend you!
You might want to check those UK carbon offsets. Most end up as biodiversity hell hole sitka plantations, that are grown due to speed of growth to suitable lumber. Lumber which can end up as biomas for power plants. So offsetting for only a decade or so, damaging local biodiversity and emitting that carbon anyway.
If you look at "The Woodland Carbon Code" you'll see what I mean. It's designed by people from UK Forestry Commissions, and uses an independent registry system where you can see where and how much. I know a few projects that are registered and none of these are mono culture, with most incorporating mix of native species. Just like any type of shopping, if you are buying, there are ethical choices to be made.
Sadly one-sided view. Planting forests and trees, halting deforestation, supporting afforestation, protecting mangroves and peat soils, carbon capture in land, restoring eco-systems and degraded land are all indisputably proven carbon benefits. The maths of counting carbon add-in per tree/hectare is pretty accurate. Of course number one priority is to de-carbonise the world economy fast. Second there ain't enough trees to go around for all the offset promises made i.e. again yes we need to decarbonise above all and bloody quickly too. Third there's offset and offset: poor quality and damaging for the many reasons made here (and more) but there's plenty of great projects well managed, poverty reducing, respectful of indigenous rights and supporting bio-diversity. Fourth of course there's a hell of a lot of opportunity for greenwash, not least fuel companies increasing capacity and then "offsetting" as per example. BUT beyond that for individuals and companies that aren't in charge of how the economy is fueled and that at worst are passive by-standers in the system, good offsets is a reasonable effort and commitment to make. And at this point almost every expert agrees nature based solutions ARE needed, the earth provides sinks versus the sources of carbon and YES the next 20-30 years are crucial because we are looking at an upward line (of global warming) on a chart which needs to slow and come down and trees have their best impact in the next 20-30 years so we should be doing massive planting globally. Trees incidentally also provide biodiversity and wellbeing advantages. Finally they're accessible and positive - for people who don't block roads or demonstrate it's a great way-in to an understanding of environmentalism and global warming. Given that understanding, in spite of all the coverage, is still pretty poor and Co2 very low on the individual's reasons to choose a politician - when they're allowed to - we need everyone on-board. Tree planting is an entry point so by all means point out greenwashing and the pre-eminent importance of reducing carbon rather than getting off with credits BUT don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Good words. I agree.
Totally agree with Charles. A balanced view - not just black and white. At the very least carbon offsetting raises awareness even if the benefits fall far short of what its protagonists claim. Time is short and we need to run fast but that still means taking one step at a time rather than expecting a magical giant leap.
run fast: ocsymòron rather than run swiftly