offsetting co2 emissions

Offsetting your CO2 emissions is good for the environment.

Just like when we recycle, everyone’s contribution has a great impact.

Climate change is probably our biggest problem at the moment. The enormity of our carbon footprint and the difficulty in reducing emissions is a great challenge. We know that it is very important that we cut emissions drastically and that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere must decrease in order to slow down global warming.

To achieve this we must capture carbon from the atmosphere.

At the moment we are actually heading in the opposite direction: CO2 emissions are growing dramatically.

Offsetting, like recycling, is a way to minimise the unavoidable by-products of our daily life.

A recycled glass bottle will one day become a new glass bottle. Recycling saves energy and minimises waste and it is essential for a sustainable future.

CO2 emissions work in the same way. Much of our carbon footprint is unavoidable. Let’s look at transport for example. Even when we use public transport or electric cars, this entails a carbon footprint. By offsetting these emissions through carbon capture programmes, such as tree planting and reforestation, the net impact on the environment is zero.

The net result is that we do not add to the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

Of course, offsetting can’t be used as a pretext to justify wastefulness. We must all try to minimise our carbon footprint.

The benefit of offsetting through reforestation is that it adds to the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon on an ongoing basis. Clearly the way of the future is to converge to a sustainable balance where the Earth’s capacity to absorb carbon equals our emission levels.

myths about carbon offsetting

Carbon offsetting is in its infancy. As with anything in its early stages, there are myths and misconceptions.

Our carbon footprint is becoming a mainstream topic of discussion. We still need a greater awareness of it and make it part of our lives, just like recycling.

It doesn’t help that lawmakers are one step behind and the market is still vastly unregulated. In the UK, DEFRA is in the process of drafting a quality kitemark to regulate carbon offsets, which is very much welcomed by Carbonica.

Meanwhile we adopt our own Code of Practice setting out quality requirements that are in our view over and above DEFRA’s proposed guidelines.

“carbon offsets only make you feel less guilty”

We all feel guilty about our CO2 emissions. Whether they are avoidable or unavoidable, we wish there were no environmental consequences to it.

Carbon offsets are not just a way to feel less guilty. They are in fact a counterbalance and remedy to those emissions.

If we emit 5 tonnes of CO2 per year by driving a car, offsetting these emissions means that we are paying to redress the environmental impact. Once the car is offset, these emissions will be cancelled out.

So it is not just our conscience that is relieved, there is a tangible result.

The usual counter-argument brandished in this case is that we should not use the car full stop. However often this is not an option, so the only way to compensate for those emissions is to offset them.

global warming

The evidence that global warming is a reality is compelling. Our planet’s climate is increasingly prone to extreme weather events, and there is a steady trend towards higher temperatures.

This is triggered by the excessive concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. CO2 is the by-product of burning fossil fuels. Deforestation has also diminished the planet’s capacity to recapture CO2 from the atmosphere.

The largest share of these emissions is from energy generation, especially coal-fired power stations. Other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, also contribute to the overall effect.

Our planet has its own greenhouse balance. After all, water vapour is the most abundant and important greenhouse gas. In the atmosphere it increases the temperature by about 30 °C, without which there would be no life. The cycle of water in our planet strikes a balance between the incoming heat and that which is dissipated into outer space. The heat that is trapped in our atmosphere generates weather patterns, ocean currents, and is absorbed by vegetation.

The net balance in this heat equation is zero, otherwise our planet would either warm up or cool down. Geological cycles of warmer or cooler global temperatures correspond to periods of time when the Sun’s variability altered this balance. Opacity due to volcanic eruptions is another factor too. If the Sun is going through a warmer or cooler cycle, so is our planet. As a result, there have been past periods of global warming and global cooling as part of a recurring cycle and in sync with the Sun’s temperature variations.

The excess of CO2 disturbs this balance in a way that is not cyclical. The excess heat that is trapped by CO2 is not dissipated or consumed by weather systems in the atmosphere, so it leads to a rise in global temperatures (see “predictions”). The heat excess simply accrues indefinitely.

Global warming caused by CO2 is eventually a runaway process, with warm phases are followed by warmer ones.

There are secondary effects in the process. CO2 emitted by human activity stays at a low altitude in the atmosphere for a long time. Therefore the greenhouse effect is most active at lower altitudes. The immediate consequence of this is that the atmosphere is becoming warmer at lower altitudes and cooler at higher. This gradient is the cause of a greater occurrence of extreme weather patterns.

Global warming also suffers from “feedback” effects, i.e. self-enhancing processes that reinforce it still further. One such effect is that with rising temperatures the planet’s vegetation absorbs less CO2 and therefore the greenhouse effect becomes still stronger, in turn accelerating temperature rises.

efficient offsetting

Carbon offsets must be efficient in reducing CO2 emissions. Otherwise they are not doing what is expected.

In addition, they must be measurable and verifiable.

As we mention in “what are carbon offsets?”, there are two types of carbon offsets. One is about preventing emissions (e.g. clean electricity projects) and the second about carbon capture (e.g. reforestation).

In either case, the project must be based on an accurate calculation of the CO2 emissions prevented or captured, and therefore available to offset.

The calculation must be a realistic assessment and the project must be efficient to produce meaningful amounts in a reasonable time.

For example, if the project is about generating clean electricity, it must be on a sufficiently large scale so that a meaningful amount of CO2 emissions are saved per year. By “meaningful amount” we mean a quantity that can be subdivided and sold commercially for people to be able to offset their footprint.

If a clean electricity project was going to be implemented anyway, then it is dishonest to credit it with carbon offsets. A project must be created for the purposes of carbon offsetting, otherwise it is not a true offset.

The same can be said about carbon capture programmes. Tree planting or reforestation programmes must be carried out on a sufficiently large scale to be meaningful carbon sinks. The choice of trees and location is also crucial.

Tree specimens must be chosen for their high carbon value. They must be fast-growing and they have the highest CO2 absorption rate. Also, rainforest environments in the tropics are the only viable locations for efficient carbon capture.

A tree planting project with random specimens in the wrong latitude is not a true offset because its carbon capture is too low and slow to be meaningful.

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