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In the fight against climate change, we all must take responsibility for our actions.

What is carbon offsetting, and does it work?

Countries can pay to fund emission reductions in another country to help reach its own emissions reductions targets

If you love to travel, but are very aware of the impact that flying has on the environment, you’ve probably heard of carbon offsetting. You might even have paid for it.

But it’s not just airlines that offer this on a small scale to passengers. There’s a bigger, global scale that might have crucial impact on climate change. Here’s why it matters, and how it works.

What is offsetting and why is it a tricky topic?

Carbon offsetting allows a country to help reach its own emissions reduction targets by funding emission reductions in another country. Companies are also increasingly using carbon credits to offset their emissions.

The first major offsetting scheme, the UN’s clean development mechanism (CDM), was set up under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, in which 190 countries agreed on country-by-country emission reduction targets.

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The scheme was designed to help fund emission reduction projects in developing countries, while also providing offset credits to the developed world to help meet its Kyoto targets.


Negotiators in Madrid, at this month’s COP25 summit, are set to discuss what kind of offsets, if any, should be used to meet the targets set out in the 2015 Paris agreement and how they should be monitored, following some cases where emissions cuts did not materialise.

The issue of which country claims the emission reduction will also need to be thrashed out, to avoid double counting.

What kind of projects qualify?

Carbon offset schemes cover all greenhouse gases but are measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent and can be awarded carbon credits.

More than 8,100 projects in 111 countries have registered with the CDM scheme, which has handed out over 2 billion carbon credits, called Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), representing 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide reduction.

Projects registered under the scheme range from capturing and using methane gases in pig manure to create electricity, to replacing traditional wood- and coal-burning stoves with cleaner alternatives such as ethanol. Offsets can be bought by individuals, companies or countries.

What about carbon sinks?

Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) allows developing nations to earn carbon credits, which they can sell, when they reduce deforestation and degradation or conserve, rehabilitate and replant forests.

To qualify, carbon credits from REDD+ projects must be approved by the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Do they work?

Supporters say offsetting can channel much-needed climate finance to developing countries.

Critics say offsetting emissions reduces incentives for the drastic emissions cuts needed to slow global warming and does not always bring the intended benefits; for instance, new trees may not grow as quickly as promised.

This article was curated by Young Post. Better Life is the ultimate resource for enhancing your personal and professional life.