The most important thing one can do to lower a carbon footprint is to reduce carbon emissions at source. However, before we can cut out CO2 emissions completely, carbon offsetting is an effective tool to compensate for the remaining emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality in the long term. This occurs in two main forms
This is when national, regional or international regulatory requirements force certain actors (mainly governments or large businesses) to offset their carbon emissions. This usually comes in the form of:
- Emission trading scheme (ETS) – where businesses can trade their emission reduction credits and offset their emissions by buying verified carbon credits from the voluntary carbon market (see below)
- Carbon tax – a direct price is set on the carbon that businesses emit.
Voluntary carbon market
A range of actors (individuals, companies, public sector, non-profits) can voluntarily calculate and offset their carbon emissions by investing in projects responsible for carbon sequestration. This process is mediated by a third-party (e.g. carbon offsetting company or national government) and must be verified so the following principles are met:
- Additionality – Investment in the carbon offset project was required for its success i.e. it wouldn’t have happened anyway
- Permanence – The carbon offset project will exist in the long-term e.g. steps are in place to protect a forest so it is unlikely to burn down in the coming decades
- No leakage – The carbon offset project should not be responsible for carbon emissions to increase elsewhere, especially in the surrounding landscape.
As you can imagine, the principals listed above are difficult and complicated to achieve. Therefore, specific verification bodies (such as Verra and Gold Standard) exist to certify that each carbon credit bought equals carbon sequestered. Alternatively, as is the case in the UK Woodland Carbon Code, (see our Carbon schemes & partners involved page) the government takes the responsibility for verifying each carbon credit that is registered.