Carbon offsetting offers a realistic solution

The minister for climate change Ian Pearson argues that a well-regulated carbon offsetting scheme will allow consumers the choice of offsetting their emissions, enabling individuals to reduce their environmental impact.

For businesses and individuals – and government departments – offsetting is becoming a regular activity for those who are concerned about their impact on the environment. Offsetting has a valuable role to play in fighting climate change, as a way of compensating for the emissions produced with an equivalent carbon saving, lessening the impact of a consumer’s actions.

It isn’t a magic solution, and it certainly isn’t the first thing people should do. That must be to reduce emissions as much as possible by saving energy and considering transport choices. But some emissions can’t or won’t be avoided, and we need to be realistic about this. People are not going to simply stop flying, or driving, or using electronic goods, and that’s where offsetting has a role to play. It isn’t a question of choosing either to reduce or to offset – the two stand side by side.

We are consulting on a plan to raise standards in the offsetting industry. People want to be sure that the way they offset actually is contributing to an overall reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions.

The voluntary government standard and associated code of practice will help to provide that certainty and give people and businesses enough clarity to make informed choices when they are choosing how to offset their emissions. A quality mark will be introduced, to enable people to check before they buy an offset product to see whether it conforms to the best practice standard.

Our proposed standard is based on the use of certified credits from the established Kyoto market, through sources such the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These credits are backed by an international framework and institutions, to ensure that real emission reductions take place, as well as providing a clear audit trail. It’s the highest available standard for offsetting emissions that currently exists.

Existing schemes, using voluntary emission reductions, have helped to blaze a trail – but in a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse market, consumers need clarity and they want to be able to recognise products that are of the highest possible standard.

The Clean Development Mechanism reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, contributes to sustainable development and helps developing countries gain access to investment and cleaner technologies, in the areas that lack them the most. These projects must also reduce emissions over and above those that would have occurred without the project. About half of all CDM projects are small-scale projects, and that number is increasing.

There are already projects, as part of the CDM, that are succeeding in avoiding emissions, such as landfill gas projects in Argentina, small-scale hydroelectricity projects in Fiji in areas where reliable employment is scarce and the only electricity before the project came from diesel-fuelled generators, and a series of projects in Mexico that generate electricity from the methane created by waste from piggeries.

This is one of a number of ways in which the government is helping people get the information they need to make informed choices about their interaction with the environment.

No one is suggesting that offsetting is the only thing we need to tackle climate change. However when it is done effectively, it can reduce the impact of our actions and has an important role to play in the global fight against climate change.