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Mythbusting carbon offsetting

Target Neutral’s Global Director, Andrea Abrahams answers some common questions about carbon offsetting and dispels a few myths along the way.

 

 

One of the things I really enjoy about my job is the opportunity it brings each day to speak to different people about the important role carbon offsetting can play in tackling emissions. That also means being prepared to answer some of the concerns that people raise when they are thinking about offsetting - either for themselves or their business. These are some of the questions that come up on a regular basis – and I hope the following provides some answers.”Andrea Abrahams

 

Andrea Abrahams

Q1. Why should I bother tackling my individual carbon footprint when some countries continue to build new coal-fired power stations?

 

This is an important question for many people. The simple answer is that tackling growing levels of greenhouse gas emissions requires action by everyone and there is a lot going on. The governments of 185 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement – signalling their commitment to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future1. In the UK the average carbon emissions per person is around 6 tonnes2. If every one of the 67million people living in the UK reduced their emissions by 1 tonne that would be the equivalent of removing all current residential or business emissions (both stand at around 65mtCO2e per year3). This just needs a few small differences by making lower carbon choices every day to help the world onto a sustainable path and carbon offsetting is just one of those choices.  

Q2.  But am I really helping by offsetting my own carbon footprint?

 

Yes. You are helping in several ways. Purchasing carbon offsets means you are supporting real projects that reduce or avoid carbon while also enabling a range of social, economic and environmental benefits often among some of the poorest people in the world. And by undertaking carbon offsetting as part of a personal effort to reduce emissions from your own activities such as through lower carbon ways to heat and light your home or how you travel means you can have an even greater impact.

Q3. But doesn’t offsetting simply encourage people to keep on polluting by easing their guilt about high carbon activities like flying?

 

In the specific case of emissions from flying, everyone has a role to play. The aviation industry has committed to reducing net carbon emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels through improved technology, more efficient aircraft operations, improvements to infrastructure and carbon offsetting. One new technology which BP has backed - and comes into production next year in the US - involves transforming household waste into renewable biofuel with around 80% fewer lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than traditional transportation fuels. That’s an important step.  Seeking out alternative forms of travel where feasible, using communications technologies, and combining this with carbon offsetting are all part of a sensible approach that is about real action to reduce impacts rather than easing guilt!

Q4. How can I be sure the carbon offsets I purchase will genuinely reduce carbon emissions? 

 

This is a common question which is often accompanied by a concern that the carbon reduction might only be temporary or have simply shifted to somewhere else. Carbon offsetting has been around for more than 25 years now since the UN ratified the Kyoto Treaty – so we have learnt a lot about how to measure, verify and regulate the industry.  It is important that you check that the offsets you pay for come from vendors who fully comply with the requirements of industry body ICROA’s Code of Best Practice.  This means that offset projects have been independently verified against the approved international standards set out in the Code such as the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), Gold Standard or the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These standards provide a methodology framework, independent verification process and registry to ensure emissions reductions are real, additional (i.e. that they would not have happened without the project), permanent and unique. BP Target Neutral adopts all of these standards, providing you the guarantee of best-in-class.

Q5. How do you know if a particular carbon offset project goes further and also delivers social and economic benefits to local people?

 

We only shortlist projects that have met the requirements of the ICROA Code. Once on the shortlist, our Project Selection Forum carefully assesses its robustness and ability to deliver socio-economic and environmental benefits based on their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Our Forum comprises representatives from independent Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who are involved in the voluntary carbon offsetting sector. Finally, we visit each project to assure ourselves that the carbon accounting work of the auditors is of the highest quality and to examine aspects outside the auditors’ scope such as human rights, health and safety or other issues that might involve reputational risk. By visiting project sites, our staff can also assess the various socio-economic benefits that accrue to local communities. These range from creating long term employment, better energy security, and improving local infrastructure, skills, training and knowledge transfer that supports local low carbon growth agendas.

Q6. What do you personally do to tackle your carbon footprint?

 

This is perhaps the most important question of all – and one we all should be prepared to answer – whether we’re a government, a business or an individual. I have reduced the amount of red meat I eat, not so easy but I’m persevering and I’m looking at an EV for my next car. The price of EVs is starting to come down and there are more and more charging points so it’s becoming an easier switch to make. I offset my personal travel as well through our BP Target Neutral programme which provides the quality assurance on the offsets.