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‘Carbon offsets’ divert action from reducing emissions

24th June, 2009

‘Carbon offsets’ are already being used as a means to ‘meet’ reduction targets for carbon (CO2; carbon dioxide). There are threats of an increased in use of offsets, arising from the climate talks at Copenhagen in Dec 09. 

Offsets are a system whereby a country, usually a developed and highly polluting one, does not directly reduce its emissions as required by its target. Instead, it invests in reducing emissions elsewhere, usually in a poorer and less polluting country.

It is claimed that offsetting is as effective in reducing emissions worldwide as reducing one’s own emissions. In reality, this is far from the truth.

A report has been published by Friends of the Earth called ‘A dangerous distraction: Why offsetting is failing the climate and people: the evidence. ‘

The introduction to the report follows, with a link to the full report.

While the report deals with carbon emissions from all sources, the issue of offsetting is especially pertinent to aviation. Because of its uniquely rapid growth, offsetting is being seen by some as a way of aviation avoiding action in reducing its emissions.

Negotiations to prevent dangerous climate change are moving painfully slowly, despite the science demanding urgent carbon cuts. Developed countries are reluctant to set themselves reduction targets consistent with what the science demands and provide necessary financial flows to developing countries. To compound this failure, they are also seeking to continue and extend the use of offsetting.

This report provides the evidence to show that offsetting does not work and will not work. Offsetting does not lead to promised additional emissions cuts in developing countries; it delays essential structural change in developed-country economies; and it institutionalises the idea of cuts in either the north or the south, when science demands reductions in both.

As importantly, the report reveals the inequalities of the offset approach – an approach that allows people in rich countries to carry on polluting while requiring unfair reductions in developing countries.

Offsetting is now a dangerous distraction. Negotiators must recognise that it does not work, will not work and that it must be scrapped. Instead the world needs developed countries to cut their own emissions first and fast and pay up for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. This course of action is not a threat to the well-being of people in developed countries; it is a vital step towards new jobs, new industries, a healthier global economy and a safer and more just world.

“Negotiators must recognise that offsetting does not work, will not work and that it must be scrapped.”

Full report (PDF – 32 pages; 880 kbytes)