Only a further 420 billion tonnes of CO2 can be released into the atmosphere globally if the average increase in global temperature is to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The current global emissions of 42 billion tonnes of CO2 every year blows this ‘carbon budget’ in only 10 years. Unavoidable emissions of CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere as fast as they are added.
What can I do?
I started by measuring my carbon footprint using one of the simple free online calculators. Try carboncalculator.com or carbonfootprint.com or the WWF Footprint Calculator. More transparent and simple calculators can be easily devised yourself using the comprehensive official conversion factors for greenhouse gas emissions that are updated annually.
I looked at the IEMA greenhouse gas management hierarchy: eliminate, reduce, substitute and finally compensate (by offsetting or buying carbon credits). I changed to an energy supplier that provides 100% community-generated green electricity and fully offsets the gas they supply. I stopped using coal for the open fire and buy well-dried logs from a local supplier. Changing the petrol car for an electric vehicle will be much easier to do than replacing the gas-fired central heating, but both are going to have to be done at some point. My unavoidable CO2 emissions that can’t be dealt with at the moment will need to be offset annually.
Offsetting unavoidable CO2 emissions
Carbon offsetting is a way of paying for others to reduce emissions or absorb CO2 to compensate for your own emissions. Carbon offsetting schemes can include carbon reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Many of the projects also provide additional benefits such as biodiversity, education, jobs, food security, clean drinking water and heath & well-being in developing countries. Reductions in CO2 emissions through energy efficiency or renewable energy supplies are necessary projects, but CO2 needs to be removed from the atmosphere now. New CO2 emissions will increase CO2levels resulting in further global consequences.
Offsetting unavoidable CO2 emissions can involve tree planting, creating woodlands or restoring habitats such as peatland, coastal saltmarsh or seagrass beds. Nature-based solutions must play a key role in mitigating against and adapting to climate change and reversing ongoing declines in biodiversity. Carbon removal offsets are vital and increased demand will increase the supply of viable offsetting schemes.
Left: Hummocks of Sphagnum moss amidst characteristic bog plants at Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses NNR (Photo credit Stephen Barlow). Middle: An area of the NNR being restored by bunding peat into cells as part of a £5 million EU LIFE funded ‘Marches Mosses BogLIFE Project’ (Photo credit Stephen Barlow). Right: Seagrass beds form a globally significant carbon store (Photo credit Lewis Michael Jefferies/WWF-UK).
There are lots of offsetting schemes available online. But I did not want an offsetting scheme that was ‘deferred offsetting’ in that the scheme would deliver its claimed benefits at some unspecified time in the future, for example the several decades needed for trees planted now to mature and effectively absorb CO2. I wanted a real-time offsetting scheme that offset my CO2 emissions over a defined short time period.
Principles for carbon offsetting
I decided that I needed some offsetting principles before choosing an offsetting scheme. The Oxford Offsetting Principles provide a framework of general principles for credible offsetting schemes and include existing best practices. They are a useful place to start.
The set of offsetting principles that I have adopted are the same as those very recently published by CIEEM as part of its new Carbon Reduction Plan.
- Additional – it is fundamental that offsetting funds do not pay for work that would have happened anyway.
- Verifiable – verification and certification of the CO2 offsetting in a transparent and accountable process.
- Remove CO2 from the atmosphere – nature-based solutions that create new habitats and restore existing habitats and ecosystems will help to address the biodiversity crisis and deliver ecosystem services.
- Permanent – the CO2 removed from the atmosphere should not be released in the future except through natural processes.
- Undertaken in real-time – CO2 emissions should be offset simultaneously with their generation or over a defined short period of time.
- Based locally – offsetting schemes should ideally be based in Britain or the island of Ireland.
- Avoid negative impacts – offsetting schemes should have a very low risk of creating unintended consequences for people or the environment.
No matter how good the offsetting scheme is, the climate emergency and global heating mean that the best action is to stop emitting greenhouse gases. Offsetting alone will not solve the climate emergency.
John Box CEcol CEnv FCIEEM is an experienced ecologist and environmental manager. John chairs the Action 2030 group that provides challenge and advice to CIEEM on the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis.
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