Monday, February 19, 2024

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What Is A Carbon Offset, And Does It Work?

One of the most common phrases you will hear companies throw around is carbon offset, but what exactly does that mean? And more importantly, does this concept actually work in practice?

A carbon offset is when a decrease in carbon emissions is made to compensate for carbon emissions from another source. For example, if a company is emitting carbon, they may plant trees somewhere else to help decrease the carbon.

By definition, every tonne of carbon emissions reduced is worth one carbon credit.

The concept is easy to understand and has gained popularity over the decade. Altogether, the offsetting industry is expected to reach a value of $200 billion by 2050.

There Are Multiple Ways to Create A Carbon Offset

Planting Tree

Now, the concept behind a carbon offset is simple, but that doesn’t mean all carbon credits are equal. In reality, there are multiple ways to create these credits, so let’s cover a few of the popular ones.

1. Reforestation

By far the most common method of creating carbon credits is to plant trees. This is the process of reforestation, or replanting a forest. It’s simple because trees naturally absorb carbon emissions during the photosynthesis process.

Some of these projects go far beyond just planting trees. They help plant vital trees in local ecosystems to support the wildlife. Recently, a lot of these projects have been gaining popularity to help repair forests that have been impacted by forest fires.

2. Forest Preservation

While this type of carbon offset has been coming under scrutiny, it’s still a popular choice. To put it simply, businesses will buy up land that contains a forest, and instead of building on this land, they choose to preserve the forest.

If that sounds weird, it’s because it is. Essentially, there is no carbon is being offset. Instead, they are just promising not to destroy an existing carbon sink. That said, companies can still earn carbon credits this way, so it is worth mentioning.

3. Investing in Renewable Energy Projects

Some companies may choose to buy a stake in a new solar or wind farm or even invest in new research to improve the technology. By doing this, a company is either helping increase the total amount of renewable energy in the world or at the very least, helping it become cheaper and more efficient.

On top of having a positive effect on the environment, they also help the local communities. These projects create thousands of jobs for local residents and provide them access to clean and reliable energy.

4. Helping Underdeveloped Communities

Another approach some companies take is helping develop communities. Now, this might not sound like it has anything to do with climate change, but it does.

For example, Darfur Sudan Cookstove Project aims to replace cooking methods that burn wood or coal with low smoke stoves.

Not only does this help the environment by reducing the amount of firewood needed, but it also improves the health of residents by improving air quality. These types of projects can vary drastically, but they have a lot of benefits.

So Does It Actually Work?

Well, kind of.

It’s not a fool-proof system because the way one company may calculate carbon reductions can be drastically different from another. And as more research is done in this area, alongside a continued rise in popularity, we are likely going to see more regulation that can help.

And as I mentioned in the Forest Preservation section, preventing deforestation is great, but it’s not really an offset. Realistically, there can only be so many carbon credits and it is nowhere near enough to account for global emissions.

Thus, the world is still going to have to reduce emissions, not just offset them.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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