Sunday, December 6, 2009

Defending Carbon Offsets

Who knew that half of this carbon gig would be spent defending the very concept of carbon offsets. I suppose other professions are similarly saddled with an unpopular impression or distorted image. But I can’t think of many that are more misunderstood. As carbon credit consultants we often have to explain to people what it is we do and then defend it to the very same people who didn’t ‘get it’ 5 minutes ago. It comes with the territory of being on the cutting edge of a brand new field. I just wish I had a forum for shouting out to a whole whack of people at once. Oh ya, maybe this blog thing can serve the purpose.

Indulge me while I use that shopworn device of the question and answer format.

Will offsets save the environment and stop global warming? Uh, no. They are a tiny policy strategy in a whole toolbox of actions that need to be implemented to stop global warming. So stop blaming offsets for not being the be all and end all to save the planet. No one is claiming that they will.

Do offsets exploit the poor and help the rich? No they don’t. The same folks who get rich from any other resource will get rich on offsets. Offsets won’t hurt those in poverty and in some cases will actually bring money into the pockets of the disadvantaged.

Are there dishonest folks taking advantage of the concept of offsets? You betcha. Of course there are bad offsets, fabricated offsets, and some really shady characters selling snake oil.

Do those bad offsets invalidate the whole concept of offsets? No way. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is a new industry based on a whole new commodity. There will be growing pains and there will be bad people who will take advantage of the ignorance of the general public.

So if they won’t save the planet and they don’t significantly alleviate poverty, what’s so great about offsets? Carbon offsets take an environmental goal (that we need to reduce ghg emissions) and place a market value on it. That’s pretty darned revolutionary. Carbon offsets are an elegant little market incentive that causes financial capital to flow into sustainability projects. Carbon offsets accelerate sustainable development by helping project developers access financing they wouldn’t otherwise access. Carbon offsets cause money to flow into sustainable development projects that would not have seen the light of day otherwise.

No I’m not naive enough to believe that all offset projects are worthy and that every dollar spent on an offset reduces emissions, but in the aggregate a heck of a lot of projects are hitting the ground running and jumpstarting sustainable development in many unlikely places.

Okay, time to get off my soapbox and go pack for Copenhagen.

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