Sustainability

Exposing the Carbon Offset Trap

Not all carbon reduction initiatives are the same. Here's what you should know about avoidance credits versus carbon dioxide removal solutions.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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BY RYAN SHORE, FOUNDER OF CARBEK

As the world focuses on combating climate change, the purchase of avoidance credits has emerged as a significant risk. It is essential to understand why investing in such offsets can be a trap, as recent events surrounding Delta Airlines' carbon neutrality claim have brought this issue to light.

Delta Airlines and the carbon neutrality controversy

Delta Airlines' ambitious carbon neutrality claim has come under scrutiny, as critics argue that the offsets they rely on do little to mitigate global warming. A recent lawsuit alleges that Delta's claim of being the world's first carbon-neutral airline is misleading, as it heavily depends on avoidance credits. The suit claims such offsets can fail to make a substantial impact on the climate crisis, potentially leading consumers and stakeholders to believe they are making a positive environmental choice when purchasing Delta tickets. 

What is an avoidance credit?

Avoidance credits are generally quantified emissions reductions from projects that prevent emissions from entering the atmosphere. For example, you may be paying to stop a forest from being burned. These credits are based on the logic that avoiding greenhouse gas emissions is as effective as removing them from the atmosphere. However, trying to estimate the most likely course of action is not a straightforward task. This brings a few questions to mind: How do you validate and prove that the threat was real, and thus avoided? How do you know that someone hasn't already paid to avoid it?

What is CDR and how does it differ?

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is the process of actively capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, resulting in a net reduction of greenhouse gasses. The essential distinction between avoidance credits and CDR lies in paying to prevent carbon emissions versus removing it from the ecosystem directly. If the threat to emit the greenhouse gasses was not valid, the avoidance credits may not actually reduce emissions at all. In contrast, CDR initiatives focus on actively removing existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is more easily measured in good CDR projects. CDR projects may include innovative methods such as regenerative agriculture, biochar production, or direct air capture.

Purchasing carbon credits can pose a risk of being perceived as greenwashing, where companies use superficial claims to project an environmentally friendly image without truly mitigating their carbon footprint. Carbon reduction efforts, such as CDR, leverage technologies and practices that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By actively removing carbon dioxide, CDR contributes to the long-term goal of reducing atmospheric carbon.

Additionality in carbon offsets

The concept of additionality revolves around the question of whether a carbon reduction project would have occurred in the absence of carbon offset funding. For CDR initiatives, additionality ensures that the carbon removal efforts are effective and lead to a net reduction in atmospheric carbon levels. On the other hand, avoidance credits may lack additionality as they represent emissions reductions that may have occurred naturally or were already mandated by regulations. This lack of additionality in avoidance credits raises concerns about the actual impact they have on mitigating climate change, making it essential for businesses to prioritize effective and verifiable CDR solutions to make a meaningful contribution to carbon reduction efforts.

Promote transparency and accountability

Many people opt for avoidance credits over CDR initiatives primarily because carbon credits are often more affordable and readily available. While avoidance credits may seem like a cost-effective solution, it is essential to consider their limitations in achieving long-term carbon reduction goals. Transparency and accountability within the carbon offset market are crucial to address these concerns. Companies should ensure that their carbon reduction claims are supported by credible and verified carbon initiatives.

The path forward

The case of Delta Airlines underscores the need for businesses to conduct thorough due diligence when engaging in carbon offsetting. By supporting reputable CDR initiatives, businesses can make a meaningful impact on the environment while avoiding the risks of avoidance credits. Additionally, policymakers and industry leaders must collaborate to establish clear guidelines and standards for carbon offsetting practices, ensuring the credibility and efficacy of carbon reduction initiatives. By embracing CDR initiatives, transparency, and accountability, companies can align their sustainability goals with credible and effective carbon reduction strategies.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

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