Carbon Offsetting: Solving Climate Change or Absolving Climate Guilt?

Offsetting is a word we’re hearing increasingly frequently from organisations, celebrities and even governments. Is it truly a realistic solution to the climate emergency? Most of us won’t be surprised to learn that it is not.


What is carbon offsetting?


Carbon offsetting is a method of paying for others to reduce their emissions, or for them to absorb enough CO2 to compensate for your emissions. There are a wealth of projects that businesses and individuals needing to offset can choose from, with everything from hydroelectric power plants in Turkey, to Efficient Household Cookstoves in Kenya.

Every tonne of emissions reduced by an environmental project generates one carbon offset, or a ‘carbon credit’. Companies can either make a direct investment into these environmental projects or simply purchase a carbon credit. 


What is the state of the environment?


The Earth’s current warming is happening at a rate not seen in the past 10,000 years. More than a million species are at risk of extinction [2] and the physical evidence of climate change is alarming, with the recent violent Pakistan floods devastating the country a prime example of how real and how quickly climate change is causing a threat to life. 

The people who contribute the least to climate change are the ones facing the worst impacts. For example, due to the effects of climate change an estimated 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have been displaced in search of water and pasture, just in the first three months of 2022, despite having done very little to cause the climate crisis.

There truly is an emergency, and it is key for businesses in particular to play their part in being part of the solution


Is carbon offsetting an effective solution to our climate emergency?


Offsetting is being used as a convenient excuse for governments, businesses and individuals that want to avoid changing the working methods they have in place. In the words of John Oliver[1]: “Getting a sign-off from a carbon registry is like winning a Kids Choice Award,” he added. “It doesn’t really mean much, but it will help you temporarily look a little bit cleaner.”

The issue with offsetting isn’t that what they offer is bad, but it’s not as simple as planting new trees, then suddenly all of the emissions that a company has produced and continues to produce are neutralised. 

Greenpeace states on its website that carbon offsetting “is the next big thing in greenwashing — and we must not be fooled”. It goes on to state “Carbon offsetting is a licence to keep polluting, and distracts us all from the real work of cutting emissions”.

It is all too easy for a company to claim carbon neutrality via offsetting, when this simply isn't the case. Kavalan’s own research has shown that an organisation can claim “third party verification” carbon neutrality to “PAS 2060”, which is the internationally recognised specification for carbon neutrality, for as little as US$1,000 with just a few clicks of a mouse.

What is needed is for a reduction of carbon emissions entering the atmosphere, rather than them being produced and then supposedly neutralised. 


What is an effective solution to climate change?


There are two broad categories that go hand-in-hand in navigating through this crisis: climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. 

Climate change mitigation is avoiding and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which prevents the planet from warming to even more extreme temperatures. Climate change adaptation requires altering behaviours, work systems, and ways of life to protect us from the impacts of climate change. 

If we’re serious about tackling climate change, there is only one answer to the problem: companies and industries need to put people and the planet first and start making changes to business models.


Surely practising carbon offsetting is still worthwhile?


Carbon offsetting has been described as a dangerous distraction for companies and individuals, as it provides a false sense of belief that you are completely balancing out your carbon footprint by investing in carbon credits.

Carbon offsets are a cheap and therefore tempting solution, but we need more impactful methods of protecting our planet. A newly-planted tree for example can take as many as 20 years to capture the amount of CO2 that a carbon-offset scheme promises. A huge number of trees would need to be planted and protected for decades to offset a fraction of global emissions, so offsetting alone is just not enough. This also doesn’t account for the inevitable loss of trees from factors like deforestation and wildfires. The 2022 wildfires across much of California's forest reserves have destroyed a large portion of the state's carbon offset system, rendering the projects almost useless. 


Is your business ready to become part of the solution?


Offsetting is not the magic bullet some people would have us believe by any stretch of the imagination, but it can serve as a part of a much larger reduction programme to help combat the climate emergency, so while we are not denouncing it entirely, it’s not a free pass to act without consideration for the environment. We need to focus on being proactive and taking steps to reduce plastics and eliminate PVC from our businesses.

In the PVC-Free Pledge For The Planet short film, KAVALAN is directly addressing hard truths and highlighting how the company is leading the large-format print industry by example, as part of our commitment to save the planet. 

KAVALAN is here to support your sustainable journey - are you ready to take the first step? Go for KAVALAN now




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