What’s wrong with carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets do not effectively reduce emissions because of the lack of regulation in the carbon market. Experience with existing offsets programs shows that defining “avoided emissions” is inherently problematic, and often prone to cheating. The truth is that the attempt to ‘buy’ our way out of climate change has created a corrupt system with little accountability that usually fails to reduce emissions.

Studies by Stanford University scientists found that up to 2/3 of offsets in international markets are not in fact delivering any additional reduction in emissions compared to business as usual. The Christian Science Monitor and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting estimates that of the $700 million dollars invested in carbon offsets around the world, offset buyers: “… are often buying vague promises instead of the reductions in greenhouse gases they expect. They are buying into projects that are never completed, or paying for ones that would have been done anyhow, the investigation found. Their purchases are feeding middlemen and promoters seeking profits from green schemes that range from selling protection for existing trees to the promise of planting new ones that never thrive. In some cases, the offsets have consequences that their purchasers never foresaw, such as erecting windmills that force poor people off their farms. Carbon offsets are the environmental equivalent of financial derivatives: complex, unregulated, unchecked and – in many cases – not worth their price.”

RAN does not endorse any offset program nor are we claiming that there are no legitimate programs. We believe that voluntary carbon offsets are not the only or the best way to address climate change.