The climate benefits of carbon offsetting are exaggerated at best

“The climate benefits of ‘carbon offsetting’ are exaggerated at best, imagined at worst”

Rest assured: everything will be compensated. Whether you’re enjoying an ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, catching an EasyJet or British Airways flight, treating yourself to a piece of Gucci or watching a Netflix series, you are (or could have been) exposed to a reassuring claim of “carbon neutrality”. . The greenhouse gas emissions caused by the product or service you benefited from had no impact on the climate.

Behind each of these debt-free embassies lies a complex technical, accounting and financial mechanism: building forest projects (forest protection, reforestation, afforestation) in the countries of the South, certifying and calculating the carbon credits generated by these projects, selling these credits to companies that use their Compensate emissions and want to finance initiatives by local actors.

Economically rational solution to climate drift or gigantic mystification? A meticulous and explosive research published these days by the daily newspaper The Guardian and the weekly newspaper Die Zeit in cooperation with the association of investigative journalists SourceMaterial tends towards the second option.

Our British and German colleagues analyzed a sample of around thirty projects certified by Verra, the main standards organization based in Washington. These projects have generated a hundred million carbon credits – enough to offset the annual emissions of around twenty coal-fired power plants, according to our colleagues’ calculations.

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Results: Only 5.5% of these credits were genuine and offset the greenhouse gas emissions they were designed to neutralize. The rest, namely almost 95%, are “phantom credits” that are traded on a market without any climate benefit. Over the past 15 years, Verra says it has issued a total of one billion carbon allowances, equivalent to three years of UK emissions.

“The market is broken”

To arrive at these figures, the authors relied on the analysis of technical documents from the certifying body, on interviews with former auditors, but above all on analyzes of satellite images carried out by researchers and published in scientific literature.

Analyzes that give rise to other estimates: out of a series of thirty-two projects certified by Verra and intended to cover a wooded area the size of Italy, it would in fact be an area comparable to that of the Municipality of Venice protected… Not surprisingly, that Verra vigorously disputes the methodology of the studies that served as the basis for our colleagues’ investigation.

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