Carbon Avoidance Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

Carbon Avoidance Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

By
Grace Smoot

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Stay impactful,

One way to reduce human-derived atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is via carbon avoidance, or methods that prevent the release of CO2 into our atmosphere. If partnered with carbon offsets, carbon avoidance could have a greater impact. So, we had to ask: What are carbon avoidance offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

Carbon avoidance offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focuses on preventing carbon emissions from entering our atmosphere. Avoidance projects reduce CO2 emissions by supporting projects that protect existing carbon sinks, reduce pollution, and foster the switch to renewable energy.

Keep reading to find out all about what carbon avoidance offsets are, how they work, how effective and efficient they are, what their pros and cons are, and what the best ones are. At the end of the article, we’ll also share with you how carbon avoidance offsets can help mitigate climate change and what better alternatives to them are. 

The Big Picture of Carbon Avoidance Offsets

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere. They are measured in tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by reforestation”

Oxford Dictionary

Carbon avoidance is the prevention of future carbon emissions via particular carbon offsets or via direct carbon reduction measures. It is one form of carbon reduction

Avoidance: not doing something; preventing something from existing or happening”

Oxford Dictionary

Purchasing carbon avoidance offsets funds carbon emission reduction projects that prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. It is a proactive, rather than a reactive, way of dealing with carbon emissions. 

What are carbon avoidance offsetsCarbon avoidance offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focuses on preventing carbon emissions from entering our atmosphere.
How do carbon avoidance offsets workPurchasing carbon avoidance offsets funds carbon emission reduction projects that prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere in the future. It is a proactive, rather than a reactive, way of dealing with carbon emissions. 
How effective and efficient are carbon avoidance offsetsEffectiveness: Depending on the type of avoidance, carbon avoidance offsets can help reduce deforestation and strengthen our natural carbon sinks, reduce methane emissions and other forms of pollution, bolster energy security, and help transition away from fossil fuels. However, they can also lack additionality and do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

Efficiency: Depending on the type of avoidance, carbon avoidance offsets can be proactive and relatively cost-effective; however, they can also be difficult to monitor and verify and they are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions.
What are the 6 pros of carbon avoidance offsets1. Carbon avoidance offsets are proactive
2. Carbon avoidance offsets can protect existing carbon sinks
3. Carbon avoidance offsets can be relatively cost-effective
4. Carbon avoidance offsets can bolster energy security and help transition away from fossil fuels
5. Carbon avoidance offsets can reduce methane emissions and other forms of pollution
6. Carbon avoidance offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually
What are the 4 cons of carbon avoidance offsets1. Carbon avoidance offsets can lack additionality
2. Carbon avoidance offsets can lack standardization and monitoring
3. Carbon avoidance offsets are not yet scaled to compensate for our global waste emissions 
4. Carbon avoidance offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
What are the best carbon avoidance offsetsThe best carbon avoidance offsets are offered by Terrapass, Native Energy, Carbonfund, and Ecologi which offer REDD+, waste management, energy efficiency, or certain types of agricultural offsets. In addition, REDD.plus, CoreZero, and Del Agua specialize in specific avoidance offsets.

What Are Carbon Avoidance Offsets

Carbon avoidance is the prevention of future carbon emissions via particular carbon offsets or via direct carbon reduction measures. It is one form of carbon reduction

Avoidance: not doing something; preventing something from existing or happening”

Oxford Dictionary

Carbon offsets that are commonly classified as carbon avoidance measures include:

How Do Carbon Avoidance Offsets Work

Purchasing carbon avoidance offsets funds carbon emission reduction projects that prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. It is a proactive, rather than a reactive, way of dealing with carbon emissions. 

For example, carbon avoidance projects such as REDD+ can help protect existing carbon sinks (e.g., via avoided deforestation). And projects such as landfill gas capture and conversion to renewable energy can prevent methane (CH4) emissions from entering our atmosphere. These types of projects can buy us time to implement permanent carbon reduction measures such as direct carbon capture

How Effective and Efficient Are Carbon Avoidance Offsets

In terms of effectiveness, carbon avoidance offsets can help reduce deforestation and strengthen our natural carbon sinks, reduce methane emissions and other forms of pollution, bolster energy security, and help transition away from fossil fuels. However, they can lack additionality and they do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

In terms of efficiency, carbon avoidance offsets are proactive and relatively cost-effective; however, they can also be difficult to monitor and verify and they are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions.

Carbon avoidance offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because:

However, carbon avoidance offsets involving REDD+, waste management, and energy efficiency can also lack additionality due to uncertainty in determining baselines and increasing demand for projects.

Carbon avoidance offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because:

  • Carbon avoidance offsets cut emissions at their source, making them a proactive way of dealing with emissions.
  • Carbon avoidance offsets involving REDD+, waste management, energy efficiency, and agriculture are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction. 

However, carbon avoidance offsets can also lack efficiency because:

  • The decentralized nature and many different types of energy-efficiency and agricultural carbon avoidance offsets can make standardization and monitoring difficult. 
  • Waste management and agricultural carbon avoidance offsets are not yet scaled to compensate for the billions of tons of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) we emit annually. 

In addition, carbon avoidance offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing. This occurs when emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, and the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. This is why we should first reduce our emissions before relying on offsets.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about how effective and efficient carbon avoidance offsets are? Check out the full article here: “How Effective and Efficient Are Carbon Avoidance Offsets? Here Are the Facts

What Are The 6 Pros and 4 Cons of Carbon Avoidance Offsets

Carbon avoidance offsets are a proactive, relatively cost-effective way of dealing with CO2 emissions that can protect existing carbon sinks, bolster energy security, help transition away from fossil fuels, and reduce various forms of pollution. Carbon avoidance offsets also allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

Carbon avoidance offsets can lack additionality, standardization, and monitoring, and are not yet scaled to compensate for our global waste emissions. They also do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of carbon avoidance offsets? Check out the full article here: “Carbon Avoidance Offsets: All 6 Pros and 4 Cons Explained

What Are the 6 Pros of Carbon Avoidance Offsets

Carbon avoidance offsets have various pros that make them effective at proactively reducing carbon emissions.

Pros of Carbon Avoidance OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon avoidance offsets are proactiveCarbon avoidance is a proactive, rather than reactive, way of dealing with emissions. By eliminating emissions at the source, we cut down on fossil fuel (e.g., coal, oil, and natural gas) usage. 
#2: Carbon avoidance offsets can protect existing carbon sinksCarbon avoidance offsets involving REDD+, energy efficiency, and agriculture protect forest and grassland ecosystems and their ability to act as carbon sinks.
#3: Carbon avoidance offsets can be relatively cost-effectiveREDD+, waste management, energy efficiency, and agricultural carbon offsets are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction.
#4: Carbon avoidance offsets can bolster energy security and help transition away from fossil fuelsWaste management and energy-efficiency projects reduce overall energy demand, which in turn reduces reliance on imports of biomass fuels or fossil fuels. Being able to produce your own energy without relying on other entities increases energy security, and increased energy security fosters energy independence.
#5: Carbon avoidance offsets can reduce methane emissions and other forms of pollutionWaste management and farm power agricultural offsets can reduce CH4 emissions via CH4 capture, combustion, or conversion to energy projects. They can also target land, air, or water pollution, depending on the project.
#6: Carbon avoidance offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individuallyCarbon avoidance offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available. 

What Are the 4 Cons of Carbon Avoidance Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of carbon avoidance offsets is important when implementing this strategy on a large scale in order to mitigate climate change.

4 Cons of Carbon Avoidance OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon avoidance offsets can lack additionalityCarbon avoidance offsets involving REDD+, waste management, and energy efficiency can lack additionality due to uncertainty in determining baselines and increasing demand for projects
#2: Carbon avoidance offsets can lack standardization and monitoringThe decentralized nature and many different types of energy-efficiency and agricultural carbon avoidance offsets can make standardization and monitoring difficult.
#3: Carbon avoidance offsets are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions Because waste management and agricultural offsets are only a small subsection of the larger carbon offset market, they are inadequate in terms of offsetting our global emissions.
#4: Carbon avoidance offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashingIf emissions are only offset and not reduced from the source, this could lead to greenwashing, when the consumer is deceived into thinking they are offsetting their emissions but in reality, they are not. 

How Could You Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With Carbon Avoidance Offsets

The market for carbon offsets was small in the year 2000, but by 2010 it had already grown to represent nearly $10 billion worldwide. The voluntary carbon offset market (VCM) is where everyday consumers can purchase carbon offsets to offset their carbon emissions. 

The Ecosystem Marketplace predicts the VCM can grow to $50B by the year 2050. And because carbon avoidance is a proactive, cost-effective way of dealing with carbon emissions, those offsets are predicted to make up a larger share of the market.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best carbon avoidance offsets? Check out the full article here: “Best Carbon Avoidance Offsets
Carbon Avoidance Offset CompanyQuick Facts
TerrapassAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified REDD+, waste management, and agricultural projects.
Costs: $16.51-$17.63 per 1,000kg of CO2
Native EnergyAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified REDD+, waste management, and agricultural projects.
Costs: $18 per 1,000 kg of CO2
CarbonfundAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified REDD+, waste management, and energy-efficiency projects.
Costs: $16.25-$17.16 per 1,000kg of CO2 for individuals, $390-$1,560 per year for small businesses, determined after initial contact for large businesses 
EcologiAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified REDD+, waste management, and energy-efficiency projects.
Costs: $6.04 per 1,000 kg of CO2 offset
REDD.plusAbout: Carbon offset purchases support UNFCCC-verified REDD+ projects around the globe. REDD.plus is a central registry and exchange for REDD+ Result Units, a type of carbon credit. 
Costs: $16 per ton of CO2 
CoreZeroAbout: Purchases support waste management projects including food rescue, upcycling, waste-to-energy, and composting.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
DelAguaAbout: Purchases support the Rwandan clean cookstoves energy-efficiency carbon offset project.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
Wildlife WorksAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified carbon offset projects including The Kasigau Corridor, Mai Ndombe, and Southern Cardamom REDD+ projects in Kenya, Cambodia, and Colombia respectively.
Costs: $20 per ton of CO2
GreenTechAbout: They take plastic (e.g., plastic bottles) and sort, grind, wash, and process it into sustainable recycled flakes to make products (e.g., PET flakes, PET straps, and r-PET granules).
Costs: $40 per 1,000kg of CO2
South PoleAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified waste management and energy-efficiency projects.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact

How Can Carbon Avoidance Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon avoidance offsets can help mitigate climate change because they cut emissions at their source, which is a proactive way of dealing with carbon emissions. If left untreated, these emissions can remain in our atmosphere for tens of thousands of years and exacerbate the negative effects of climate change.

How is Climate Change Defined

Climate change is arguably the most severe, long-term global impact of fossil fuel combustion. Every year, approximately 33 billion tons (bt) of CO2 are emitted from burning fossil fuels. The carbon found in fossil fuels reacts with oxygen in the air to produce CO2

Climate change: changes in the earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gasses, especially carbon dioxide.

Oxford Dictionary

Atmospheric CO2 fuels climate change, which results in global warming. When CO2 and other air pollutants absorb sunlight and solar radiation in the atmosphere, it traps the heat and acts as an insulator for the planet. Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s temperature has risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius (C), or 2 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Between 1880-1980 the global temperature rose by 0.07C every 10 years. This rate has more than doubled since 1981, with a current global annual temperature rise of 0.18C, or 0.32F, for every 10 years. 

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050

How Do Carbon Offsets Generally Help Mitigate Climate Change

Levels of carbon in our atmosphere that cause climate change have increased as a result of human emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. The global average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today registers at over 400 parts per million. Carbon offsets can help prevent these levels from increasing even more.

When you hear the words “carbon offset”, think about the term “compensation”. Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in GHG emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere

Carbon offsets that meet key criteria and verified project standards, are additional and permanent, and are part of projects that are carried out until the end of their lifespan have the best chance of reducing carbon emissions and therefore reducing climate change. 

When we offset CO2 we also slow the rate of global temperature rise, which in turn minimizes the effects of climate change. 

How Do Carbon Avoidance Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Carbon avoidance offsets proactively deal with CO2 emissions. Rather than removing emissions once they have already been emitted, carbon avoidance focuses on approaches that prevent CO2 from being released in the first place.

As outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, we must cut current greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Carbon avoidance is important to meet these targets because the more we avoid carbon, the less we emit into our atmosphere. 

Final Thoughts

Purchasing carbon avoidance offsets funds carbon emission reduction projects that prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. It is a proactive, rather than a reactive, way of dealing with carbon emissions. Avoidance offset effectiveness and efficiency highly depends on the type of sequestration. 

The top carbon sequestration offsets are those offered by companies whose sequestration projects are verified by recognized standards. But although carbon offsets can instigate meaningful change, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. In the long term, they fail to reduce CO2 enough to mitigate climate change for future generations. 

When used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures, carbon offsets can be much more effective. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose carbon sequestration offsets.

Stay impactful,

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