Carbon Reduction Offsets: All 6 Pros and 5 Cons Explained
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
Carbon reduction is a process that reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions via efficiencies and protecting our existing carbon sinks. The pros and cons vary based on the specific type of reduction. So, we had to ask: What are the pros and cons of carbon reduction offsets?
Carbon reduction offsets are cost-effective methods of emission reduction that promote energy decentralization and help transition away from fossil fuels. They reduce deforestation and reinforce our carbon sinks; however, they may lack permanence and additionality.
Keep reading to find out all about what the pros and cons of carbon reduction offsets are, how you can offset your carbon footprint with them, how they can mitigate climate change, and what better alternatives to carbon reduction offsets are.
Here’s What All the Best Carbon Reduction Offsets Have in Common
Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere. They are measured in tons of 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 planting trees”Oxford Dictionary
Carbon offsets are trade-offs, whereby companies receive credits for financially supporting external projects that reduce emissions.
Carbon reductions refer to the decrease of carbon emissions as a result of activity between two points in time. Typically, an individual or organization reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions via efficiencies.
“Emission reduction: The act or process of limiting or restricting the discharge of pollutants or contaminants, such as by setting emission limits or by modifying the emission source.”United Nations Environment Programme
In the context of carbon credits, carbon emission reductions are quantified relative to a baseline scenario, or the business-as-usual carbon emissions.
Carbon offsets that can be classified as carbon reductions include:
|6 Pros of Carbon Reduction Offsets||5 Cons of Carbon Reduction Offsets|
|Carbon reduction offsets reduce deforestation and strengthen our natural carbon sinks||Carbon reduction offsets can lack additionality|
|Carbon reduction offsets bolster energy security and help transition away from fossil fuels||Carbon reduction offsets can lack permanence|
|Carbon reduction offsets promote energy decentralization||Identifying the baseline for REDD+ projects can be inaccurate|
|Carbon reduction offsets help maintain water quality||Carbon reduction offsets can lack standardization and monitoring|
|Carbon reduction offsets preserve biodiversity||Carbon reduction offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing|
|Carbon reduction offsets are relatively cost-effective|
What Are 6 Pros of Carbon Reduction Offsets
Carbon reduction offsets reduce deforestation and strengthen our natural carbon sinks, bolster energy security and help transition away from fossil fuels, promote energy decentralization, help maintain water quality, preserve biodiversity, and are relatively cost-effective
Pro #1: Carbon Reduction Offsets Reduce Deforestation and Strengthen Our Natural Carbon Sinks
Carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+, energy-efficiency, and blue carbon combat deforestation and reinforce our terrestrial and marine carbon sinks.Carbon Reduction Offset Pro #1
Deforestation is the main threat to our terrestrial forests, and it occurs at approximately 10 million hectares (~25 million acres) per year. The past 40 years have seen a 17% decline in forest extent in the Amazon rainforest alone.
REDD+ is a mechanism aimed at reducing current tropical rainforest deforestation rates and preventing further forest degradation. REDD+ carbon offsets put a financial value on rainforests and the carbon stored within them. Landowners are either compensated directly for not clearing or degrading forests, or carbon credits are issued for the amount of avoided carbon emissions.
In addition, energy-efficient cookstoves can help combat deforestation. Nearly 3 billion people worldwide still rely on biomass (e.g., wood, charcoal, crop residue, dung) for cooking and to meet their energy demands. And up to 34% of wood harvests are obtained via unsustainable practices, leading to forest degradation and deforestation. Energy-efficient cookstoves and water filtration projects reduce the demand for wood, which in turn reduces the need to cut down trees.
Nature-based solutions involving REDD+ and blue carbon also store carbon in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, which are commonly referred to as our carbon sinks.
“Carbon Sink: an area of forest that is large enough to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere and therefore to reduce the effect of global warming”Cambridge Dictionary
Tropical rainforests are capable of absorbing 2.4 billion tons of CO2 every year. The Amazon Basin contains roughly 2.8 million square miles of rainforest, roughly half of the remaining tropical rainforest on the planet. This area is estimated to store roughly 123 billion tons of carbon above and below ground, making it one of our most important carbon sinks.
And if undisturbed, blue carbon ecosystems can absorb enough carbon to keep pace with moderate sea level rise. In the top meter of soil alone, mangroves can store an average of 1,494 tons of CO2 per hectare (ha), seagrass meadows 951, and tidal marshes 607. But the real carbon storage potential is underground, with 50–99% of the carbon stored in blue ecosystems located in the soil underground.
In short, REDD+ offsets incentivize against deforestation by placing a financial value on the carbon stored within our rainforests. Protecting blue carbon ecosystems reinforces coastal and marine ecosystems, which are one of our largest carbon sinks. And energy-efficient mechanisms reduce the demand for biomass fuels, which in turn reduces deforestation.
Pro #2: Carbon Reduction Offsets Bolster Energy Security and Help Transition Away From Fossil Fuels
Carbon reduction offsets involving energy efficiency can help reduce reliance on biomass and fossil fuels, leading to increased energy security and energy independence.Carbon Reduction Offset Pro #2
Overall, energy-efficient mechanisms use less energy than traditional mechanisms to perform the same task. This reduces overall energy demand, which in turn reduces reliance on imports of biomass fuels or fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, and natural gas).
For example, energy-efficient cookstoves and water filtration projects provide uninterrupted access to energy and clean water, negating the need for a constant supply of woodfuels. And co-generation facilities use surplus waste gasses to generate electricity and steam, reducing the need to import fossil fuels.
Being able to produce your own energy without relying on other entities increases energy security, which is reliable, affordable access to fuels and energy sources. And increased energy security fosters energy independence, which can aid in the transition away from fossil fuels and towards lower carbon options.
In short, energy-efficiency offsets bolster energy security and can lead to energy independence.
Pro #3: Carbon Reduction Offsets Promote Energy Decentralization
Carbon reduction offsets involving energy efficiency promote energy decentralization.Carbon Reduction Offset Pro #3
Our traditional power and power-delivery system is centralized, meaning power is generated at a large scale at one location and then transmitted to wherever it is needed. However, a centralized system negatively affects the environment because centralized systems largely depend on nonrenewable resources (i.e., coal and natural gas) to generate electricity.
On the other hand, energy-efficient practices promote energy decentralization, where power is generated at or near locations where it will be used. This decreases the need to transport energy and generates environmental benefits associated with a lower carbon footprint.
For example, clean cookstoves are a decentralized, energy-efficiency solution whereby cookstoves are distributed throughout communities. Rather than depending on power from a central location, individual families can utilize their own power in their homes.
In short, energy-efficiency offsets promote decentralized energy solutions, which generate environmental benefits associated with a lower carbon footprint.
Pro #4: Carbon Reduction Offsets Help Maintain Water Quality
Carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+ and blue carbon bolster terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which play an important role in maintaining water quality.Carbon Reduction Offset Pro #4
All trees capture, store, and use rainfall which aids in maintaining water quality and regulating the natural water cycle. When it rains, trees slow down the flow of water by absorbing it into the ground. This filters pollution and reduces flooding risks.
REDD+ offsets specifically protect tropical rainforests, which store large amounts of water. The Amazon Basin alone stores one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. More than 50% of the precipitation that strikes a rainforest is returned to the atmosphere via evapotranspiration. The clouds created from this process can travel around the world, providing precipitation to vast regions.
In addition, blue carbon ecosystems play an important role in regulating water quality because they act as giant water filters.
- Mangroves have a complex system of above-ground roots that capture rainfall and filter out nitrates, phosphates, and other pollutants, thereby improving water quality.
- Seagrasses and seagrass beds trap particulate matter and sediment in the water column, which increases water clarity.
- Salt marshes trap sediment, filter runoff, and metabolize excess nutrients.
If terrestrial and coastal ecosystems are cleared or degraded, their ability to absorb rainfall, slow down and filter water, and protect our coastlines is diminished. And this could lead to floods, decreased water quality, and leave our coastlines vulnerable to extreme weather events.
In short, REDD+ and blue carbon offsets help maintain water quality because terrestrial and marine ecosystems store, transport, and filter large amounts of water.
Pro #5: Carbon Reduction Offsets Preserve Biodiversity
Carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+ and blue carbon bolster our terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which act as habitats for vast numbers of marine plant and animal species.Carbon Reduction Offset Pro #5
Biodiversity refers to all the living species on earth, which includes 1.2 million species of identified plants and animals, and 7.5 million not yet identified species that experts estimate to exist.
“Biodiversity: the variety of life found in a place on Earth or, often, the total variety of life on Earth”Encyclopedia Britannica
REDD+ offsets protect tropical rainforests and aim to reduce their deforestation. Tropical rainforests are earth’s oldest living ecosystem, covering only 6% of Earth’s surface but harboring more than 30 million plant and animal species. And even then, there are potentially thousands of species still waiting to be discovered.
Blue carbon offsets promote biodiversity because they support aquatic wildlife by providing habitat and helping to keep our waterways healthy. Many birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and plants rely on mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes for habitats.
- Mangrove communities are home to many endangered species (e.g., smalltooth sawfish, manatee, hawksbill sea turtle, Key Deer, and the Florida panther) and are common spawning and nursery territories for many juvenile marine species.
- Seagrass meadows are nurseries for invertebrates, small fish, and juveniles of larger fish species. They also harbor species of sponges, clams, anemones, turtles, marine mammals, and sharks.
- Salt marshes harbor over 75% of fisheries species including fish, shrimp, blue crab, and oysters as well as many species of waterfowl.
When we deforest and dredge these ecosystems, we destroy the habitats of around 50% of the world’s species. Habitat loss is the leading driver of biodiversity loss, and biodiversity is crucial to our planet’s health. Having a variety of plants and animals sustains healthy ecosystems. And healthy ecosystems are associated with clean water, air, and healthy food supplies.
In short, REDD+ and blue carbon offsets protect terrestrial and marine ecosystems that act as habitats for and can harbor millions of plant and animal species.
Pro #6: Carbon Reduction Offsets Are Relatively Cost-Effective
Carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+, energy efficiency, and blue carbon are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction.Carbon Reduction Offset Pro #6
Coupling REDD+, energy efficiency, and blue carbon offset projects with carbon offsets could help finance the arduous task of reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Especially since these offsets are typically more cost-effective than other categories of offsets.
- REDD+ carbon offsets from leading providers (e.g., REDD.plus, Pachama, and Wildlife Works) cost less than $30 per ton of CO2 offset.
- Energy-efficiency offsets from leading providers (e.g., Carbonfund, Ecologi, myclimate) cost less than $40 per ton of CO2 offset.
- Blue carbon offsets from leading providers (e.g., The Ocean Foundation, One Tree Planted, and Reforest’Action) cost less than $20 per ton of CO2 offset.
In short, carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+, energy efficiency, and blue carbon are relatively cost-effective when compared to other methods of carbon emission reduction.
What Are 5 Cons of Carbon Reduction Offsets
Carbon reduction offsets can lack additionality, permanence, standardization, and monitoring. In addition, identifying the baseline for REDD+ projects can be inaccurate, and carbon reduction offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.
Con #1: Carbon Reduction Offsets Can Lack Additionality
Carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+ and energy efficiency can lack additionality.Carbon Reduction Offset Con #1
To be beneficial, REDD+ and energy-efficiency carbon offsets must be additional. This means the carbon emissions reductions would not have occurred without REDD+ interventions.
But REDD+ projects are often not additional because assessing what would have happened (but did not happen), cannot be measured exactly. If REDD+ offset programs are not additional, then offsetting rather than directly reducing your emissions can actually worsen the effects of climate change.
Energy-efficiency projects are also often not additional because many projects receiving revenue now would have been built regardless. Since 2020, global markets have contributed approximately $1 trillion towards energy efficiency-related practices involving buildings, transportation, infrastructure, and electric vehicles. The large demand for energy-efficient practices, in general, means that the infrastructure could have been built independently of energy-efficiency carbon offsets.
In short, additionality is not guaranteed with REDD+ or energy-efficiency offsets because many projects are already in high demand, and knowing what would have happened cannot be measured exactly.
Con #2: Carbon Reduction Offsets Can Lack Permanence
Carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+ and blue carbon lack permanence because they are reversible, nature-based solutions.Carbon Reduction Offset Con #2
To be effective, REDD+, energy efficiency, and blue carbon offset projects must be permanent, in the sense that there must be a full guarantee against reversals of carbon emission for the foreseeable future.
However, nature-based solutions involving REDD+ and blue carbon can lack permanence because they are reversible. Rather than storing the carbon in permanent reservoirs (i.e. underground in rock formations), carbon is stored in biomass.
Once a tree is protected by a REDD+ or blue carbon project, it should never be removed in order to guarantee permanence. But trees die naturally, and environmental disasters such as floods, fires, changes in land use, and climate change itself can negate any permanence.
In addition, blue carbon ecosystems are currently being degraded at 4 times the rate of tropical forests. We are currently losing mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal marshes at a rate of 2%, 1.5%, and 1-2% per year, respectively.
Climate change is one of the leading factors that can negate blue carbon permanence. Coastal ecosystems are especially sensitive to sea level rise, storm intensity, and rising ocean temperatures, all of which have been occurring at an accelerated rate. Ocean acidification, a result of warming ocean temperatures, particularly threatens these ecosystems and the biodiversity they harbor.
In short, nature-based solutions like REDD+ lack permanence because they are reversible.
Con #3: Carbon Reduction Offsets Can Lack Standardization and Monitoring
Carbon reduction offsets involving energy efficiency and blue carbon can lack standardization and monitoring due to a variety of factors.Carbon Reduction Offset Con #3
Energy-efficient practices promote energy decentralization, where power is generated at or near locations where it will be used. And although this decreases the need to transport energy and generates environmental benefits, it can also make project standardization and monitoring difficult.
By nature, centralized solutions are easier to keep track of. But there are different standards for different types of energy-efficiency practices. Appliances, lighting, buildings, cooking, and fuels are held to different standards, making it difficult to standardize energy efficiency as one singular entity.
In addition, whereas the storage of carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is well documented and managed via the REDD+ mechanism, there is no overarching mechanism to regulate the carbon stored in coastal, marine, or wetland soils and biomass.
- Verra released the first blue carbon methodology modeled after the REDD+ mechanism in 2020.
- The Gold Standard is developing their own methodology not based on REDD+.
- The American Carbon Registry has two methodologies, Restoration of Pocosin Wetlands and Restoration of California Deltaic Coastal Wetlands.
- Salesforce and the World Economic Forum launched the High-Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidance carbon credit methodology in 2022.
A lack of standardization can also lead to a lack of certified projects available on the voluntary carbon offset market (VCM).
In short, energy efficiency and blue carbon offsets can lack standardization and monitoring due to a lack of over-arching mechanisms and a decentralized nature.
Con #4: Carbon Reduction Offset Baseline Identification Can Be Difficult
It is impossible to calculate the REDD+ baseline with absolute certainty, which can lead to an overestimation of carbon emissions reductions and overissuance of carbon credits.Carbon Reduction Offset Con #4
The number of carbon credits issued by a certain REDD+ project depends on how much CO2 emissions are avoided due to the prevented deforestation. And in order for REDD+ to be effective, these numbers must match.
This is calculated by determining the baseline, or the business-as-usual carbon emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation in the absence of efforts to reduce those emissions.
To identify the baseline, you look at the deforestation rate in a nearby area over the past 10 years. After the baseline is determined, you can calculate the amount of carbon emissions avoided by a certain project, and subsequently issue an equivalent number of carbon credits.
However, because we cannot know exactly what would happen to a specific forest in the absence of a REDD+ project, it is impossible to calculate the baseline with absolute certainty. And an inaccurate baseline could lead to an overestimation of carbon emissions reductions and a subsequent over-issuance of carbon credits. This gives the illusion that we are avoiding more carbon emissions than we actually are.
In short, it is impossible to calculate the REDD+ baseline with absolute certainty, which can lead to an overestimation of carbon emissions reductions and overissuance of carbon credits.
Con #5: Carbon Reduction Offsets Do Not Reduce Your Own Carbon Emissions
Carbon reduction offsets involving REDD+, energy efficiency, and blue carbon do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.Carbon Reduction Offset Con #5
In general, one of the main limitations of carbon offsetting is that purchasing a carbon offset does not directly reduce your carbon footprint. It only makes others reduce their carbon footprint to compensate for your carbon footprint.
If 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. Companies accused of greenwashing either invest in non-verified credits, do not prioritize in-house emissions reductions, or double-count carbon credits. Or sometimes, all of the above.
In short, because REDD+, energy-efficiency, and blue carbon offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, they could lead to greenwashing.
How Could You Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With Carbon Reduction 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 reduction offsets are cost-effective and efficient at reducing carbon emissions, they are predicted to make up an increasingly larger share of this market.
|Carbon Reduction Offset Company||Quick Facts|
|Carbonfund||About: Purchases support clean cookstoves, water filtration, waste co-generation, and tailpipe emissions reduction energy-efficiency projects as well as REDD+ 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
|REDD.plus||About: 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
|Sustainable Travel International||About: Carbon offset purchases support the Katingan Mentaya Blue Carbon Project. This project protects and restores 370,000+ acres of peat swamp forest in Borneo.|
Costs: $16 per 1,000kg of CO2
|DelAgua||About: Purchases support the Rwandan clean cookstoves energy-efficiency carbon offset project.|
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
|Wildlife Works||About: 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
|South Pole||About: Purchases support energy-efficiency carbon offset projects including clean cookstoves in China, Mali, and Rwanda.|
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact
|InfinteEARTH||About: Carbon offset purchases support the third-party certified Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve REDD+ project in Borneo. |
Costs: Determined after initial contact
|Ecologi||About: Purchases support energy-efficiency carbon offset projects including efficient cookstoves in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, and Honduras.|
Costs: $6.04 per 1,000 kg of CO2 offset
|Biofilica||About: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified REDD+ projects that protect six areas of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.|
Costs: Determined after initial contact
|myclimate||About: Carbon offset purchases support the Blue Forests for Coral Reef Protection project, which protects over 2,400 acres of mangrove forests in Madagascar.|
Costs: $23-$30 per 1,000kg of CO2
How Can Carbon Reduction Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change
Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon reduction offsets can help mitigate climate change because they reduce atmospheric carbon levels. If left untreated, carbon 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.
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.
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 reduction is important to meet these targets because it lowers the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, which can remain in our atmosphere for tens of thousands of years.
How Do Carbon Reduction Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change
REDD+ offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they protect terrestrial forests, which remove CO2 from the air as they grow. By slowing deforestation rates, we can maintain the amount of carbon they are capable of storing. The more carbon our forests can sequester, the less carbon there is in our atmosphere.
Energy-efficiency offsets specifically help mitigate climate change by reducing CO2 emissions from direct fossil fuel combustion and from indirect electricity generation. By using energy-efficient appliances and methodologies, we reduce the amount of CO2 entering our atmosphere.
Blue carbon offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they protect coastal and marine ecosystems, which are capable of absorbing more CO2 per acre than rainforests and at a rate 10x greater.
What Are Better Alternatives to Carbon Reduction Offsets
If used correctly, carbon reduction offsets can provide environmental, economic, and social benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions. They have the potential to instigate meaningful environmental change and begin to reverse some of the effects of climate change.
However, we can’t let this method be a guilt-free way to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon reduction offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures in order to reduce CO2 long-term.
These reduction measures don’t have to involve drastic changes either. Actions that may seem small can have a big impact because those small changes add up! You can reduce your carbon footprint in three main areas of your life: household, travel, and lifestyle.
Reduce your household carbon footprint:
- Wash with cold water: Washing clothes in cold water could reduce carbon emissions by up to 11 million tons. Approximately 90% of the energy is used to heat the water, so switching to cold saves also saves energy.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs: Fluorescent bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent ones, saving energy and thus reducing electricity demand and GHG emissions.
Reduce your travel carbon footprint:
- Fly less: Aviation accounts for around 1.9% of global carbon emissions and 2.5% of CO2. Air crafts run on jet gasoline, which is converted to CO2 when burned.
- Walk or bike when possible: The most efficient ways of traveling are walking, bicycling, or taking the train. Using a bike instead of a car can reduce carbon emissions by 75%. These forms of transportation also provide lower levels of air pollution.
Reduce your lifestyle carbon footprint:
- Switch to renewable energy sources: The six most common types of renewable energy are solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy. They are a substitute for fossil fuels that can reduce the effects of global warming by limiting global carbon emissions and other pollutants.
- Recycle: Recycling uses less energy and deposits less waste in landfills. Less manufacturing and transportation energy costs means fewer carbon emissions generated. Less waste in landfills means less CH4 is generated.
- Switch from single-use to sustainable products: Reusing products avoids resource extraction, reduces energy use, reduces waste generation, and can prevent littering.
- Eat less meat and dairy: Meat and dairy account for 14.5% of global GHG emissions, with beef and lamb being the most carbon-intensive. Globally, we consume much more meat than is considered sustainable, and switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet could reduce emissions.
- Take shorter showers: Approximately 1.2 trillion gallons of water are used each year in the United States just for showering purposes, and showering takes up about 17% of residential water usage. The amount of water consumed and the energy cost of that consumption are directly related. The less water we use the less energy we use. And the less energy we use, the less of a negative impact we have on the environment.
Because carbon reduction offsets are an indirect way and not a direct way of reducing emissions, they alone will not be enough to reduce global carbon emissions significantly. Direct measures of emission reductions, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to carbon reduction offsets.
Carbon reduction offsets can bolster energy security, transition away from fossil fuels, promote energy decentralization, maintain water quality, and preserve biodiversity, depending on the specific type of offset. However, they can also lack permanence, additionality, standardization, and monitoring, depending on the specific type of offset.
Although they allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually, they also do not reduce our own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.
For all of the good carbon offsets can instigate, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. They are effective at reducing CO2 in the short term, but in the long term, they fail to reduce CO2 enough. Carbon offsetting can be much more effective when used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose the most effective carbon reduction offsets.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Offsets and RECs -What’s the Difference?
- Britannica: Carbon Offset
- David Suzuki Foundation: Are carbon offsets the answer to climate-altering flights?
- SaveMoneyCutCarbon: Carbon reduction vs. carbon offset – what’s the difference?
- Reverse Carbon: The difference between reduced/avoided emissions and carbon removal
- Impactful Ninja: What Are REDD+ Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Energy Efficiency Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Blue Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Carbon Reduction Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture
- Our World in Data: Deforestation and Forest Loss
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association: Deforestation, warming flip part of Amazon forest from carbon sink to source
- Rainforest Coalition: How does REDD+ work?
- US Environmental Protection Agency: Household Energy and Clean Cookstove Research
- Clean Cooking Alliance: Climate, environment, and clean cooking
- Client Earth: What is a Carbon Sink?
- Science: Amazon rainforest ability to soak up carbon dioxide is falling
- The Blue Carbon Initiative: What is Blue Carbon?
- Impactful Ninja: What is the Carbon Footprint of Fossil Fuels?
- Energy Information Administration: Waste-to-energy
- International Energy Administration: Energy Security
- US Environmental Protection Agency: Summary of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Centralized Generation of Electricity and its Impacts on the Environment
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Fossil Fuels – The Dirty Facts
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Distributed Generation of Electricity and its Environmental Impacts
- Impactful Ninja: Why is a Carbon Footprint Bad for the Environment
- Huron River Watershed Council: Trees and Forests Fight Climate Change and Water Pollution
- National Geographic: Rainforest
- Nature: Why are Mangroves Important?
- The Smithsonian Institute – Ocean Portal: Seagrass and Seagrass Beds
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: What is a Salt Marsh?
- Verra: First Blue Carbon Conservation Methodology Expected to Scale Up Finance for Coastal Restoration & Conservation Activities
- National Geographic: Biodiversity
- Rainforest Concern: Why are Rainforests Important?
- Nature: Why are Mangroves Important?
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Salt Marsh
- REDD.plus: Homepage
- Pachama: Homepage
- Wildlife Works: Homepage
- Carbonfund: Homepage
- Ecologi: Homepage
- Myclimate: Homepage
- The Ocean Foundation: Homepage
- One Tree Planted: Homepage
- Reforest’Action: Homepage
- Carbon Offset Guide: Additionality
- Vox: RECs, which put the “green” in green electricity, explained
- International Energy Administration: Executive Summary – Energy Efficiency 2022
- Carbon Offset Guide: Permanence
- The Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy: Nature-Based Solutions
- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: Blue Carbon
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Impacts on Coastal Areas
- Environmental and Energy Study Institute: Fact Sheet | Energy Efficiency Standards for Appliances, Lighting and Equipment (2017)
- GreenBiz: What will it cost to save the earth’s oceans?
- American Carbon Registry: Restoration of Pocosin Wetlands
- American Carbon Registry: Restoration of California Deltaic Coastal Wetlands
- The Meridian Institute: High-Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidance
- Carbon Offset Guide: Voluntary Offset Programs
- International Institute for Environment and Development: REDD: Protecting climate, forests and livelihoods
- S&P Global: Debate on avoidance and REDD+ carbon projects to dominate the next UN Climate Conference
- Edie: Carbon offsetting – How are businesses avoiding greenwashing on the road to net-zero?
- Ecosystem Marketplace: Voluntary Carbon Markets Top $1 Billion in 2021 with Newly Reported Trades
- Impactful Ninja: Best Carbon Reduction Offsets
- Sustainable Travel International: Homepage
- DelAgua: Homepage
- South Pole: Homepage
- InfiniteEARTH: Homepage
- Biofilica: Homepage
- World Nuclear Association: Carbon Emissions from Electricity
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Global Warming 101
- myclimate: What does “net zero emissions” mean?
- United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change: The Paris Agreement
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Climate Change – Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
- Terrapass: Carbon Offset Projects
- The Ocean Foundation: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
- Energy Information Administration: Renewable Energy Explained
- Energy Star: Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury
- Our World in Data: Where in the world do people have the highest CO2 emissions from flying?
- Zero Waste Europe: Reusable vs Single Use Packaging
- Carbonbrief: Interactive – What is the climate impact of eating meat and dairy?
- Stop Waste: Recycling and Climate Protection
- Impactful Ninja: Is Taking Long Showers Bad for the Environment?
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Showerheads
- Impactful Ninja: 4 Main Reasons Why Reducing Your Carbon Footprint is Important