Carbon Removal Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

Carbon Removal Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

By
Grace Smoot

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One way to reduce human-derived atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is via carbon removal, or the technological or natural elimination of carbon. Partnered with carbon offsets, carbon removal could have a greater impact. So, we had to ask: What are carbon removal offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

Carbon removal offsets are a specific type of carbon offsets that eliminate atmospheric carbon via technological or natural processes. Removal projects involving direct air capture, carbon mineralization, reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture pull carbon directly out of the air.

Keep reading to find out all about what carbon removal 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 removal offsets can help mitigate climate change and what better alternatives to them are. 

The Big Picture of Carbon Removal 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 removal is the process of eliminating carbon from the atmosphere. It is one way to mitigate the adverse effects of CO2 emissions that occur once they enter our atmosphere.

“Carbon Removal: the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Carbon removal solutions include both technological and natural ones, with trees and direct air capture being two of the most common strategies utilized.

What are carbon removal offsetsCarbon removal offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focuses on eliminating carbon from the atmosphere via technological or natural processes.
How do carbon removal offsets workCarbon removal projects reduce CO2 emissions by supporting projects that pull CO2 emissions out of the air.
How effective and efficient are carbon removal offsetsEffectiveness: carbon removal offsets can permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere, remove those emissions quickly, and reinforce our carbon sinks, depending on the type of removal. However, they can negatively alter ecosystems, can be difficult to monitor and verify, and do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Efficiency: Carbon removal offsets can continue to remove carbon emissions after their project lifespan and have low rates of carbon re-emission, depending on the type of removal. However, they may also lack permanence, may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions, and have varying costs.
What are the 6 pros of carbon removal offsets1. Carbon removal offsets can be permanent
2. Carbon removal offsets can reduce CO2 and CH4 emissions quickly
3. Carbon removal offsets can be cost-effective
4. Carbon removal offsets can reinforce our carbon sinks
5. Carbon removal offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission
6. Carbon removal offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually
What are the 6 cons of carbon removal offsets1. Carbon removal offsets can lack permanence
2. Carbon removal offsets can be relatively expensive 
3. Carbon removal offsets may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions
4. Carbon removal offsets can negatively alter ecosystems
5. Carbon removal offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor
6. Carbon removal offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions
What are the best carbon removal offsetsThe best agricultural carbon offsets are offered by Climeworks, Neustark, The Arbor Day Foundation, Sea Trees, and Native Energy, which involve direct carbon capture, carbon mineralization, reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture.
How can carbon removal offsets help mitigate climate changeCarbon removal can help mitigate climate change as it eliminates atmospheric carbon, which when emitted, can remain in our atmosphere for a long period of time. 

What Are Carbon Removal Offsets

Carbon removal is the process of eliminating carbon from the atmosphere. It is also referred to as negative emissions or carbon drawdown.

“Carbon Removal: the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Some of the most common carbon removal offset projects include:

How Do Carbon Removal Offsets Work

Carbon removal projects reduce CO2 emissions by supporting projects that capture and remove CO2 that has already been emitted into our atmosphere. 

Carbon removal can be split into 2 categories, technological and natural carbon removal

  • Natural carbon removal: Also known as carbon sequestration. Carbon is stored naturally in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, also referred to as our carbon sinks. 
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of carbon removal offsets? Check it out in this article here: “What Are Carbon Removal Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture”

How Effective and Efficient Are Carbon Removal Offsets

In terms of effectiveness, carbon removal offsets can permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere, remove those emissions quickly, and reinforce our carbon sinks, depending on the type of removal. However, they can negatively alter ecosystems, can be difficult to monitor and verify, and do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

In terms of efficiency, carbon removal offsets can continue to remove carbon emissions after their project lifespan and have low rates of carbon re-emission, depending on the type of removal. However, they may also lack permanence, may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions, and have varying costs.

Carbon removal offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because they:

However, carbon removal offsets can also lack effectiveness because afforestation and carbon mineralization can negatively alter ecosystems if not planned properly, and blue carbon and agricultural carbon offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor. 

Carbon removal offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because they:

  • Trees continue absorbing carbon long after they mature, which means reforestation, afforestation, and mangrove blue carbon projects can continue to reduce carbon emissions long after the trees have been planted.
  • DCC/DAC offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission when plants are operated by low-carbon electricity. And carbon mineralization offsets store carbon permanently, even if rocks are broken.


However, carbon removal offsets can also lack efficiency because:

Also, costs can vary greatly depending on the type of removal. Carbon removal offsets such as DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization are some of the more expensive methods of carbon removal. But carbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture are relatively cost-effective.

Lastly, carbon removal offsets can also lack effectiveness because they 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.

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

What Are The 6 Pros and 6 Cons of Carbon Removal Offsets

Carbon removal offsets can be permanent, immediate, cost-effective, have low rates of carbon re-emission, and reinforce our carbon sinks, depending on the specific type of offset. They also allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

Carbon removal offsets can lack permanence, can be relatively expensive, can negatively alter ecosystems and be difficult to monitor and verify, and may not be scaled to compensate for our global emissions, depending on the specific type of offset. 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 removal offsets? Check out the full article here: “Carbon Removal Offsets: All 6 Pros and 6 Cons Explained”

What Are the 6 Pros of Carbon Removal Offsets

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

6 Pros of Carbon Removal OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon removal offsets can be permanentCarbon removal offsets such as direct carbon/air capture (DCC/DAC), carbon mineralization, and biochar agricultural offsets can permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere.
#2: Carbon removal offsets can reduce CO2 and CH4 emissions quicklyCarbon removal offsets such as DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and some agricultural offsets reduce emissions quicker than other nature-based solutions.
#3: Carbon removal offsets can be cost-effectiveCarbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction. 
#4: Carbon removal offsets can reinforce our carbon sinksCarbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture reinforce our terrestrial and marine carbon sinks. 
#5: Carbon removal offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emissionCarbon removal offsets involving DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and biochar have a low rate of carbon re-emission, making them effective at removing carbon.
#6: Carbon removal offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually Carbon removal offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available. 

What Are the 6 Cons of Carbon Removal Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of carbon removal offsets is important in order to effectively mitigate climate change.

6 Cons of Carbon Removal OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon removal offsets can lack permanenceCarbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agroforestry can lack permanence because they are reversible, nature-based solutions. 
#2: Carbon removal offsets can be relatively expensive Carbon removal offsets such as DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization offsets are some of the most expensive methods of carbon removal.
#3: Carbon removal offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitorBlue carbon and agricultural offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor because there are multiple methodologies and governing companies.
#4: Carbon removal offsets can negatively alter ecosystemsCarbon removal offsets such as afforestation and carbon mineralization can negatively alter ecosystems if not planned properly.
#5: Carbon removal offsets may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissionsCarbon removal offsets involving DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, blue carbon, and agriculture are not yet at a scale where they can compensate for our global carbon emissions. 
#6: Carbon removal offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissionsIf 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 Removal 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 removal offsets are effective and efficient at reducing carbon emissions, they are predicted to make up an increasingly larger share of this market.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best direct carbon capture offsets? Check out the full article here: “Best Carbon Removal Offsets”
Carbon Removal Offset CompanyQuick Facts
ClimeworksAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the practice of direct CO2 removal, where specialized machines remove CO2 directly from the air and store it in rock formations underground.
Costs: $1.20 per 1kg of CO2
NeustarkAbout: Neustark removes CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it in recycled concrete, and they cut new CO2 emissions by reducing the use of traditional cement.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
The Arbor Day FoundationAbout: Carbon offset purchases support afforestation (and reforestation) projects in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (US), Nicaragua, and Peru.
Costs: $40 per 1,000kg of CO2
SeaTreesAbout: Carbon offset purchases support coral reef/kelp forest/watershed restoration as well as mangrove tree planting.
Costs: $22 per 1,000kg of CO2
Native EnergyAbout: Native Energy offers a variety of regenerative agriculture carbon offset projects including avoided grassland conversion, farm methane, and soil carbon.
Costs: Costs are determined after initial contact.
NovocarboAbout: Novocarbo uses pyrogenic carbon capture and storage, which converts CO2 into regenerative energy and biochar. The biochar can be used as soil, as a replacement for cement, and in regenerative agriculture.
Costs: Novocarbo uses resellers (e.g., Puro.earth and Carbonfuture), costs are determined with these.
greenSandAbout: greenSand uses Olivine rocks, which trap CO2 when they come into contact with water. For every ton of CO2 purchased, greenSand spreads 1 ton of Olivine, which can in turn absorb and permanently store 1 ton of CO2.
Costs: $82 per 1,000kg of CO2
EcologiAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified reforestation/afforestation carbon offset projects including those in Madagascar, Mozambique, Bolivia, Morocco, Senegal, and Uruguay.
Costs: $6.04 per 1,000 kg of CO2 offset
One Tree PlantedAbout: Carbon offset purchases support reforestation/afforestation projects including those in the US, Romania, Iceland, and Africa.
Costs: $20 per 1,000kg of CO2
The Ocean FoundationAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the SeaGrass Grow, seagrass planting project.
Costs: $20 per 1,000kg of CO2
HuskAbout: Husk converts rice husks into biochar, fertilizers, and biopesticides via smokeless pyrolysis, preventing the re-emission of carbon into the atmosphere. 
Costs: Husk uses resellers to sell its solutions. Visit Patch’s website to learn more about pricing. 
Vi AgroforestryAbout: Vi Agroforestry specializes in poverty reduction and environmental improvement through agroforestry and improved farming practices. 
Costs: $28 per 1,000kg of CO2 offset

How Can Carbon Removal Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon removal offsets can help mitigate climate change because they eliminate fossil-fuel-derived carbon from our atmosphere which, if left untreated, can remain there 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 removals 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 Removal Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Carbon removal in general can specifically help mitigate climate change because it eliminates atmospheric carbon, which when emitted, can remain in our atmosphere for a long period of time

More specifically, reforestation, afforestation, and mangrove-planting blue carbon offsets help mitigate climate change because they plant more trees, and trees remove CO2 from the air as they grow. By increasing the number of trees on our planet, we increase the amount of carbon they can store. The more carbon our forests can sequester, the less carbon there is in our atmosphere. 

Direct carbon/air capture (DCC/DAC) and carbon mineralization offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because these methods permanently lock away CO2 for thousands of years with little to no carbon re-emission.

Agricultural carbon offsets such as biochar, agroforestry, and CH4 capture can specifically help mitigate climate change because they reduce CO2 and CH4 emissions in one of the biggest industries worldwide.

What Are Better Alternatives to Carbon Removal Offsets

If used correctly, carbon removal 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 removal offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures to reduce carbon emissions 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:

Reduce your travel carbon footprint:

  • 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.
  • 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 offsets themselves 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 removals, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to carbon removal offsets. 

Related: Are you interested in learning why reducing your carbon footprint is so important? Check it out in this article here: “4 Main Reasons Why Reducing Your Carbon Footprint Is Important”

Final Thoughts

Carbon removal offsets help reduce carbon emissions by taking carbon directly out of the air. Their effectiveness and efficiency highly depend on the type of sequestration. 

Direct carbon/air capture and carbon mineralization offsets permanently remove CO2 quickly with low rates of carbon re-emission. Reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and some agricultural offsets reinforce our carbon sinks, reduce emissions after project lifespans, and are cost-effective. 

The top carbon removal 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 removal offsets.

Stay impactful,

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