Carbon Removal Offsets: All 6 Pros and 6 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 removal is a process that takes carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere for the purpose of reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. The pros and cons vary based on the specific type of removal. So, we had to ask: What are the pros and cons of carbon removal offsets?
Carbon removal offsets can have varying levels of permanence and cost-effectiveness, depending on the specific project. They reinforce our carbon sinks and can have low levels of carbon re-emission; however, they also can be difficult to monitor, verify, and scale to meet our global carbon emissions.
Keep reading to find out all about what the pros and cons of carbon removal offsets are, how you can offset your carbon footprint with them, how they can mitigate climate change, and what better alternatives to carbon removal offsets 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 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 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
- Technological carbon removal: This involves specialized technology which extracts carbon from the atmosphere.
- 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.
Some of the most common carbon removal offset projects include:
|6 Pros of Carbon Removal Offsets||6 Cons of Carbon Removal Offsets|
|Carbon removal offsets can be permanent||Carbon removal offsets can lack permanence|
|Carbon removal offsets can reduce CO2 and methane (CH4) emissions quickly||Carbon removal offsets can be relatively expensive|
|Carbon removal offsets can be cost-effective||Carbon removal offsets may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions|
|Carbon removal offsets can reinforce our carbon sinks||Carbon removal offsets can negatively alter ecosystems|
|Carbon removal offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission||Carbon removal offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor|
|Carbon removal offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually||Carbon removal offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions|
What Are 6 Pros 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.
Pro #1: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Be Permanent
Carbon removal offsets such as direct carbon/air capture (DCC/DAC), carbon mineralization, and biochar agricultural offsets can permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere.Carbon Removal Offset Pro #1
DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization offsets are specific types of offsets that remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it permanently in various reservoirs.
For example, Climeworks’ technology pulls CO2 from the air whilst their partner, Carbfix, turns captured CO2 into stone by dissolving it in water and injecting it underground where it reacts with basalt rock to form solid minerals. The process locks away CO2 for thousands of years with no long-term monitoring required.
Additionally, experts estimate that biochar tilled into soils and not disturbed can store CO2 for centuries to millennia, making it a long-term carbon removal solution. Also, biochar that has been incorporated into soils is 10-100 times more stable than the biomass it was derived from, leading to less carbon leakage and a slower overall rate of CO2 degradation. As long as the lands are not developed, the sequestered carbon can remain stored underground.
When comparing it to other methods of carbon removal, we find that DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and some agricultural offsets reduce CO2 emissions more permanently.
In short, carbon removal offsets such as DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization offsets permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Storing the carbon underground in rock formations is also a permanent process.
Pro #2: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Reduce CO2 and Methane (CH4) Emissions Quickly
Carbon removal offsets such as DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and some agricultural offsets reduce emissions quicker than other nature-based solutions.Carbon Removal Offset Pro #2
- CO2 emissions reductions from DCC/DAC offsets occur as soon as the machines become operational. Once the carbon capture machines start sucking in atmospheric air, CO2 removal begins.
- Carbfix achieves 95% permanent carbon mineralization in under two years. Carbon mineralization mechanisms skip the slow weathering process by breaking down silicate rocks into tiny pieces, increasing surface area and overall CO2 absorption.
- Agricultural projects involving biochar and CH4 capture immediately remove GHGs from the atmosphere. Biochar removes CO2 immediately via uptake by plants, and CH4 capture removes CH4 emissions immediately upon operation of the machines.
In short, carbon removal offsets involving DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and some agricultural offsets reduce emissions quicker than other nature-based solutions.
Pro #3: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Be Cost-Effective
Carbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction.Carbon Removal Offset Pro #3
In general, combating deforestation is an expensive process. But coupling reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agricultural projects with carbon offsets could help finance this process. Especially since these offsets are typically more cost-effective than other categories of offsets.
- Reforestation and afforestation offsets from leading providers (i.e., The Arbor Day Foundation, Reforest’Action, Ecologi, and One Tree Planted) cost less than $50 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.
- Agricultural offsets from some leading providers (e.g., Vi Agroforestry, One Tree Planted, and Terrapass) cost less than $40 per ton of CO2 offset.
In short, carbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture are relatively cost-effective when compared to other methods of carbon emission reduction.
Pro #4: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Reinforce Our Carbon Sinks
Carbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture reinforce our terrestrial and marine carbon sinks.Carbon Removal Offset Pro #4
Nature-based solutions such as reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and some agricultural offsets 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
Carbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture take advantage of trees’ and soils’ ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in leaves, trunks, roots, or soil.
Our forests absorbed over 15.6 billion tons (bt) of CO2 each year from 2001-2019, compared to the approximately 8.1 bt of CO2 released via deforestation, fires, and other disturbances. Still, this means that globally, forests act as a carbon sink capable of absorbing a net 7.6 bt of CO2 per year.
Blue carbon offsets take advantage of a mangrove tree’s ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in its vegetation and surrounding soil. Mangroves can absorb 3-5x more carbon per acre (ac) than tropical forests at a rate 10 times greater, but the real carbon storage potential is underground, with 50–99% of the carbon stored in blue ecosystems located in the soil underground.
In terms of agriculture, biochar can enhance agricultural productivity and soil sustainability by improving soil structure, soil water-holding capacity, and nutrient cycling. Its ability to persist longer in soils also leads to decreased erosion and reduced runoff.
In short, carbon removal offsets such as reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets reinforce our terrestrial and marine carbon sinks, which can absorb billions of tons of CO2 annually.
Pro #5: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Have Low Rates of Carbon Re-Emission
Carbon removal offsets involving DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and biochar have a low rate of carbon re-emission, making them effective at removing carbon.Carbon Removal Offset Pro #5
Although DCC/DAC facilities require energy to operate, they can re-emit only small amounts of CO2 if powered by low-carbon energy sources (i.e., solar or wind power). For example, a study published by the RWTH Aachen University on Climeworks’ Orca DCC plant found that this plant re-emits less than 10% of the CO2 they capture when the plant is operated by low-carbon electricity.
Also, greenSand Olivine rocks permanently store carbon and will only release that carbon back into the atmosphere if the temperature exceeds 1,600 degrees. Even if the rocks are broken, the carbon will remain trapped inside and will not be re-emitted.
Lastly, experts estimate that biochar tilled into soils and not disturbed can store CO2 for centuries to millennia. As long as the lands are not developed, the sequestered carbon can remain stored underground. And biochar that has been incorporated into soils is 10-100 times more stable than the biomass it was derived from, leading to less carbon leakage and a slower overall rate of CO2 degradation
In short, carbon removal offsets involving DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and biochar can have low rates of carbon re-emission.
Pro #6: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Help Offset Carbon Emissions That Can’t Be Reduced Otherwise
Carbon removal offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.Carbon Removal Offset Pro #6
We already have governmental-level policies in place to reduce carbon emissions, but carbon offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available.
Carbon offsets are designed for situations where emissions are impossible to reduce because you can use those funds to reduce emissions in other areas. For example, we can only do so much to reduce our individual carbon footprints. Using public transportation, washing with cold water, and switching from single-use to sustainable products lowers our carbon footprint, but it does not eliminate them completely. This is where carbon removal offsets come into play to compensate for the remainder of our carbon emissions.
In short, carbon removal offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.
What Are 6 Cons of Carbon Removal Offsets
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.
Con #1: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Lack Permanence
Carbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agroforestry can lack permanence because they are reversible, nature-based solutions.Carbon Removal Offset Con #1
To be effective, carbon removal offset projects must be permanent, in the sense that there must be a full guarantee against reversals of carbon emission for the foreseeable future.
Nature-based solutions, such as reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agroforestry can lack permanence because the storage of carbon is reversible.
For reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agroforestry offsets, the carbon is stored in biomass (trees) rather than in permanent reservoirs (i.e., underground in rock formations). Once a tree is planted, 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.
Blue carbon ecosystems have a leg up on terrestrial ecosystems in terms of permanence because blue carbon sinks are less susceptible to wildfires and mangroves are more durable than terrestrial forests. However, blue carbon ecosystems are currently being degraded at 4 times the rate of tropical forests. Climate change and ocean acidification are some of the leading factors that can negate blue carbon permanence.
In short, carbon removal offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture can lack permanence because they are reversible, nature-based solutions.
Con #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.Carbon Removal Offset Con #2
DCC/DAC offsets currency range anywhere from $250-$1200 per ton, the highest out of all carbon removal methods. Close behind are carbon mineralization offsets, which currently range anywhere from $82 – $1,200 per ton of CO2. Both are dependent on the type of technology, the type of energy source, and the scale of the operation.
DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization offsets are so expensive because there are still relatively few companies and projects in operation. As more companies and projects are developed, costs could drop over the next decade.
In short, carbon removal offsets such as DCC/DAC and carbon mineralization are some of the more expensive methods of carbon removal. With further research, development, and funding, this could decrease in the coming years.
Con #3: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Negatively Alter Ecosystems
Carbon removal offsets such as afforestation and carbon mineralization can negatively alter ecosystems if not planned properly.Carbon Removal Offset Con #3
Afforestation increases global tree coverage; however, we have to be careful of where we plant trees because not all ecosystems are conducive to afforestation, and because afforestation can have a high land use change opportunity cost.
For example, afforestation on grasslands can actually reduce the amount of water in streams and rivers, the frequency of fires, and biodiversity. And if not planned properly, afforestation projects can introduce invasive species. For example, Asian long-horn beetle infestations wiped out large swaths of trees in China’s Great Green Wall program of 1978, which sought to reforest 35 million hectares of land.
Carbon mineralization can come with risks including the contamination of surface and groundwater and the induction of seismic activity. But proper monitoring and siting procedures can help mitigate these risks.
For example, Carbfix injects CO2-dissolved water, which is denser than pure water and sinks below it, to avoid interacting with the groundwater table. At the surface, there are also negligible effects from injected CO2. In addition, Carbfix conducts independent seismic risk assessments and monitors injection sites before and during well-drilling activities.
In short, carbon removal offsets such as afforestation and carbon mineralization offsets can negatively alter ecosystems if projects are not planned properly.
Con #4: Carbon Removal Offsets Can Be Difficult to Monitor and Verify
Blue carbon and agricultural carbon offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor.Carbon Removal Offset Con #3
- 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.
Similarly, agricultural emissions themselves are difficult to measure and manage because there are hundreds of millions of farmers around the world, most of which are farming small plots of land. In order to exact change on a global scale, we would have to incorporate agricultural offset practices such as biochar, agroforestry, and methane capture on a massive scale and for hundreds of years into the future. This would be difficult to do both socially and economically.
For example, Verra, the American Carbon Registry, and the Gold Standard all have different methodologies for biochar and biochar projects. There are also different governing organizations for biochar, including The European Biochar Certificate (EBC), The US Biochar Initiative, and The International Biochar Initiative.
In short, blue carbon and agricultural offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor because there are multiple methodologies and governing companies.
Con #5: Carbon Removal Offsets May Not Yet Be Scaled to Compensate for Our Global Emissions
Carbon 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.Carbon Removal Offset Con #5
Currently, carbon offsets in general are not sufficient to compensate for all of our carbon emissions. We emit more than 36 billion tons of carbon annually, but carbon offset credits for only ~1 billion tons of CO2 have been listed for sale on the voluntary market. The number of sellers also exceeds the number of buyers by about 600-700 million tons. This means that only about 0.8-1% of our annual CO2 emissions are offset and only about 1.6-1.75% could be offset if all of these projects got realized.
Currently, DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets are also not scaled enough to keep pace with our global carbon emissions.
There are relatively few companies engaged in DCC/DAC practices and the technology is still expensive to implement; therefore, the amount of carbon it can remove is limited. But the recent push for more DCC/DAC technology means that its capacity is increasing. Climeworks began construction in 2022 for its newest plant, Mammoth, which will have an annual carbon capture capacity of 36,000 tons, nine times that of its current plant Orca.
There are also relatively few companies engaged in carbon mineralization on a commercial level, and processes, standards, and technologies still need to be developed to ensure proper monitoring, verification, and reporting of carbon removal via mineralization. Experts estimate that carbon mineralization could be scaled up to capture 2-4 billion tons of CO2 per year by 2050.
Although blue carbon ecosystems are capable of providing 1/3 of the total emissions reductions needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, they only receive 3% of total climate investments globally. As more blue carbon methodologies are established, experts expect monetization of coastal wetland conservation and restoration activities to increase.
Experts also predict the world’s population will increase by 2 billion people in the next 30 years. More people means more mouths to feed; therefore, agriculture production and subsequent GHG emissions from agriculture will continue to increase. We already emit approximately 570 million tons of CH4, a significant amount of which comes from agriculture.
In short, carbon removal offsets involving DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, blue carbon, and agriculture are not yet scaled to keep pace with our global carbon emissions due to various barriers.
Con #6: Carbon Removal Offsets Do Not Reduce Your Own Carbon Emissions
Carbon removal offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.Carbon Removal Offset Con#6
One of the main limitations of carbon offsetting, in general, 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 carbon removal offsets do not reduce your own emissions, they could lead to greenwashing.
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.
|Carbon Removal Offset Company||Quick Facts|
|Climeworks||About: 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
|Neustark||About: 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 Foundation||About: Carbon offset purchases support afforestation (and reforestation) projects in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (US), Nicaragua, and Peru.|
Costs: $40 per 1,000kg of CO2
|SeaTrees||About: Carbon offset purchases support coral reef/kelp forest/watershed restoration as well as mangrove tree planting.|
Costs: $22 per 1,000kg of CO2
|Native Energy||About: 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.
|Novocarbo||About: 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.
|greenSand||About: 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
|Ecologi||About: 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 Planted||About: 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 Foundation||About: Carbon offset purchases support the SeaGrass Grow, seagrass planting project.|
Costs: $20 per 1,000kg of CO2
|Husk||About: 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 Agroforestry||About: 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.
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:
- 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 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.
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.
However, they can also lack permanence, be relatively expensive, negatively alter ecosystems, be difficult to monitor and verify, and may not be scaled to compensate for our global emissions, depending on the specific type of offset.
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.
When used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures, carbon offsetting can be much more effective. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose the most effective and efficient carbon removal 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?
- American University: What is Carbon Removal?
- South Pole: Carbon Offsets Explained
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Direct Carbon/Air Capture Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Carbon Mineralization Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Tree Planting Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Afforestation Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Blue Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Agricultural Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work
- Impactful Ninja: What Are Carbon Removal Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture
- Carbfix: Homepage
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology Climate Portal: Soil-Based Carbon Sequestration
- Ceezer: How biochar emerged as an unexpected champion in the fight against the climate crisis
- Carbfix: Protecting Our Climate by Turning CO2 Into Stone
- Northwestern University: Enhanced weathering – When climate research takes unexpected turns
- Nature: Biochar is carbon negative
- Carbon Offset Guide: Methane Capture
- Ecosystem Marketplace: Shades of REDD+: A Marshall Plan for Tropical Forests?
- The Arbor Day Foundation: Homepage
- Reforest’Action: Homepage
- Ecologi: Homepage
- One Tree Planted: Homepage
- The Ocean Foundation: Homepage
- Vi Agroforestry: Homepage
- Terrapass: Homepage
- ClientEarth: What is a carbon sink?
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Why don’t we just plant a lot of trees?
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration: NASA Satellites Help Quantify Forests’ Impacts on Global Carbon Budget
- World Resources Institute: Forests Absorb Twice As Much Carbon As They Emit Each Year
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Blue Carbon
- The Blue Carbon Initiative: What is Blue Carbon?
- National Library of Medicine: Effect of Biochar on Soil Properties, Soil Loss, and Cocoyam Yield on a Tropical Sandy Loam Alfisol
- US Biochar Initiative: Biochar Enhances Crop Yield, Enriches Soil & Protects Water
- Climeworks: Orca
- greenSand: Olivine Research & Evidence
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Paris Climate Agreement
- Our World in Data: Which form of transport has the smallest carbon footprint?
- Cold Water Saves: Washing Laundry In Cold Water Protects A Lot More Than Just Our Clothing
- GlobalGiving: 50 Tips To Cut Down Your Carbon Footprint
- Carbon Offset Guide: Permanence
- The Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy: Nature-Based Solutions
- GreenBiz: Blue carbon will be the next frontier of carbon crediting
- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: Blue Carbon
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Impacts on Coastal Areas
- World Resources Institute: Direct Air Capture – 6 Things to Know
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: A Global Analysis of the Cost-Efficiency of Forest Carbon Sequestration
- Bird Life International: Afforestation can be bad for biodiversity
- Scroll.in: Planting trees is a good idea, but not everywhere – especially not in grasslands
- China Dialogue: Lessons from the rush to reforest
- US Geological Survey: Making minerals – how growing rocks can help reduce carbon emissions
- Carbfix: FAQ
- 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
- Verra: Verra Publishes VCS Biochar Methodology
- American Carbon Registry: Methodology for Biochar Projects
- Gold Standard: Soil Organic Carbon Framework Methodology
- The European Biochar Certificate (EBC): Homepage
- The US Biochar Initiative: Homepage
- The International Biochar Initiative: Homepage
- Yale Environment 360: Is the ‘Legacy’ Carbon Credit Market a Climate Plus or Just Hype?
- Climeworks: Mammoth
- American University: Fact Sheet – Enhanced Mineralization
- Verra: Verra Seeks Applicants to Join Two New Biosequestration Working Groups
- McKinsey: Blue carbon – The potential of coastal and oceanic climate action
- International Energy Agency: Methane Tracker 2020
- United Nations: Population
- Edie: Carbon offsetting – How are businesses avoiding greenwashing on the road to net-zero?
- Carbon Offset Guide: Voluntary Offset Programs
- Ecosystem Marketplace: Voluntary Carbon Markets Top $1 Billion in 2021 with Newly Reported Trades
- Impactful Ninja: Best Carbon Removal Offsets
- Climeworks: Homepage
- Neustark: Homepage
- SeaTrees: Homepage
- Native Energy: Homepage
- Novocarbo: Homepage
- greenSand: Homepage
- Husk: 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
- Carbon Offset Guide: Additionality
- 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