Carbon Sequestration Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

Carbon Sequestration Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

By
Grace Smoot

Read Time:16 Minutes

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One way to reduce human-derived atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is via carbon sequestration, or the storage of carbon in various reservoirs. Our forests and oceans already store carbon naturally but partnered with carbon offsets, carbon sequestration could have a greater impact. So, we had to ask: What are carbon sequestration offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

Carbon sequestration offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that stores CO2 in our carbon sinks (forests, oceans, geological formations). Sequestration projects reduce CO2 emissions by supporting projects that reinforce our carbon sinks, which absorb massive amounts of our emissions every year.

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

The Big Picture of Carbon Sequestration 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 sequestration refers to the elimination of carbon from our atmosphere via its storage in terrestrial, marine, or geological reservoirs. It is one way to mitigate the adverse effects of CO2 emissions that occur once they enter our atmosphere.

“Carbon Sequestration: the process of storing carbon dioxide that has been collected and removed from the atmosphere, in solid or liquid form”

Oxford Dictionary

Carbon sequestration is also commonly referred to as carbon capture and storage/sequestration because carbon capture is the first step in the sequestration process. 

What are carbon sequestration offsetsCarbon sequestration offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focuses on the long-term storage of captured or removed carbon in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean.
How do carbon sequestration offsets workCarbon sequestration projects reduce CO2 emissions by supporting projects that reinforce our forest and marine carbon sinks, which are capable of absorbing massive amounts of our emissions.
How effective and efficient are carbon sequestration offsetsEffectiveness: Depending on the type of sequestration, carbon sequestration offsets can permanently and quickly remove carbon from the atmosphere while reinforcing our carbon sinks. However, they also do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Efficiency: Depending on the type of sequestration, carbon sequestration offsets can be cost-effective, avoid carbon emissions after their project lifespan, and have low rates of carbon re-emission. However, they also may also lack permanence, and may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions. 
What are the 6 pros of carbon sequestration offsets1. Carbon sequestration offsets can be permanent
2. Carbon sequestration offsets can reduce CO2 emissions quickly
3. Carbon sequestration offsets can be cost-effective
4. Carbon sequestration offsets can reinforce our carbon sinks
5. Carbon sequestration offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission
6. Carbon sequestration offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually
What are the 6 cons of carbon sequestration offsets1. Carbon sequestration offsets can lack permanence
2. Carbon sequestration offsets can be relatively expensive 
3. Carbon sequestration offsets may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions
4. Carbon sequestration offsets can negatively alter ecosystems
5. Carbon sequestration offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor
6. Carbon sequestration offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions
What are the best carbon sequestration offsetsThe best carbon sequestration offsets are offered by Climeworks, The Arbor Day Foundation, REDD.plus, and SeaTrees which involve reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, carbon mineralization, and direct carbon/air capture.
How can carbon sequestration offsets help mitigate climate changeCarbon sequestration 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.

What Are Carbon Sequestration Offsets

Carbon sequestration is defined as the long-term storage of captured or removed carbon in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean.

“Carbon Sequestration: the process of storing carbon dioxide that has been collected and removed from the atmosphere, in solid or liquid form”

Oxford Dictionary

Some of the most common carbon sequestration offset projects include:

How Do Carbon Sequestration Offsets Work

Carbon sequestration projects reduce CO2 emissions by supporting projects that reinforce our forest and marine carbon sinks, which are capable of absorbing massive amounts of our emissions. 

Carbon sequestration can occur via two main methods:

  • Artificial carbon sequestration: The result of carbon capture. The captured carbon is compressed into a liquid and transported via pipeline, ship, or tanker before being pumped deep underground, often at depths of 1 kilometer (0.6 miles), and sequestered in depleted oil reserves, coalbeds, or saline aquifers. 
  • Biological carbon sequestration: Carbon storage in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, which are commonly referred to as our carbon sinks

Trees, marine ecosystems, and underground geological reservoirs are the most common storage places. Sequestering carbon in those places is one way to mitigate the adverse effects of CO2 emissions that occur once they enter our atmosphere.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of direct carbon capture offsets? Check out the full article here: “What Are Carbon Sequestration Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture”

How Effective and Efficient Are Carbon Sequestration Offsets

In terms of effectiveness, carbon sequestration offsets can permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere, can remove emissions quickly, and can reinforce our carbon sinks, depending on the type of sequestration. However, they do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

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

Carbon sequestration offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because:

However, carbon sequestration 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.

Carbon sequestration offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because:

  • Reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction, averaging less than $50 per ton of CO2 offset. 
  • 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 sequestration offsets can also lack efficiency because:

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

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

Carbon sequestration 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, carbon sequestration offsets can lack permanence, can be relatively expensive, may not be scaled to compensate for our global emissions, can negatively alter ecosystems, and can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor, 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 sequestration offsets? Check out the full article here: “Carbon Sequestration Offsets: All 6 Pros and 6 Cons Explained”

What Are the 6 Pros of Carbon Sequestration Offsets

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

6 Pros of Carbon Sequestration OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon sequestration offsets can be permanentDirect carbon/air capture (DCC/DAC) and carbon mineralization offsets permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere
#2: Carbon sequestration offsets can reduce CO2 emissions quicklyDCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, REDD+, and some blue carbon offsets reduce emissions quicker than other nature-based solutions.
#3: Carbon sequestration offsets can be cost-effectiveReforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and blue carbon offsets are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction.
#4: Carbon sequestration offsets can reinforce our carbon sinksReforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and blue carbon offsets reinforce our terrestrial and marine carbon sinks, which are capable of absorbing billions of tons of CO2 every year. 
#5: Carbon sequestration offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emissionDCC/DAC and carbon mineralization processes have a low rate of carbon re-emission, making them effective at removing carbon. 
#6: Carbon sequestration offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individuallyCarbon sequestration offsets allow us to reduce emissions from activities where sustainable alternatives are not yet widely available. 

What Are the 6 Cons of Carbon Sequestration Offsets

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

6 Cons of Carbon Sequestration OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: Carbon sequestration offsets can lack permanenceReforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and blue carbon offsets can lack permanence because they are reversible, nature-based solutions.
#2: Carbon sequestration offsets can be relatively expensive 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 coming years. 
#3: Carbon sequestration offsets may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissionsDCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and blue carbon offsets are not yet scaled to keep pace with our global carbon emissions due to various technological and financial barriers. 
#4: Carbon sequestration offsets can negatively alter ecosystemsAfforestation and carbon mineralization offsets can negatively alter ecosystems if projects are not planned and sited properly.
#5: Carbon sequestration offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitorBlue carbon and agricultural carbon offsets can be difficult to standardize, verify, and monitor because there different methodologies for assessing them.
#6: Carbon sequestration 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 Sequestration 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 sequestration offsets can be 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 carbon sequestration offsets? Check out the full article here: “Best Carbon Sequestration Offsets”
Carbon Sequestration 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
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
REDD.plusAbout: Carbon offset purchases support UNFCCC-verified REDD+ projects around the globe. REDD.plus is a central registry and exchange for REDD+ Result Units, a type of carbon credit. 
Costs: $16 per ton of CO2 
SeaTreesAbout: Carbon offset purchases support coral reef/kelp forest/watershed restoration as well as mangrove tree planting.
Costs: $22 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. 
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), and costs are determined with these.
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
Wildlife WorksAbout: Carbon offset purchases support third-party certified carbon offset projects including The Kasigau Corridor, Mai Ndombe, and Southern Cardamom REDD+ projects in Kenya, Cambodia, and Colombia respectively.
Costs: $20 per ton of CO2
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.
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
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
TerrapassAbout: Carbon offset purchases support the reforestation, afforestation, and REDD+ projects in Peru, Canada, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the US.
Costs: $16.51-$17.63 per 1,000kg of CO2

How Can Carbon Sequestration Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon sequestration 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 due to 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 a 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 Sequestration Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Carbon sequestration 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

Reforestation, afforestation, and REDD+ offsets specifically 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 are capable of storing. The more carbon our forests can sequester, the less carbon there is in 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. 

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

Agricultural carbon offsets such as biochar, agroforestry, avoided grassland conversion, 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 Sequestration Offsets

If used correctly, carbon sequestration 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 sequestration offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures to reduce carbon emissions in the 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 sequestration offsets are an indirect and not a direct way of reducing emissions, they alone will not be enough to reduce global carbon emissions significantly. Direct measures of emission sequestration, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to carbon sequestration 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 sequestration offsets help reduce carbon emissions by taking captured/removed carbon and storing it in terrestrial, marine, and underground reservoirs. 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, REDD+, and blue carbon offsets reinforce our carbon sinks, reduce emissions after project lifespans, and are cost-effective. 

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

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

Stay impactful,

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