How Effective & Efficient Are Carbon Sequestration Offsets? Here Are the Facts

How Effective & Efficient Are Carbon Sequestration Offsets? Here Are the Facts

By
Grace Smoot

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Carbon sequestration is a method of carbon removal that takes captured or removed carbon dioxide (CO2) and stores it long-term. The effectiveness and efficiency of carbon sequestration offsets vary based on the specific type of sequestration. So, we had to ask: how effective and efficient are carbon sequestration offsets?

Carbon sequestration offsets can effectively remove carbon from the atmosphere, remove emissions quickly, and reinforce our carbon sinks; they can efficiently and cost-effectively remove carbon and continue to avoid carbon emissions after their project lifespan—depending on each specific project.

Keep reading to find out how efficient and effective carbon sequestration offsets are, how you can offset your carbon footprint with them, what their pros and cons are, how they can mitigate climate change, and what better alternatives to carbon sequestration offsets are. 

The Big Picture of the Effectiveness and Efficiency 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 is 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

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

Carbon Sink: a forest, ocean, or other natural environment viewed in terms of its ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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. 

Some of the most common carbon sequestration offset projects include:

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of carbon sequestration offsets? Check it out in this article here: “What Are Carbon Sequestration Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture
How Do Carbon Sequestration Offsets WorkCarbon 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.
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.
How Effective Are Carbon Sequestration Offsets at Mitigating Climate ChangeCarbon sequestration offsets can permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere 
Carbon sequestration offsets can remove CO2 emissions quickly
Carbon sequestration offsets reinforce our carbon sinks
Carbon sequestration offsets do not reduce your own emissions
How Efficient Are Carbon Sequestration Offset Programs at Reducing CO2 EmissionsCarbon sequestration offsets can be cost-effective
Carbon sequestration offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission
Carbon sequestration offsets may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions
Carbon sequestration offsets may face storage capacity limitations

Here’s How Effective and Efficient Carbon Sequestration Offsets Are

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. 

How Effective Are Carbon Sequestration Offset Programs at Reducing CO2 Emissions

Effectiveness involves completing a task with a desired outcome, typically a successful one. 

Effective: producing the result that is wanted or intended; producing a successful result

Oxford Dictionary

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. 

Carbon Sequestration Offsets Can Permanently Remove Carbon From the Atmosphere

Carbon sequestration offsets such as direct carbon/air capture (DCC/DAC), carbon mineralization, and some agricultural offsets are specific types of carbon 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 sequestration 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, DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and some agricultural offsets permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Storing the carbon underground in rock formations or in the soil is also a permanent process. 

Carbon Sequestration Offsets Can Remove CO2 Emissions Quickly

DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, REDD+, and some blue carbon and agricultural offsets reduce emissions quicker than other nature-based solutions.

  • 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. 
  • REDD+ projects reduce emissions immediately because you are protecting existing vegetation rather than creating new vegetation. 
  • For blue carbon, protecting existing seagrass beds and tidal marsh areas reduces CO2 immediately.

In short, DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, REDD+, and some blue carbon and agricultural offsets reduce emissions quicker than other nature-based solutions. 

Carbon Sequestration Offsets Reinforce Our Carbon Sinks

Nature-based carbon sequestration offsets such as reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and blue carbon 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 

Reforestation, afforestation, and REDD+ carbon offsets take advantage of trees’ ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their leaves, trunks, roots, and surrounding 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 mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes’ abilities to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their vegetation and surrounding soil. 

Mangroves and salt marshes can absorb 3-5x more carbon per acre (ac) than tropical forests at a rate 10 times greater, and seagrass meadows store 11% of the ocean’s buried carbon. 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, reforestation, 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. 

Carbon Sequestration Offsets Do Not Reduce Your Own Carbon Emissions

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 carbon sequestration offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, they could lead to greenwashing.

How Efficient Are Carbon Sequestration Offset Programs at Mitigating Climate Change

Efficiency involves performing a task while using the least amount of resources and producing the least amount of waste as possible.

Efficient: working in a way that does not waste a resource (= something valuable such as fuel, water, or money)

Cambridge Dictionary

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 Can be Cost-Effective

Carbon sequestration offsets such as reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and blue carbon offsets are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction.

In general, combating deforestation is an expensive process. But coupling reforestation, afforestation, and blue carbon projects with carbon offsets could help finance this process Especially since these offsets are typically more cost-effective than other categories of offsets. 

In short, carbon sequestration offsets such as reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets are relatively cost-effective when compared to other methods of carbon emission reduction.

Carbon Sequestration Offsets Can Continue to Avoid CO2 Emissions After Their Project Lifespan

Carbon emission reductions are delayed when you plant new trees because you have to wait for them to reach maturity before they can begin to reduce carbon emissions. However, trees continue absorbing carbon long after they mature. This means that reforestation, afforestation, and mangrove blue carbon projects can continue to reduce carbon emissions long after the trees have been planted.

The ability of these offsets to continue to reduce carbon after the project has been completed is dependent on the continued protection of the forest. Reforestation, afforestation, and mangrove blue carbon offsets do not necessarily protect trees after they have been planted, REDD+ carbon offsets are more concerned with protecting already existing forests. So, any future carbon reductions could be negated if the trees are deforested before they die naturally

In short, carbon sequestration offsets such as reforestation, afforestation, and some blue carbon offsets can continue to reduce carbon long after the project has been completed, so long as they are not deforested prematurely.

Carbon Sequestration Offsets Can Have Low Rates of Carbon Re-Emission

Carbon sequestration offsets such as DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and biochar have a low rate of carbon re-emission, making them effective at removing carbon. 

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, biochar tilled into soils can store CO2 for centuries to millennia, because it is 10-100 times more stable than the biomass it was derived from. As long as the lands are not developed, the sequestered carbon can remain stored underground.

In short, carbon sequestration offsets such as DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and biochar agricultural offsets can have low rates of carbon re-emission.

Carbon Sequestration Offsets May Lack Permanence

To be effective, carbon sequestration 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, REDD+, blue carbon, and agroforestry can lack permanence because the storage of carbon is reversible

For reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agroforestry offsets, the carbon is stored in biomass (i.e., trees, seagrasses, marshes) 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, mangroves are more durable than terrestrial forests, and coastal trees are not typically cut down for lumber. However, blue carbon ecosystems are currently being degraded at 4 times the rate of tropical forests due to climate change and ocean acidification.

In short, carbon sequestration offsets such as reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agroforestry offsets can lack permanence because they are reversible, nature-based solutions.

Carbon Sequestration Offsets May Not Yet Be Scaled to Compensate for Our Global Emissions

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, carbon sequestration offsets such as DCC/DAC, carbon mineralization, and blue carbon 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 sequestration 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 sequestration 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. 

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), 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

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 the 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 are 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 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 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 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 reduction, 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 face varying levels of effectiveness and efficiency depending on the type of sequestration.

Direct carbon/air capture (DCC/DAC) and carbon mineralization offsets permanently remove CO2 quickly with low rates of carbon re-emission; however, they are also expensive and do not continue reducing CO2 emissions after project lifespans.

Reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and blue carbon offsets reinforce our carbon sinks, continue to reduce emissions after project lifespans, and are cost-effective; however, they may lack permanence and do not reduce CO2 as quickly as other methods. 

Carbon offsets can instigate meaningful change, but they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. 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 carbon sequestration offsets.

Stay impactful,

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