Nature-Based Carbon Offsets: All 6 Pros and 6 Cons Explained

Nature-Based Carbon Offsets: All 6 Pros and 6 Cons Explained

By
Grace Smoot

Read Time:22 Minutes

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One way to reduce human-derived atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is via nature-based solutions, which naturally store carbon in various reservoirs. Our forests, oceans, and soils already store carbon naturally, but partnered with carbon offsets, nature-based solutions could have a greater impact. So, we had to ask: What are the pros and cons of nature-based carbon offsets?

Nature-based carbon offsets are a specific type of carbon offsets that reinforce our carbon sinks (forests, oceans, soils), preserve our biodiversity, and are relatively cost-effective. However, they may not reduce carbon emissions immediately and often lack permanence and additionality.

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

The Big Picture of Nature-Based Carbon 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

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

  • Technological removal: This involves specialized technology that extracts carbon from the atmosphere. 
  • Natural removal: Also known as carbon sequestration. Carbon is stored naturally in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, also referred to as our carbon sinks. 

Nature-based carbon offsets are those that focus on the long-term storage of captured or removed carbon in plants, soils, and the ocean, which are capable of absorbing massive amounts of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Carbon offsets that are commonly classified as nature-based carbon offsets include:

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of nature-based carbon offsets? Check it out in this article here: “What Are Nature-Based Carbon Offsets and How Do They Work? The Big Picture
6 Pros of Nature-Based Carbon Offsets6 Cons of Nature-Based Carbon Offsets
Nature-based carbon offsets reinforce our terrestrial carbon sinksNature-based carbon offsets often lack permanence
Nature-based carbon offsets reinforce our marine carbon sinksNature-based carbon offsets can lack additionality 
Nature-based carbon offsets protect soil healthNature-based carbon offsets face carbon storage capacity limitations
Nature-based carbon offsets preserve biodiversity and help maintain the water cycleNature-based carbon offsets are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions
Nature-based carbon offsets are relatively cost-effectiveNature-based carbon offsets may not reduce carbon emissions immediately
Nature-based carbon offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individuallyNature-based carbon offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing

What Are 6 Pros of Nature-Based Carbon Offsets

Nature-based carbon offsets are a cost-effective method to reinforce our terrestrial and marine carbon sinks, protect soil health, preserve biodiversity, and help maintain the water cycle. These offsets also allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

Pro #1: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Reinforce Our Terrestrial Carbon Sinks

Nature-based offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and agriculture reinforce forests, which are one of our largest carbon sinks.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Pro #1

Forests are capable of absorbing some of the roughly 33 billion tons (bt) of CO2 that we emit every year from burning fossil fuels. This makes forests one of our biggest carbon sinks, or carbon reservoirs.

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 

Though, our forests absorbed over 15.6 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.

For example, China, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, and Turkey have together planted 1.3 million hectares of forests as afforestation, with China increasing its forest cover from 12% to almost 22% since the birth of its Great Green Wall afforestation campaign in 1978. 

In addition, REDD+ offsets protect rainforests, including the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon Basin contains roughly 2.8 million square miles of rainforest, which is estimated to store roughly 123 billion tons of carbon above and below ground. 

In short, reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, and agricultural offsets bolster our forest communities, which are one of our biggest carbon sinks capable of absorbing billions of tons of CO2 every year. 

Pro #2: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Reinforce Our Marine Carbon Sinks

Nature-based offsets involving blue carbon reinforce coastal and marine ecosystems, which are one of our largest carbon sinks.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Pro #2

Blue carbon is one example of biological carbon sequestration, or the storage of carbon in vegetation (forests), soils, and oceans, which are commonly referred to as our carbon sinks. Blue carbon ecosystems can permanently store carbon at depths of up to 6 meters for up to 1,000 years.

Blue carbon ecosystems can also sequester carbon at higher rates per unit area than terrestrial ecosystems. 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 despite only accounting for only 0.1% of the world’s seafloor. 

If undisturbed, blue carbon ecosystems can absorb enough carbon to keep pace with moderate sea level rise. In the top meter of soil alone, mangroves can store an average of 1,494 tons of CO2 per hectare (ha), seagrass meadows 951, and tidal marshes 607. But the real carbon storage potential is underground, with 50–99% of the carbon stored in blue ecosystems located in the soil underground

Deforesting mangroves or draining wetlands significantly impacts climate change because it results in the loss of stored carbon in biomass plus the active re-emission of carbon stored deep in the soil. It is estimated that the degradation or conversion of these ecosystems releases between 0.15 and 1.02 billion tons of CO2 annually.

In short, nature-based, blue carbon offsets reinforce marine and coastal ecosystems, which are some of our biggest carbon sinks capable of absorbing billions of metric tons of CO2 every year. 

Pro #3: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Protect Soil Health

Nature-based offsets involving agriculture (e.g., biochar, agroforestry, and avoided grassland conversion) can improve soil structure and nutrient cycling.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Pro #3

Biochar is commonly used as a fertilizer because it breaks down slower than traditional animal manure. Studies have shown that 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. 

Some agroforestry practices, such as planting trees amongst crops or grazing fields, can also improve soil health. Trees cycle nutrients, allowing animals and fungi who live in the soil to flourish. Tree roots also bind soil in place, leading to reduced erosion and increased water filtration.

Lastly, avoided grassland conversion projects protect grassland biomes, which are commonly turned into cropland or grazing lands. Temperate grasslands, in particular, are known to have dark, fertile, nutrient-rich soils due to the decay of branched, grass roots. When grasslands become degraded, the soils re-emit carbon which is converted to CO2 in the atmosphere. 

In short, nature-based, agricultural carbon offsets such as biochar, agroforestry, and avoided grassland conversion can enhance or protect soil health.

Pro #4: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Preserve Biodiversity And Help Maintain The Water Cycle

Nature-based offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agriculture preserve biodiversity, which in turn helps maintain clean water, air, and a healthy food supply.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Pro #4

Biodiversity refers to all the living species on earth, which includes 1.2 million species of identified plants and animals, and 7.5 million not yet identified species that experts estimate to exist. 

Biodiversity: the variety of life found in a place on Earth or, often, the total variety of life on Earth”

Encyclopedia Britannica 

Reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets promote biodiversity because they reinforce and protect terrestrial and marine forests, which in turn supports terrestrial and aquatic wildlife by providing habitats and helping to keep waterways healthy. 

For example, tropical rainforests are earth’s oldest living ecosystem, covering only 6% of Earth’s surface. But they also harbor more than 30 million plant and animal species. And blue carbon offsets support many endangered species (e.g., smalltooth sawfish, manatee, hawksbill sea turtle, Key Deer, and the Florida panther) and others that rely on mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes for habitats

Trees also capture, store, and use rainfall which aids in maintaining water quality and regulating the natural water cycle. When it rains, trees slow down the flow of water by absorbing it into the ground. This filters pollution and reduces flooding risks. If forests are cut down, their ability to absorb rainfall, slow down water, and recycle water is diminished. And this could lead to droughts, floods, famine, or disease.

Blue carbon ecosystems in particular play an important role in regulating water quality because they act as giant water filters. 

  • Mangroves have a complex system of above-ground roots that capture rainfall and filter out nitrates, phosphates, and other pollutants, thereby improving water quality.
  • Seagrasses and seagrass beds trap particulate matter and sediment in the water column, which increases water clarity.
  • Salt marshes trap sediment, filter runoff, and metabolize excess nutrients. 

When we cut down trees, we destroy the habitats of around 50% of the world’s species. Habitat loss is the leading driver of biodiversity loss, and biodiversity is crucial to our planet’s health. Having a variety of plants and animals sustains healthy ecosystems. And healthy ecosystems are associated with clean water, air, and healthy food supplies. 

In short, reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets protect biodiversity and help maintain the water cycle.

Pro #5: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Are Relatively Cost-Effective

Nature-based offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agriculture are some of the most cost-effective methods of carbon emission reduction.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Pro #5

In general, combating deforestation is an expensive process. But coupling reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, 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. 

In short, nature-based offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agriculture are relatively cost-effective when compared to other methods of carbon emission reduction.

Pro #6: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Can Help Offset Carbon Emissions That Can’t Be Reduced Otherwise

Nature-based offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

Nature-Based Carbon 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 your emissions are impossible to reduce. 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 it completely. This is where blue carbon offsets come into play, to reduce carbon emissions in other areas as compensation for the remainder of our carbon emissions.

In short, nature-based carbon offsets allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

What Are 6 Cons of Nature-Based Carbon Offsets

Nature-based offsets can also lack permanence and additionality, face carbon storage capacity limitations, may not yet be scaled to compensate for our global emissions, and may not reduce carbon emissions immediately. They also do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Con #1: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Can Lack Permanence

Nature-based offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agriculture often lack permanence because they are reversible solutions.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Con #1

Reforestation carbon offset projects also must be permanent, in the sense that there must be a full guarantee against reversals of carbon emission for the foreseeable future. 

However, nature-based solutions such as reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agriculture often lack permanence because they are reversible

Rather than storing the carbon in permanent reservoirs (i.e., underground in rock formations), carbon is stored in biomass (trees, seagrass, salt marshes). Once vegetation 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. 

For example, climate change is one of the leading factors that can negate blue carbon permanence. Coastal ecosystems are especially sensitive to sea level rise, storm intensity, and rising ocean temperatures, all of which have been occurring at an accelerated rate. Blue carbon ecosystems are currently being degraded at 4 times the rate of tropical forests. We are currently losing mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal marshes at a rate of 2%, 1.5%, and 1-2% per year, respectively.

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

Con #2: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Can Lack Additionality

Nature-based offsets involving REDD+ often lack additionality because what would have happened without REDD+ intervention cannot be measured exactly.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Con #2

To be beneficial, REDD+ carbon offsets must be additional. This means the carbon emissions reductions would not have occurred without REDD+ interventions. 

The additionality of REDD+ projects cannot be measured exactly, because assessing what would have happened (but did not happen), cannot be measured exactly. If REDD+ offset programs are not additional, then offsetting rather than directly reducing your emissions can actually worsen the effects of climate change.

In short, additionality is not guaranteed with nature-based, REDD+ carbon offsets.

Con #3: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Face Carbon Storage Capacity Limitations

Carbon storage capacity limitations prevent nature-based offset efforts from being scalable enough to compensate for all of our carbon emissions.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Con #3

Reforestation, afforestation, mangrove-planting blue carbon, and agroforestry efforts are all limited by trees’ carbon storage capacity. 

How much carbon a tree can store, or its carbon storage capacity, is dependent on the type of tree and a host of environmental factors, but typical trees can absorb anywhere from 10-40kg (22-88 pounds) of CO2 per year.

If we use an average of 40 pounds of carbon absorbed, we would need to plant more than 200 billion trees every year to compensate for all of our emissions. A number that is far away from the about 1.9 billion trees currently planted every year

For example, our overall reforestation potential is limited by the number of forests that are in need of reforestation. Globally, our forests absorbed over 15.6 billion tons (bt) of CO2 each year from 2001-2019, and the world has lost 1/3 of its forests since the last ice age. This means that 15.6 represents 2/3 of our global forest potential (when it only comes to reforestation). 

In total, the global reforestation potential would be at 7.8bt of CO2 per year. Even if fully utilized, this is only a fraction of the 33bt of CO2 emissions that we’d need to offset per year.

In addition, biochar agricultural practices face carbon storage capacity limitations in regard to soil. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that global soil carbon sequestration could mitigate up to about 5.3 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2030. However, for as much as our soils can store CO2, too much can have adverse effects. 

Studies have shown that too much CO2 in the soil can have negative effects on root water absorption, chlorophyll, starch content, and total biomass. So although the upper limit of soil carbon sequestration is relatively unknown, soil CO2 saturation can become an issue before the upper limit is even reached. This means biochar can only store a finite amount of CO2 in our soils. 

In short, tree and soil carbon storage capacity limitations prevent nature-based offsets from compensating for all of our carbon emissions.

Con #4: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets May Not Yet Be Scaled to Compensate for Our Global Emissions

Nature-based offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agriculture are not yet scaled to compensate for the billions of tons of GHG we emit annually.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Con #4

Carbon offsets in general are currently not sufficient to compensate for all of our carbon emissions. We emit more than 37 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

Currently, reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets are also not scaled enough to keep pace with our global carbon emissions. 

Reforestation, afforestation, mangrove-planting blue carbon, and agroforestry practices are limited by carbon storage capacity. If we take an average of 40 pounds of carbon absorbed, we would need to plant more than 200 billion trees every year to compensate for all of our emissions. A number that is far away from the about 1.9 billion trees currently planted every year

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, nature-based carbon offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agriculture are not yet scaled to keep pace with our global carbon emissions due to various barriers. 

Con #5: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets May Not Reduce Carbon Emissions Immediately

Nature-based offsets involving reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agriculture may not reduce carbon emissions immediately because of the time needed to plant trees and for them to reach maturity.

Nature-Based Carbon Offset Con #5

Carbon emission reductions are delayed when you plant new forests because you have to wait for the trees to reach maturity before they can begin to reduce carbon emissions at a steady rate. All trees mature at different rates, but a typical hardwood tree takes around 20 years to reach maturity

Although they can absorb carbon as soon as they are planted, it can take decades until a tree is able to absorb the average 10-40kg (22-88 pounds) of CO2 per year. This means we must also wait decades after planting the tree to begin to reap most of the environmental benefits provided by reforestation, afforestation, mangrove planting, and agroforestry projects. 

Creating new forests is also more time-intensive than protecting existing forests because finding suitable land and physically planting the trees to create a new forest takes time. Also, there is always the risk of, e.g., droughts, wildfires, tree diseases, and deforestation wiping out newly planted trees, negating any carbon reduction benefits. 

In contrast, REDD+ projects and blue carbon offset projects that protect existing mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes reduce emissions immediately because you are protecting existing vegetation rather than creating new vegetation.

In short, reforestation, afforestation, blue carbon, and agricultural tree planting projects do not reduce carbon emissions immediately because trees must first reach maturity before they can begin reducing emissions.

Con #6: Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Do Not Reduce Your Own Carbon Emissions

Nature-based carbon offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

Nature-Based Carbon 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 nature-based carbon offsets do not reduce your own emissions, they could lead to greenwashing.

How Could You Offset Your Own Carbon Footprint With Nature-Based Carbon 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 nature-based 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 nature-based carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Best Carbon Nature-Based Carbon Offsets
Nature-Based Carbon Offset CompanyQuick Facts
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. 
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
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
CarbofexAbout: Carbofex’s pyrolysis technology takes waste biomass from urban or agricultural sources and turns it into biochar, which can then be used to enhance agricultural soils or to produce renewable energy.
Costs: Carbofex uses resellers to sell its solutions. Visit the Puro.earth website to learn more about their respective pricing.
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 Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. Nature-based carbon 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, they trap the heat and act 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 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 Nature-Based Carbon Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

Nature-based solutions in general can specifically help mitigate climate change because they eliminate 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. 

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

What Are Better Alternatives to Nature-Based Carbon Offsets

If used correctly, nature-based carbon 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. Nature-based carbon offsets must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures to reduce carbon emissions for 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 nature-based offsets are an indirect way and not a direct way of reducing emissions, they alone will not be enough to reduce global carbon emissions significantly. Direct measures of emission reductions, such as reducing individual energy use and consumption, are better alternatives to nature-based 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

Nature-based carbon offsets focus on the storage of atmospheric carbon in plants, soils, and the ocean, commonly referred to as our carbon sinks. Their pros and cons highly depend on the type of offset. 

Reforestation, afforestation, REDD+, blue carbon, and agricultural offsets reinforce our terrestrial and marine carbon sinks, are relatively cost-effective, and help maintain biodiversity. However, they may also lack permanence, face carbon storage capacity limitations, and are not yet scaled to compensate for our global emissions.

The top nature-based carbon offsets are those offered by companies whose 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 nature-based carbon offsets.

Stay impactful,

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