REDD+ Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

REDD+ Carbon Offsets Explained: All You Need to Know

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Grace Smoot

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In the scope of carbon offsets, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) carbon offsets could play a role in lowering the global average concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which now registers at over 400 parts per million. So, we had to ask: What are REDD+ carbon offsets really, and could they help us mitigate climate change?

REDD+ carbon offsets are a specific type of avoidance carbon offset that help reduce carbon emissions through a reduction in deforestation. REDD+ offsets are virtually immediate and cost-effective; however, determining the baseline is difficult and they can lack both additionality and permanence.

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

The Big Picture of REDD+ Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets play a crucial role in reducing our carbon footprint, the amount of CO2 emissions associated with an individual or an entity. 

Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period

Merriam Webster

Basically, a carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emitted by an activity or an organization which includes GHG emissions from fuel that we burn directly and GHG emissions from manufacturing the products that we use.

One way to reduce our carbon footprint is via the use of carbon offsets. These are reductions in GHG emissions that are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms. 

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

Essentially, carbon offsets are reductions in GHG emissions that are used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere. They do not directly reduce your carbon footprint, instead, they make others reduce their carbon footprint to compensate for your carbon footprint. 

Carbon offsets reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beyond what we each can achieve through individual actions. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) carbon offsets are a type of avoidance carbon offset, which involve measures aimed at preventing carbon from being released into the atmosphere. 

REDD+: a framework created by the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) to guide activities in the forest sector that reduces emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the sustainable management of forests and the conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.”

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

REDD+ is the only emissions reduction program and standard included in the Paris Climate Agreement and approved by over 190 countries. 100% of the sale of RRUs go back to the countries that are actively protecting rainforests.

What are REDD+ carbon offsetsREDD+ carbon offsets are a specific type of avoidance carbon offset that involves a United Nations-backed framework aiming to combat global deforestation via direct payments or through the use of carbon credits.
How do REDD+ carbon offsets workREDD+ carbon offsets are a specific type of carbon offset that focus on the practice of reducing deforestation and forest degradation. REDD+ projects reduce CO2 emissions by putting a financial value on forests, thereby avoiding carbon emissions that would result from deforestation.
How effective and efficient are REDD+ carbon offsetsREDD+ offsets are effective because they help reduce deforestation; however, the majority of REDD+ projects only protect a (difficult to establish) baseline, and projects often lack additionality and permanence.REDD+ offsets are efficient in the sense that they are time and cost-effective; however, they only avoid carbon emissions during the project lifespan and may have high rates of carbon re-emission.
What are the 5 pros of REDD+ carbon offsetsREDD+ offsets reduce deforestation and forest degradation
REDD+ offsets protect our natural carbon sinks
REDD+ offsets preserve biodiversity
REDD+ offsets help maintain the water cycle
REDD+ offsets help advance modern medicine
What are the 4 cons of REDD+ carbon offsetsREDD+ offsets often lack additionally
REDD+ offsets lack permanence
Identifying the baseline for REDD+ projects can be inaccurate
REDD+ offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
What are the best REDD+ carbon offsetsThe best direct REDD+ carbon offsets are offered by REDD.plus, Pachama, and Wildlife Works that all combat global deforestation and preserve rainforests. In addition, InfiniteEARTH REDD+ offsets protect tropical peat forests in Asia, and Biofílica REDD+ offsets protect the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.
How can REDD+ carbon offsets help mitigate climate changeREDD+ offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they create a financial incentive for protecting rainforests by placing value on their carbon sequestration and storage abilities. REDD+ carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions through a reduction in deforestation.

What Are REDD+ Carbon Offsets

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) refers to verified carbon emissions reductions resulting from efforts taken to reduce deforestation and prevent forest degradation in a designated area over a period of time.

REDD+ is a method of carbon avoidance, where we seek to prevent carbon emissions from entering our atmosphere. It is a United Nations-backed framework that aims to combat global deforestation and preserve rainforests. It was launched in 2005 and now encompasses 90% of our planet’s rainforests and over 65 rainforest countries.

How Do REDD+ Carbon Offsets Work

In general, REDD+ is a mechanism by which countries are financially incentivized to generate measured, reported, and verified carbon emissions reductions from prevented deforestation. Because REDD+ offsets chiefly protect existing forests rather than creating new ones, carbon emissions reductions can occur immediately.

REDD+ is used to refer to the following 5 activities:

  1. Reducing emissions from deforestation
  2. Reducing emissions from forest degradation
  3. Conservation of forest carbon stocks
  4. Sustainable management of forests
  5. Enhancement of forest carbon stocks

REDD+ is often referred to as a payment-for-performance system because countries receive financial compensation (payment) when they successfully reduce carbon emissions resulting from deforestation (performance).

REDD+ carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions through a reduction in deforestation. Efforts to preserve forests and prevent deforestation are measured and reported to the UNFCCC, which verifies and publishes the emissions reductions on an online registry so individuals and businesses can then purchase carbon credits to offset their own emissions.

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

How Effective and Efficient Are REDD+ Carbon Offsets

In terms of effectiveness, REDD+ carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions through a reduction in deforestation; however, baseline emissions calculations can have a high degree of uncertainty. The majority of REDD+ projects only protect the baseline and often lack permanence. 

In terms of efficiency, REDD+ carbon offsets chiefly preserve existing forests and are relatively cost-effective; however, they also only avoid emissions during the project’s life span and they can have a high rate of carbon re-emission.

REDD+ carbon offsets are effective at mitigating climate change because they:

  • Place a financial value on the carbon stored within our rainforests to incentivize against deforestation and future forest degradation

However, REDD+ carbon offsets can also lack effectiveness because they:

REDD+ carbon offsets are efficient at reducing CO2 emissions because they:

  • Chiefly protect existing forests from deforestation, which is more time and cost-effective than creating new forests
  • Are relatively cost-effective when compared to other methods of carbon reduction

However, REDD+ carbon offsets can also lack efficiency because they: 

  • Only avoid carbon emissions during project durations
  • Can have a high rate of carbon re-emission due to a lack of additionality and permanence

REDD+ carbon offsets also 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. This is why we should first reduce our emissions before relying on offsets.

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

What Are The 5 Pros and 4 Cons of REDD+ Carbon Offsets

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) carbon offsets reduce deforestation and forest degradation, mitigate climate change, preserve biodiversity, help maintain the water cycle, and contribute to the advancement of modern medicine. They also allow us to reduce carbon emissions in ways we wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually.

However, REDD+ offsets often lack additionality and permanence, and determining baseline carbon emissions is difficult. They also do not reduce your own carbon emissions.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of REDD+ carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “REDD+ Carbon Offsets: All 5 Pros and 4 Cons Explained

What Are the 5 Pros of REDD+ Carbon Offsets

REDD+ offsets have various pros that make them effective at reducing deforestation, preserving rainforests, and preventing carbon stored in trees from entering our atmosphere.

5 Pros of REDD+ Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: REDD+ offsets reduce deforestation and forest degradationREDD+ refers to the following 5 activities:
Reducing emissions from deforestation
Reducing emissions from forest degradation
Conservation of forest carbon stocks
Sustainable management of forests
Enhancement of forest carbon stocks
#2: REDD+ offsets protect our natural carbon sinksRainforests act like a giant carbon sink, capable of absorbing 2.4 billion tons of CO2 every year and producing approximately 20% of our oxygen. REDD+ offsets put financial value on rainforests and the carbon stored within them, incentivizing their protection.
#3: REDD+ offsets preserve biodiversityREDD+ offsets protect rainforests and the biodiversity contained within them, which in turn maintains healthy ecosystems.
#4: REDD+ offsets help maintain the water cycleREDD+ offsets help maintain the water cycle because they are capable of storing large amounts of water. Clouds created via evapotranspiration also provide precipitation for regions across the globe.
#5: REDD+ offsets help advance modern medicineREDD+ offsets protect rainforests, from which over 25% of our modern medicines are derived and where there are thousands of plants yet to be studied.

What Are the 4 Cons of REDD+ Carbon Offsets

Understanding the drawbacks of REDD+ offsets is important when implementing this strategy on a large scale in order to mitigate climate change.

4 Cons of REDD+ Carbon OffsetsQuick Facts
#1: REDD+ offsets often lack additionalityREDD+ offsets often lack additionality because what would have happened without REDD+ intervention cannot be measured exactly
#2: REDD+ offsets lack permanenceREDD+ offsets lack permanence because they are reversible. Trees die naturally, and environmental disasters such as floods, fires, changes in land use, and climate change itself can negate any permanence. 
#3: Identifying the baseline for REDD+ projects is not accurateWe cannot know exactly what would happen to a specific forest in the absence of a REDD+ project, so it is impossible to calculate the baseline emissions with absolute certainty. This can lead to an overestimation of carbon emissions reductions and an over-issuance of carbon credits.
#4: REDD+ offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashingIf 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 REDD+ 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 Ecosystem Marketplace predicts the VCM can grow to $50B by the year 2050. The voluntary carbon offset market (VCM) is where everyday consumers can purchase carbon offsets to offset their carbon emissions. 

On the VCM, REDD.plus provides carbon credits that are verified by the UNFCCC and registered under the Paris Agreement. But there are others protecting rainforests and preventing further deforestation across the globe. Below are our favorite REDD+ offsets.

REDD+ Carbon Offset CompanyQuick Facts
REDD.plusCarbon 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. 
PachamaCarbon offset purchases support third-party certified carbon offset projects including the Manoa, Pancajá Pará, and Chocó-Darién Bioregion REDD+ projects in Brazil and Colombia.
Wildlife WorksCarbon 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.
InfinteEARTHCarbon offset purchases support the third-party certified Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve REDD+ project in Borneo. 
BiofilicaCarbon offset purchases support third-party certified REDD+ projects that protect six areas of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.
World Land TrustCarbon offset purchases from their Carbon Balanced Programme supports REDD+ projects in Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Vietnam. World Land Trust protects threatened habitats by creating nature reserves on land they purchase. 
TerrapassCarbon offset purchases support the third-party certified Cordillera Azul National Park REDD+ project in Peru.
CarbonfundCarbon offset purchases support third-party certified carbon offset projects including the Purus, Russas-Valparaiso, and Envira Amazonia REDD+ projects in Brazil.
ClearCarbon offset purchases support Quality Assurance Standard certified carbon offset projects including the Brazilian Amazon Forest and Lower Zambezi Forest REDD+ projects in Brazil and Zambia.
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the best REDD+ carbon offsets? Check out the full article here: “Best REDD+ Carbon Offsets

How Can REDD+ Carbon Offsets Help Mitigate Climate Change

Climate change is a severe and long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. REDD+ carbon offsets can help mitigate climate change because they protect rainforests, which sequester millions of tons of CO2 every year and prevent it from entering our atmosphere. Atmospheric carbon can remain in circulation 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 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 REDD+ Carbon Offsets Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

REDD+ offsets specifically help mitigate climate change because they create a financial incentive for protecting rainforests by placing value on their carbon sequestration and storage abilities. REDD+ carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions through a reduction in deforestation.

By protecting rainforests, we increase the amount of carbon they are capable of storing. The more carbon our rainforests can sequester, the less carbon there is in our atmosphere. And because higher levels of carbon exacerbate global warming, less is better.

What Are Better Alternatives to REDD+ Carbon Offsets

If used correctly, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) carbon offsets can provide environmental, economic, and social benefits beyond reducing carbon emissions. They have the potential to instigate meaningful environmental change and protect our rainforest communities. 

However, we can’t let this method be a guilt-free way to reduce carbon emissions. REDD+ carbon offsets help avoid carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, but they do not help remove what is already there. REDD+ must be used in conjunction with direct carbon reduction measures until the industry has time to develop accurate baseline identification methods and can ensure additionality and permanence. 

These direct 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 REDD+ 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 REDD+ 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

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)carbon offsets help reduce carbon emissions through a reduction in deforestation and are relatively cost-effective; however, baseline emissions calculations can have a high degree of uncertainty and the majority of REDD+ projects only protect the baseline, often lack permanence, only avoid emissions during the project’s life span, and can have a high rate of carbon re-emission. 

The top REDD+ companies support third-party verified REDD+ projects that combat deforestation. But although REDD+ offsets can instigate meaningful change, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. They are effective at reducing CO2 in the short-term, but in the long-term, they fail to reduce CO2 enough. 

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

Stay impactful,

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Grace Smoot

Grace loves to research and write about all things related to climate action and sustainability. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology and works as an Environmental Survey Technician. Outside of work, she loves to work out, play soccer, and take her dog for long walks.

Did you know that the internet is a huge polluter of the environment? But fortunately not this site. This site is powered by renewable energy and all hosting-related CO2 emissions are offset by three times as many renewable energy certificates. Find out all about it here.

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