REDD+ Carbon Offsets: All 5 Pros and 4 Cons Explained

REDD+ Carbon Offsets: All 5 Pros and 4 Cons Explained

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Grace Smoot

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Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is one of the most well-known nature-based solutions to combatting global climate change. But nature-based solutions such as REDD+ have cons that can affect their overall effectiveness. So, we had to ask: What are the pros and cons of REDD+ carbon offsets?

REDD+ carbon offsets reduce deforestation and forest degradation, protect our natural carbon sinks, preserve biodiversity, maintain the water cycle, and help advance modern medicine. However, they often lack additionality and permanence, and determining baseline carbon emissions is difficult.

Keep reading to find out all about what the pros and cons of REDD+ offsets are, how you can offset your carbon footprint with REDD+ offsets, how REDD+ offsets can mitigate climate change, and what better alternatives to REDD+ offsets 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 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

The REDD+ mechanism places economic value on the actions a country takes to reduce deforestation and preserve forests. This is done either through direct payments or through the use of REDD+ Result Units (RRUs). RRUs are a specific type of carbon credit, tradable certificates or permits that give companies, industries, or countries the right to emit 1 tonne (1,000kg) of CO2 or the equivalent amount of a different greenhouse gas (GHG). 

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.

5 Pros of REDD+ Carbon Offsets4 Cons of REDD+ Carbon Offsets
REDD+ offsets reduce deforestation and forest degradationREDD+ offsets often lack additionality
REDD+ offsets protect our natural carbon sinksREDD+ offsets lack permanence
REDD+ offsets preserve biodiversityIdentifying the baseline for REDD+ projects can be inaccurate
REDD+ offsets help maintain the water cycleREDD+ offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing
REDD+ offsets help advance modern medicine

REDD+ carbon offsets are aimed at reducing deforestation and preventing further forest degradation. There are pros and cons to this methodology that must be understood in order to implement it effectively.

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

What Are 5 Pros of REDD+ Carbon Offsets

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.

Pro #1: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Reduce Deforestation and Forest Degradation

REDD+ offsets reduce global deforestation and forest degradation by placing a financial value on the carbon stored within our rainforests.

REDD+ Offset Pro #1

Deforestation is the main threat to our forests, and it occurs at approximately 10 million hectares (~25 million acres) per year. 95% of global deforestation occurs in tropical regions, and the past 40 years have seen a 17% decline in forest extent in the Amazon rainforest alone. 

REDD+ is a mechanism aimed at reducing current tropical rainforest deforestation rates and preventing further forest degradation. 

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+ carbon offsets put a financial value on rainforests and the carbon stored within them. Landowners are either compensated directly for not clearing or degrading forests, or carbon credits are issued for the amount of avoided carbon emissions.

In short, REDD+ offsets place a financial value on the carbon stored within our rainforests and incentivize against deforestation and degradation.

Pro #2: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Protect Our Natural Carbon Sinks

REDD+ offsets protect rainforests and their ability to act as carbon sinks, which helps to mitigate climate change.

REDD+ Offset Pro #2

REDD+ offsets protect rainforests, and rainforests play a vital role in regulating our climate. The roughly 3 billion acres of rainforest found on our planet are often described as Earth’s thermostat because they act as a giant carbon sink.

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

Tropical rainforests are capable of absorbing 2.4 billion tons of CO2 every year. In addition, they also produce approximately 20% of our oxygen. Rainforests help absorb some of the carbon emissions we burn from fossil fuels and prevent them from entering our atmosphere. 

The Amazon Basin contains roughly 2.8 million square miles of rainforest, roughly half of the remaining tropical rainforest on the planet. This area is estimated to store roughly 123 billion tons of carbon above and below ground, making it one of our most important carbon sinks. If we allow this stored carbon to be released, it would further exacerbate global warming and speed up climate change. 

In short, REDD+ offsets protect rainforests, which act as carbon sinks that absorb carbon and prevent it from entering our atmosphere.

Pro #3: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Preserve Biodiversity

REDD+ offsets preserve rainforest biodiversity, which in turn helps maintain clean water, air, and a healthy food supply.

REDD+ Offset Pro #3

REDD+ offsets protect tropical rainforests and aim to reduce their deforestation. Tropical rainforests are earth’s oldest living ecosystem, covering only 6% of Earth’s surface but harboring more than 30 million plant and animal species. And even then, there are potentially thousands of species still waiting to be discovered.

When we cut down rainforests, 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, REDD+ offsets protect rainforests and the biodiversity contained within them, which in turn maintains healthy ecosystems.

Pro #4: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Help Maintain the Water Cycle 

REDD+ offsets help maintain the water cycle because they store and re-distribute large amounts of water.

REDD+ Offset Pro #4

REDD+ offsets protect tropical rainforests and aim to reduce their deforestation. Rainforests store a large amount of water, with the Amazon Basin alone storing one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. More than 50% of the precipitation that strikes a rainforest is returned to the atmosphere via evapotranspiration. The clouds created from this process can travel around the world, providing precipitation to vast regions. 

If rainforests 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.

In short, REDD+ offsets help maintain the water cycle because they store and transport large amounts of water.

Pro #5: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Help Advance Modern Medicine

REDD+ offsets protect rainforests that harbor medicinally-important plants.

REDD+ Offset Pro #5

Tropical rainforests are often referred to as medicine cabinets because 25% of our modern medicines are derived from rainforest plants. For example, approximately 70% of plants used to treat cancer effectively can be found only in rainforests, while others are used to treat asthma, malaria, arthritis, pneumonia, and heart disease. And even then, less than 1% of all rainforest flora has been studied to determine medicinal value. 

In short, REDD+ 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 4 Cons of REDD+ Carbon Offsets

REDD+ carbon offsets lack additionality and permanence, and they do not reduce your own carbon emissions. Also, identifying an accurate baseline for REDD+ projects is difficult and can lead to an overestimation of carbon emissions reductions. 

Con#1: REDD+ Carbon Often Offsets Lack Additionality

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

REDD+ Carbon Offset Con #1

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 REDD+ carbon offsets.

Con#2: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Lack Permanence

REDD+ offsets lack permanence because they are reversible, nature-based solutions.

REDD+ Carbon Offset Con #2

REDD+ 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. 

Nature-based solutions, such as REDD+, 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). Once a tree is protected by a REDD+ project, 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. 

In short, nature-based solutions like REDD+ lack permanence because they are reversible.

Con#3: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Baseline Identification is Difficult 

It is impossible to calculate the baseline with absolute certainty, which can lead to overestimation of carbon emissions reductions and over issuance of carbon credits.

REDD+ Carbon Offset Con #3

The number of carbon credits issued by a certain REDD+ project depends on how much CO2 emissions are avoided due to the prevented deforestation. And in order for REDD+ to be effective, these numbers must match.

This is calculated by determining the baseline, or the business-as-usual carbon emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation in the absence of efforts to reduce those emissions. 

To identify the baseline, you look at the deforestation rate in a nearby area over the past 10 years. After the baseline is determined, you can calculate the amount of carbon emissions avoided by a certain project, and subsequently issue an equivalent number of carbon credits.

However, because we cannot know exactly what would happen to a specific forest in the absence of a REDD+ project, it is impossible to calculate the baseline with absolute certainty. And an inaccurate baseline could lead to an overestimation of carbon emissions reductions and a subsequent over-issuance of carbon credits. This gives the illusion that we are avoiding more carbon emissions than we actually are.

In short, it is impossible to calculate the baseline with absolute certainty, which can lead to overestimation of carbon emissions reductions and over-issuance of carbon credits.

Con #4: REDD+ Carbon Offsets Do Not Reduce Your Own Carbon Emissions

REDD+ offsets do not reduce your own carbon emissions, which can lead to greenwashing.

REDD+ Carbon Offset Con #4

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

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, 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+) offsets reduce deforestation and forest degradation, mitigate climate change, preserve biodiversity, help maintain the water cycle, and contribute to the advancement of modern medicine. However, REDD+ carbon offsets lack additionality and permanence, and they do not reduce your own carbon emissions. Also, identifying an accurate baseline for REDD+ projects is difficult and can lead to an overestimation of carbon emissions reductions. 

For all of the good carbon offsets can instigate, they should not be seen as the only solution to climate change. They are effective at reducing CO2 in the short-term, but in the long-term they fail to reduce CO2 enough. When used in conjunction with direct CO2 reduction measures, carbon offsetting can be much more effective. We should reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible first, and only then choose the most effective 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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