David Suzuki: Carbon offsets as a tool in the fight against global warming

The science is clear: human-caused global warming is a reality. Now it’s time to focus on solutions. We need strong leadership from our governments in setting firm greenhouse gas reduction targets, and we need to look at a range of policies and practices. There’s no legitimate argument about whether the problem exists, but there is still some debate about the best ways to tackle it.

Take carbon offsets. Some people compare them to “indulgences” granted by the church allowing sinners to avoid punishment for some transgressions. Others argue that offsets can be one of many legitimate tools used to tackle climate change, and that high-quality carbon offsets can result in real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon offsets are becoming an increasingly popular way for individuals, businesses, and even governments to reduce their impact on the environment. The “voluntary” carbon market, made up of all these purchases of carbon offsets, increased in value globally from $305 million in 2007 to $460 million in 2008. If you add in the offsets that are used in national and international regulatory programs, such as the Kyoto Protocol and European Emissions Trading System, the total carbon market now approaches $139 billion a year.

So carbon offsets are here to stay. But what are they? Well, a carbon offset is a credit for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions generated by one project, such as a solar-power installation, that can be used to cancel out the emissions from another source. Carbon offsets are typically measured in tonnes of CO2 or their equivalent. Those who buy offsets are essentially investing in other projects that reduce emissions on their behalf, either because they are unable to do so themselves or because it is too expensive to make their own reductions.

One thing to note is that not all carbon offsets are created equal. Because the market is new and largely unregulated, some offsets are unlikely to have any benefit for the climate. This is one reason why carbon offsets have gotten a bad rap.

So, what makes a good offset? Opinions vary on some of the finer points, but most experts agree that several conditions are necessary. Good offsets are “additional”; that is, they result in greenhouse gas reductions that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred without the incentive of carbon offsets. For example, if a company is required by regulation to install technology to reduce emissions from its factory, the resulting emission reductions should not be sold as offsets.

A good carbon offset should also result in “permanent” reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This is one reason why some organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, recommend against using tree-planting to generate offsets. Although trees have many benefits for the environment, they make risky carbon offsets because they are susceptible to fire, logging, and insect infestation—any one of which can release the stored carbon back into the atmosphere and render the offset worthless.

Good carbon offsets should also be verified by qualified auditors to ensure that the reductions have actually taken place.

Carbon offsets that are real, additional, and permanent can have a direct, positive impact on the climate. And they can create some other important benefits. They provide money for much-needed renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects, which can help move society away from fossil fuels and toward a clean-energy economy. Buying carbon offsets can also help to deal with emissions that aren’t currently covered by government regulations, such as international air travel. Carbon offsets can also put a value on carbon, and help to educate businesses and consumers about the climate impact of their daily decisions, and where they should target their own reduction efforts.

Of course, people should do everything they can to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but when that isn’t possible or feasible, buying high-quality offsets at least ensures that an equivalent amount of reductions is made elsewhere.

Carbon offsets alone won’t solve climate change. We still need to find ways to make deep reductions in our own emissions. But the problem of climate change is so massive that it requires a whole range of solutions, and offsets can be part of that.

For additional help in guiding your decisions about carbon offsets, my foundation and the Pembina Institute have just released a guide, Purchasing Carbon Offsets.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Comments

6 Comments

goldorak

Aug 4, 2009 at 5:06pm

"The science is clear: human-caused global warming is a reality"

David Suzuki and his acolytes are indeed misrepresenting the situation.

The science is not settled. If it were why would Phil Jones from HADCRUT refuse to share all his data so the HADCRUT temperature algorythms can be reproduced? Why would Steig, Mann, Santer refuse to share full datasets and processes for independent replication? How come that none of the IPCC models reflect the reality and that their so called tropospheric warming hot spot signature is absent from real data (Douglass and Christy reference)? How come Al Gore refuses to debate publicly? Why in your little pamphlets solliciting funds are your scientific points so vague as to protect yourself from future lawsuit for misleading people? Why are you supporting such racist, hatemongering desmogblog website that employs journalists, not climatologists, to discredit the people who indeed have demonstrated flaws of the AGW and IPCC papers? Is that your understanding of the scientific process?

Activism is no science. You are not a climatologist and there is no consensus on the subject. Period.

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Smartiepants

Aug 5, 2009 at 2:55am

Many of us probably have read about global warming and al gore who can't stop talking about it yet he has a huge utility bill every month for electricity etc. Talking about someone contradicting himself. Plus global warming is not a fact at all. Actually quite a few scientist predict global cooling based on cyclical information but then again scientists only know what someone has written before them and they make it their own but in the end no one knows anything. All one can do is speculate. Companies are not the problem. Governments are. It is widespread knowledge that cars can already run on any kind of water for decades, so can airplanes and trucks. Wonder why the governments are keeping that from the people.

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Goldorak

Aug 5, 2009 at 11:26am

Consensus? NO!
Open Letter – Climate Change
To the attention of the Honorable Madam Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

When one studies history, one learns that the development of societies is often determined by a zeitgeist, which at times had detrimental or even horrific results for humanity. History tells us time and again that political leaders often have made poor decisions because they followed the advice of advisors who were incompetent or ideologues and failed to recognize it in time. Moreover evolution also shows that natural development took a wide variety of paths with most of them leading to dead ends. No era is immune from repeating the mistakes of the past.

Politicians often launch their careers using a topic that allows them to stand out. Earlier as Minister of the Environment you legitimately did this as well by assigning a high priority to climate change. But in doing so you committed an error that has since led to much damage, something that should have never happened, especially given the fact you are a physicist. You confirmed that climate change is caused by human activity and have made it a primary objective to implement expensive strategies to reduce the so-called greenhouse gas CO2. You have done so without first having a real discussion to check whether early temperature measurements and a host of other climate related facts even justify it.

A real comprehensive study, whose value would have been absolutely essential, would have shown, even before the IPCC was founded, that humans have had no measurable effect on global warming through CO2 emissions. Instead the temperature fluctuations have been within normal ranges and are due to natural cycles. Indeed the atmosphere has not warmed since 1998 – more than 10 years, and the global temperature has even dropped significantly since 2003.

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Goldorak

Aug 5, 2009 at 11:27am

Not one of the many extremely expensive climate models predicted this. According to the IPCC, it was supposed to have gotten steadily warmer, but just the opposite has occurred.

More importantly, there’s a growing body of evidence showing anthropogenic CO2 plays no measurable role. Indeed CO2’s capability to absorb radiation is almost exhausted by today’s atmospheric concentrations. If CO2 did indeed have an effect and all fossil fuels were burned, then additional warming over the long term would in fact remain limited to only a few tenths of a degree.

The IPCC had to have been aware of this fact, but completely ignored it during its studies of 160 years of temperature measurements and 150 years of determined CO2 levels. As a result the IPCC has lost its scientific credibility. The main points on this subject are included in the accompanying addendum.

In the meantime, the belief of climate change, and that it is manmade, has become a pseudo-religion. Its proponents, without thought, pillory independent and fact-based analysts and experts, many of whom are the best and brightest of the international scientific community. Fortunately in the internet it is possible to find numerous scientific works that show in detail there is no anthropogenic CO2 caused climate change. If it was not for the internet, climate realists would hardly be able to make their voices heard. Rarely do their critical views get published.

The German media has sadly taken a leading position in refusing to publicize views that are critical of anthropogenic global warming. For example, at the second International Climate Realist Conference on Climate in New York last March, approximately 800 leading scientists attended, some of whom are among the world’s best climatologists or specialists in related fields. While the US media and only the Wiener Zeitung (Vienna daily) covered the event, here in Germany the press, public television and radio shut it out. It is indeed unfortunate how our media have developed – under earlier dictatorships the media were told what was not worth reporting. But today they know it without getting instructions.

Do you not believe, Madam Chancellor, that science entails more than just confirming a hypothesis, but also involves testing to see if the opposite better explains reality? We strongly urge you to reconsider your position on this subject and to convene an impartial panel for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one that is free of ideology, and where controversial arguments can be openly debated. We the undersigned would very much like to offer support in this regard.

Respectfully yours,

Prof. Dr.rer.nat. Friedrich-Karl Ewert EIKE

Diplom-Geologe

Universití¤t. – GH – Paderborn, Abt. Hí¶xter (ret.)

#

Dr. Holger ThuíŸ

EIKE President

European Institute for Climate and Energy

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Eric Chris

Aug 5, 2009 at 8:36pm

David,
Buying carbon credits is like eating a chocolate cake and then paying someone else to run 10 km to burn off the fat for you. At the end of day, you are still fat and someone else who would have run anyway is getting paid for it.

You are on the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team (GCAT). If you want to do something tangible, become active in removing the GHG emitting diesel buses from our trolley bus routes in Vancouver.

So far, I don’t see much action from GCAT, just a lot of stepping, for instance, on stopping TransLink from spewing out 5 million kilograms of unnecessary GHG emissions annually with its 99 B-Line diesel bus rapid transit which runs along the UBC trolley bus routes. The diesel buses along the 99 B-Line route displace the equivalent of 80 standard trolley buses.

Are you and the rest of GCAT any better than the Canadian Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, who you recently slammed for shirking his responsibility to show leadership at the G8 meeting when he side stepped any commitment to curb GHG emissions in Canada? I doubt it. What commitment has GCAT shown to remove diesel buses from the trolley bus routes in Vancouver?

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Stu

Aug 8, 2009 at 1:39pm

David -after you sold out to the Liberals in the last election I cannot believe ANYTHING you say. Go away.

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