Can Carbon Offsets INCREASE Global Warming - India Renewable Energy Consulting – Solar, Biomass, Wind, Cleantech
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Can Carbon Offsets INCREASE Global Warming

Carbon offsets have taken center stage in decarbonization efforts. At first sight, it appears a useful tool – every time you do something that emits CO2, you (voluntarily) pay for something that reduces CO2 emissions or captures CO2.

But dig a bit deeper, and you will start wondering.

My focus for this post is consumer oriented offsets rather than offsets for businesses and industries (that needs a separate post).

Offsets for consumer activities (travel, food, residential power consumption) can be, in some circumstances, more damaging to the cause than a world without offsets.

Consider the following example of air travel, a super CO2 emitter. Today, you can offset CO2 your air travel through offsets purchased by providers such as Climes . Is this option beneficial to climate action, 𝘰𝘳 𝘯𝘰𝘵?

Assume a million people travel by air every day in India. Assume that 50% of that is unavoidable, and 50% is somewhat or entirely avoidable. Offsets typically play on the guilt feeling of someone who flies without having to; in my opinion, it may not have an effect on someone who has to fly (so, no guilt feeling).

SCENARIO 1 – In the absence of offsets, the half million fliers who can avoid flying might start having guilt feelings and some of them for whom guilt matters (say 10%) might stop flying. That’s 50,000 less fliers and that much less CO2 emissions.

SCENARIO 2 – When presented with offsets, the same 10% might decide to fly – after all, they no longer need feel guilty.

In SCENARIO 2, 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐠𝐥𝐨𝐛𝐚𝐥 𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐞𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐜𝐭 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐮𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐬𝐞𝐝 because, even if all the offset projects are executed well and if all of them have additionality (two big IFs), the CO2 reductions from these happen over a period of time while the CO2 emissions from the 50,000 fliers travelling today happens right now.

My assumptions can be questioned. For instance, in SCENARIO 2, isn’t it possible that a good % of the other 90% of fliers would purchase offsets too, thereby resulting in net climate gain? But I can counter it with: 𝘞𝘪𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺, if there have no guilt quotient?

So in the above hypothetical example, climate loses, not wins.

For those offset lovers who are preparing to pounce on me for my assumptions: No, I have not done any major research (there isn’t much of it anyway), and this is more an exercise in oiling my (limited and rusted) grey cells. But, it is quite possible that some of my assumptions are actually quite charitable to offsets!

𝐁𝐨𝐭𝐭𝐨𝐦𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐞: 𝐈 𝐚𝐦 𝐪𝐮𝐢𝐭𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐨𝐟 𝐨𝐟𝐟𝐬𝐞𝐭𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐠𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐥, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐨 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐮𝐦𝐞𝐫 (𝐚𝐬 𝐚𝐠𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐬𝐭 𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐮𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐢𝐚𝐥) 𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐬.

Gandhi said, “The world has everything for our needs, but not for our greed”. Offsets might be offering an illusory excuse for human greed.

Arjun P Gupta

See my LinkedIn post on this topic 


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