carbon offsets–the new nigerian scam?

The eco-consumer or community association has a new tool to assuage their guilt over riding an airplane or buying strawberries in January: the carbon offset. Purchase an interest in a tree planting project or fund R&D into climate development mechanisms and, voila, your carbon emissions have been compensated by good works. What with the £60m worldwide carbon market, however, this is becoming a prime area to rip off consumers. So how much do you know about that carbon offset scheme?

Francis Sullivan, a carbon offset expert who led attempts by banking group HSBC to neutralise its emissions, said: … “There are sharks out there who are literally just trying to get money off you. People were offering to sell us large chunks of the rainforest in Papua New Guinea. I don’t think it was theirs to sell.”

Concern is growing that the demand for offsets is allowing projects to claim savings they do not deserve, which are then sold on as “carbon credits”. A tree planting or windfarm project reckoned to save up 30,000 tonnes of carbon could sell an equivalent number of carbon credits for about £3 each. To provide a true carbon saving, the developers of such projects must demonstrate that it would not have happened without the investment raised by selling such credits, called additionality. The saving is then worked out against what would have happened, the baseline.

Mark Kenber of the environmental organisation the Climate Group said: “There are plenty of projects out there that are rigorous and have no problems at all. Then there are plenty that are not truly additional and you could question the baseline used. Then there are suspicions that people have sold the same ton of carbon to four or five different customers.”

Many of these mechanisms are available over the Internet. So you’re just a click away from feeling green. Perhaps you need to pause before you press the mouse.

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