The Guardian view on carbon offsetting: an overhaul is overdue

(The Guardian, 2 Apr 2023) The industry has not delivered what it promised, and critics are right to be sceptical.

The emerging carbon offsets market is chaotic and dysfunctional. Problems need to be addressed openly, and resolved as quickly as possible. A joint investigation by the Guardian, the German weekly Die Zeit and SourceMaterial revealed in January that the vast majority of rainforest offset credits from the leading certifier – which are sold to companies that then use them to make claims about their overall emissions – do not offer the environmental benefits that they claim. Since then, scrutiny has only increased, with more questions being asked of the western businesses behind projects such as Kariba, a huge offset-promoted forest in Zimbabwe.

Recognising the urgent need to rebuild flagging confidence, if the carbon-trading system is not to collapse as it did once before, the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market last week announced that new rules for offset issuers will be announced in May. A separate process overseen by a different body is reviewing the claims that businesses make, based on their offset purchases. While all this might sound remote from the concerns of most people, the stakes could hardly be higher. Many environmentalists would prefer governments to oversee a transfer of resources from rich countries to the forested nations that need incentives to conserve precious carbon sinks. The reality is that due to the way our global economic system is organised, we all depend on market mechanisms.

As the body that certifies most offsets, including for household-name companies such as Disney and Shell, the Washington-based non-profit Verra is in a particularly awkward position. Last month it announced that its current rainforest programme would be phased out and replaced by July 2025. But it has also defended its current methodologies, describing them as the “best in class” for now. It is not clear whether organisations that use Verra credits will stick with them.

External link

The Guardian, 2 Apr 2023: The Guardian view on carbon offsetting: an overhaul is overdue