In what people are calling the Greta Thunberg effect, NGOs are reporting a fourfold increase in carbon offsetting and carbon-reducing projects in developing countries.

There has been a huge increase in businesses and individuals offsetting their carbon emissions by investing in carbon-reducing projects in developing countries.

Carbon offsetting is a mechanism where a company or individual calculate their emissions over a given time period and then buy the equivalent number of credits from projects that prevent or remove emissions of an equivalent amount of greenhouse gasses from elsewhere.

ClimateCare has seen an increase in carbon offsetting from 2 million to 20 million tonnes over the past 18 months and smaller organisations have reported similar levels of growth.

Climate Stewards that offsets emissions for small businesses and individuals reported an 80% increase in businesses and charities looking to offset their emissions and a 156% increase from individuals.

An example of a carbon offsetting scheme is the purchase of improved cooking facilities, such as biogas stoves, in the developing world, which reduces greenhouse gases from burning wood, according to Sarah Leugers, the communications director of Gold Standard. Gold Standard was set up by the WWF to ensure the integrity of projects that reduce carbon emissions. 

“Everyone should be looking to reduce their emissions as much as possible first, but for most of us it is impossible at this time to reduce them to zero, so taking accountability and financing the reduction in emissions somewhere else in the world is a way to accelerate the path to a low carbon economy,” said Leugers.

Another offsetting scheme is Trees for Life-based on the Dundreggan estate in the Highlands of Scotland. It comprises over 100 hectares of native woodland where the aim is to connect habitats and allow nature to restore itself.

Is Offsetting Greenwash?

However, critics say that carbon offsetting allows people or businesses to buy carbon credits so they can have a clear conscience while continuing to fly, drive and use fossil fuels.

They believe that at best carbon offsetting is greenwash and at worst is a licence to carry on with bad habits that are making a four-degree rise in global temperatures an ever more likely scenario.

“Offsetting was always dodgy, but now the age of offsets should be well and truly over. We have to have a maximum reduction of our carbon emissions, and a maximum drawdown of the carbon we’ve already produced, if we’re going to have any chance of avoiding 1.5 or even two degrees of heating. We have to maximize both, we can’t trade them off against each other,” George Monbiot, an environmental journalist, told Wicked Leeks, an environmental online magazine.

Gareth Redmond-King, the head of climate change at the WWF agrees that we can’t offset our way out of a climate emergency.

“We need rapid and deep cutting of direct emissions, particularly flying, as well as greenhouse gas removal, through things like trees, soil, peat, wetlands and other natural ways of doing so,” he said.

One of the biggest polluters is flying and many people believe the airline industry must be made accountable for its emissions. At the moment aviation is not subject to any kind of VAT or Fuel Tax, something environmental lobbyists are trying to change. 

“It has excluded itself from all these environmental protocols, and there should be more pressure to make their emissions accountable,” said Shanon Shah, a freelance writer from London.

Edward Cowley