The Guardian • Issue #2100


Anna Pha

Carbon offsets are a tradeable financial product. The product may be in the form of a reduction in greenhouse gases, carbon storage such as through land restoration or the planting of trees, or avoiding creating emissions that might otherwise have occurred. They can be purchased by a corporation or government to be credited as a reduction in their emissions. In Australia the market in carbon offsets is regulated by the federal government through the Clean Energy Regulator. One Australian carbon credit unit (ACCU) represents one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2-e) that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere. It amounts to paying to pollute. The Australia Institute has published a report summarising 23 studies into carbon offsets and their efficacy. The report raises questions about the integrity of carbon offsets and suggests about 40 per cent of Australian offsets are junk.

The report cites one study that assessed 182 human-induced native forest regeneration (HIR) carbon offset projects. “There was only a small positive overall increase in forest cover (3.6 per cent), and negligible increase in combined sparse woody and forest cover (0.8 per cent), across the combined 3.4 Mha credited area … ,” the report said. The Australian government has purchased an estimated $300 million in credits from HIR projects.

Other research that studied forest carbon offsets approved by Verra – the world’s leading certifier of offsets for the voluntary market – found that more than 90 per cent of certified rainforest offsets “did not represent genuine carbon reductions,” In other words, 90 per cent of rainforest carbon offsets are worthless.

Research drawing on satellite imagery of projects granted carbon credits for avoided deforestation in Brazil found that four years later, half of these areas had been cleared.

A study of the 50 projects that have sold the most carbon offsets in the global market found that 39 of these 50 projects were likely junk, and that eight others were problematic. The remaining 3 projects could not be assessed due to a lack of information. Projects were failed on various grounds, including: no additionality, exaggerated claims, inflated baselines, non-permanence, and leakage. Most of the top 50 carbon offset projects are in global south countries already enduring climate impacts.

An ABC Four Corners investigation looked at carbon offset projects, certified for the global voluntary market by Verra, in Papua New Guinea. Carbon credits from this project were sold to the Sydney Opera House, Planet Ark, and Nespresso. The investigation found that forests that were supposed to be protected by these credits were being logged on a commercial scale! The report also found that local communities were receiving less than a quarter of the income from offset sales, with an Australian company taking the rest as profit.

So-called carbon offsets are no substitute for doing everything possible to reduce and eliminate emissions. “Australia needs a climate policy with integrity that drives genuine emissions reductions. Unless integrity is restored to Australia’s climate policies, Australia is fuelling a net zero fraud,” The Australia Institute report concludes.

For more details, visit The Australia Institute: “Here are 23 Times Carbon Offsets Were Found to be Dodgy”

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