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Carbon offsets – saving grace or green scam?

3 min read
Wenqian Zeng, Junior ESG Investment Analyst07 Nov 2023

Carbon offsetting isn’t the answer – it’s just one of many tools to help the world come to terms with climate impact.

'Offset the CO2 emissions of your trip from £4.99.'

Sound familiar?

You’ve probably come across this at your online checkout recently. Carbon offsets are everywhere, from train journeys and flights to online shopping deliveries. And in the corporate world, they’re even more common. On the back of the Paris Agreement, companies are finding themselves scrambling to make progress towards their climate targets, and carbon offsetting is seen as a simple way to address carbon emissions.

But what are carbon offsets, and do they actually help our carbon footprint?

Carbon offsetting is supposed to ‘balance out’ (or offset) the carbon emissions of a company or person by investing in projects elsewhere to compensate for those emissions. It’s like paying compensation to the planet.

These projects tend to be avoidance projects (e.g. renewable energy or community projects) or carbon removal projects (e.g. forestry and conservation). The benefit is broken up into chunks called carbon credits, which are bought and traded within a voluntary carbon market (VCM). Each credit represents a tonne of carbon dioxide avoided or removed. The idea is, with a few clicks of a button, you pay to counteract your emissions and someone on the other end plants trees or invests in cool green technologies.

Sounds simple, right? So what’s the catch?

There has been a lot of talk recently (with some good reason) on the $2bn voluntary carbon offset credit markets’ credibility and quality, with some credits not delivering the promised emissions reductions. As a result, some companies are having cold feet. The likes of Nestlé and EasyJet have exited the market and are seeking alternatives.

Our view is that this is still a young and evolving market – both in terms of technology and finance. The standard setters, Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon market (ICVCM) and the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI), are trying to improve reliability by raising standards.

Carbon offsetting should be seen as a complement to emission reductions – especially those hard-to-reduce ones, such as space flight or high-grade steel furnaces – rather than a substitute."

Wenqian Zeng, Junior ESG Investment Analyst

But carbon credits can only ever be part of the emissions solution. Relying solely on carbon offsetting without substantial emissions reductions in high emitting sectors may not achieve the necessary global mitigation targets. Carbon offsetting should be seen as a complement to emission reductions – especially those hard-to-reduce ones, such as space flight or high-grade steel furnaces – rather than a substitute.

This is why, at 7IM, we are tackling the source by taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of our platform. All electricity used in our new London office and used by our data centre partners come from 100% renewable sources. We have also reduced the power consumption of our own IT infrastructure through more efficient equipment and by cutting down the number of IT communication rooms.

We then offset any remaining operational carbon emissions by continuing to support the World Land Trust – specifically the World Land Trust local partner FUNDAECO, which protects critically threatened tropical forest through its REDD+ Project for Caribbean Guatemala: The Conservation Coast. The project supports local landowners and communities in registering and obtaining land titles to protect threatened areas of coastal forest, for the benefit of the region’s incredible biodiversity.

Solving climate change needs all the tools available, and carbon offsets is just one of many!

The past performance of investments is not a guide to future performance. The value of investments can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you originally invested. Any reference to specific instruments within this article does not constitute an investment recommendation.
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