By Chris Lang
Last week, REDD-Monitor wrote about Cory Doctorow’s opinion on carbon offsets, the scam that allows Big Polluters to continue polluting while pretending to be addressing the climate crisis. In one of his posts about offsets, Doctorow links to the Climate Ad Project’s “Murder Offsets” video, describing it as a “brilliant anti-greenwashing piece, comparing the way environmental criminals buy ‘carbon offsets’ for their pollution to a system where murderers escape culpability by buying ‘murder offsets.'”
In a post titled, “Carbon offsets are bullshit”, Doctorow refers to Gresham’s Law, which was named in 1860, by economist Henry Dunning Macleod. Gresham’s Law states that “bad money drives out good”, or in this case, bad carbon offsets drive out good carbon offsets.
(Of course there’s no such thing as a “good” carbon offset, because all offsets allow continued burning of fossil fuel, which is what’s causing the climate crisis. To address the climate crisis we need to stop burning fossil fuels, not create distractions that allow continued pollution. However, some offsets are even worse than others.)
Companies tend to buy cheaper offsets
A recent analysis of data published by the offsetting standards organisation, Verra, reveals that 38% of the offsets that companies bought were more than five years old. Only 37% were three years old or less. Journalists at Nikkei Asia analysed Verra’s data on 192 million carbon offsets, going back to 2009.
The journalists, Kenji Asada, Aiko Munakata, and Mari Ishibashi, write that,
While older credits are not necessarily less effective than newer ones at reducing carbon emissions, they can hamper efforts to cut greenhouse gasses, because, once the credits are issued, it is rare for a third-party organization to monitor whether the projects upon which the credits were based, such as afforestation projects, were properly maintained.
They give the example of a tree planting project in central India, which issued credits from 2012 to 2014. Unfortunately, Nikkei‘s journalists don’t give the name of the project. They analysed satellite data of the project area and found “increasing clearance of trees in the project area and the construction of facilities, apparently solar panels”.
Another project in Uruguay was planned to run for 100 years, but has ground to a halt. Carbon credits were issued in 2007, and were still trading last year. Nikkei‘s journalists comment drily that,
If credits backing such failed projects continue to be traded, they will undermine global decarbonization efforts.
Of course, trade in any carbon offsets undermines global decarbonisation efforts. Big Polluters buy offsets precisely in order to continue polluting.
“All carbon credits are the same”
The journalists note that as far as the companies trading the carbon offsets are concerned, “all carbon credits are the same, regardless of when they were verified, when calculating CO2 emissions reductions”.
But the price of a carbon offset falls by approximately half after five years. The temptation for companies to buy older and cheaper offsets is clearly high.
Nikkei reports that, as of September 2021, Delta Airlines was the largest buyer of credits older than five years. Almost half of the offsets that Delta bought, amounting to 7.28 million offsets, were more than five years old. Shell was in second place. Almost 80% of the offsets that Shell bought were older than five years.
The Nikkei article is not completely opposed to carbon offsetting. But the article points out that the current system of regulation of offsetting – in which Verra has a near-monopoly – is woefully inadequate.
A series of companies has sprung up recently that claim to be able to weed out the worst carbon offsetting projects. Bill Goldie of Plannet Zero, a subsidiary of Redshaw Advisors, told Nikkei that, “There is growing demand for additional due diligence, and more buyers are looking to ensure they do not have negative scrutiny later.”
Offsets are helping to burn the planet
While additional due diligence might help to prevent some “negative scrutiny”, the reality is that all offsetting schemes are fundamentally flawed, because they allow Big Oil to continue drilling.
Australia’s Karoon Energy, an international oil and gas company, is planning to buy more than 480,000 carbon offsets between 2022 and 2030. The offsets are supposed to make Karoon Energy’s oil extraction operations in Brazil’s offshore Santos basin “carbon neutral”.
In a press statement, Karoon chief executive Julian Fowles explains that, “As an oil producer, Karoon recognises the importance of facing the global challenge of climate change.”
But the reality is that to address the climate crisis we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Carbon offsets are the perfect greenwashing tool for planet destroying corporations like Karoon Energy.
Believe it or not, it gets even worse.
Karoon Energy has entered into an agreement to buy the carbon offsets from . . . Shell.
PHOTO Credit: “Uncovering polluters’ offsetting scams”, Greenpeace.