Offsetting carbon emissions, refers to the act of offsetting one's carbon footprint by investing in activities or projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is to pay someone else to remove an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, so that the net emissions of the individual or an organisation are reduced to zero.
Let's say you want to offset the carbon emissions from your air travel. You can use an online calculator to estimate the amount of CO2e emissions produced by your flight, and then purchase carbon offsets that claim to mitigate the same amount of emissions.
Sounds tempting, but there is a flaw to the plan. It is important to note that the effectiveness and legitimacy of these offset projects can vary, and it can be difficult to verify their actual impact. Moreover, even if you offset your emissions, you are still contributing to the overall demand for air travel, which in turn leads to more carbon emissions.
The effectiveness of carbon offsetting offers is a topic of debate in the scientific community. On the one hand, carbon offsetting can provide some benefits, such as reducing emissions in sectors where it may be more difficult or expensive to do so. It can also support sustainable development projects in developing countries, such as providing access to clean energy or improving forest management.
However, there are practical problems with carbon offsetting that make it less effective than reducing emissions. One issue is that carbon offset projects can be difficult to verify and monitor, which means that the actual emissions reductions achieved may be lower than claimed. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the offset project would not have happened anyway, known as additionality.