If you’ve suspected that carbon offsets and carbon offset projects are all the buzz right now in climate change discussions, your suspicion would be correct.
The voluntary carbon market, which allows consumers to buy, sell, and trade carbon credits produced through carbon offset projects in order to compensate for individual, corporate, or global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, has grown so much in 2021 that the international Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM) estimates a 15-fold increase in demand for offsets by 2030.
Businesses across the economy are buying carbon credits and supporting carbon offset projects in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint.
And carbon credits and the effectiveness of carbon offset projects are central to ongoing talks of governance and policy, such as in Glasgow at the recently ended 26th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, known colloquially as COP26, where global leaders attempted to “put the finishing touches on how countries trade carbon offsets,” according to Scientific American.
All of this in an effort to meet the objectives set out by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, under which participating nations have pledged to substantially cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 so as to limit the global temperature increase responsible for human-accelerated climate change.
But what’s all the chatter really about?
Not all carbon offset projects are the same. And not all ensure that offsets are of high quality — a determination based on the offset’s impact being measurable and additional, meaning that the activities would not have taken place without the incentives offered by carbon credit buyers/programs.
What Do Carbon Offset Projects Actually Do?
Carbon offset projects encompass a wide range of organized activities developed specifically for the purpose of mitigating climate-change-causing carbon emissions produced in the course of modern-day living — like when we turn up the thermostat in our home, drive to work, or fly across the country to visit family and friends.
Such projects accomplish their goal by doing things such as reducing greenhouse gases by increasing the energy efficiency of a given activity, lowering carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e) by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, and capturing greenhouse gases to be stored, destroyed, or used in a more efficient manner
Various types of carbon offset projects include activities that encourage:
Reforestation and green land use — i.e., the replanting of previously logged tracts of land and/or rainforest protection
Renewable energy production — i.e., the sustainable development of wind farms, solar farms, or geothermal heating projects that produce clean energy in place of coal-burning power plants
Biomass production — i.e., farm-based energy projects that capture methane generated from cow manure and convert it to fuel for heating or use in more efficient cookstoves
Gas capture — i.e., the sequestration of landfill gases or those from abandoned coal mines and the subsequent use of those gases as a renewable energy source
Water restoration — i.e., the improvement of wetland habitats or the increased efficiency of agricultural irrigation
For each metric ton of GHG emissions that is balanced out by a carbon offset project, one carbon offset or one carbon credit is created. And that carbon credit can then be absorbed by the project directly to offset any carbon emissions the developer may produce or be sold or traded to others who are hoping to reduce their own carbon footprints.
Why Does Quality Matter in Carbon Offset Projects?
Carbon offsets play a critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and their associated climate impact today. They offer an immediate means to balance out climate-impacting behaviors, moving toward a net-zero equilibrium or a carbon-neutral practice, while we await the implementation of more energy-efficient practices and the development of cleaner technologies.
However, they are only one piece of a longer-term green plan to reach absolute reduction of carbon emissions worldwide and to enact science-based strategies that are crucial for long-term prosperity and dealing with the impending climate crisis.
Carbon offset projects can often take years to go from idea to active mitigation and cannot be developed and implemented in either the time or the quantity needed to offset the seemingly exponential growth of CO2e as the global population continues to increase. More people means greater demand for electricity and heat production (usually through burning fossil fuel), more gas-guzzling vehicles, and more commodities for purchase or sale.
And there is growing concern that carbon emitters — air polluters and climate-change incubators — may be delaying permanent organizational or industry-wide behavioral and procedural changes while treating carbon offset credits as a “free pass for inaction.”
“[Carbon offsetting] is not a silver bullet, and the danger is that it can lead to complacency,” warns Niklas Hagelberg, Coordinator of the United Nations’ Climate Change Program.
But consumers, investors, advocates, and regulators can combat that potential complacency by ensuring the quality of carbon offset programs and the credits that they produce.
How Can I Determine the Quality of a Carbon Offsetting Project?
The quality of any carbon offset project is directly tied to the quality of the carbon credits that it produces, and the Carbon Offset Guide indicates five factors that contribute to the verifiable quality of a carbon credit.
To judge the quality of any carbon offset project’s output, it is necessary to evaluate:
If the project offsets offer additionality: Would the project have been developed if it weren’t for the financial incentive of selling carbon offsets?
If offset estimates are accurate: Are offsets being overestimated in relation to actual carbon emissions? Are carbon emissions potentially being underestimated and require additional offsets? Is there any unintended project emission or “carbon leaking” associated with the project?
If the environmental impact is permanent: Carbon molecules can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds and thousands of years. How long will the offset project continue to show benefit? Is it removing CO2 from the ecosystem permanently, like through direct air capture and underground storage? Or is there risk of re-release, such as would occur if an old growth forest burnt up in a wildland fire?
If the carbon offset can be claimed by anyone else: Has the credit been issued to more than one entity? Is there any overlapping claim, such as a carbon offset project producer claiming a credit that is also being claimed by a consumer? Has the offset been properly retired after its allocation?
If the project avoids any other considerable social or environmental harms: Were all laws and regulations followed in developing the project? Were local communities engaged in decision-making? Were any plant or animal species displaced or otherwise threatened by the project?
Individuals can ask these questions themselves before buying carbon offsets or they can invest via carbon offset providers that have been recognized for transparent quality assurance provided by third-party authenticators.
We at Terrapass, where we pride ourselves in being a leader in offset-based climate action, were the first carbon offset program to enlist review of our products and projects. Each of our supported projects is verified by an accredited and independent verifier and a separate accredited and independent accounting firm in order to assure accountability for each and every carbon offset we offer.
Terrapass’ Offset Projects Meet Highest Quality Standards
Terrapass continues to verify all of our carbon credits against such broadly accepted standards as the Verified Carbon Standard, Gold Standard, American Carbon Registry, and the Climate Action Reserve. This authentication allows us to uphold our commitment to transparency and quality in the carbon offset market.
We guarantee that we invest only in carbon offset projects that are effectively combating global warming today, ensuring additionality and longevity, even as we grow and diversify our sustainability investments.
In 2021, we are helping to fund forestry projects like the Cappell Creek Reforestation Project, which is working on the re-growth of over 2,000 acres of previously logged forest in Humboldt County, California, and the RMDLT Portel – Pará REDD Project, which aims to stop deforestation of private property in Brazil.
Terrapass supports clean energy through various wind power projects from Texas (Capricorn Ridge Wind Farm) to North Dakota (Prairie Ridge ND1) to Aruba (Wind Park Vader Piet), and through investment in the Ball State University Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Project, which introduced a new geothermal methodology in 2009 to bolster emission reductions in Muncie, Indiana.
Terrapass is a funder of a dozen landfill gas capture projects in Mexico (La Perseverancia Landfill Gas to Energy Project), Canada (Toronto’s Municipal Solid Waste Diversion from Landfill to Biodigestion), and across the United States (i.e., New River LFG in Virginia and Wolf Creek Landfill in Georgia). Biogases that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere are being captured and stored or converted to green energy.
We are backing the capture of methane gas from Pennsylvalia’s Cambria 33 coal mine, which was abandoned and has been leaking methane for nearly 15 years. And we offer support for BEF WRC® Water Restoration Certificate programs, such as the West Clear Creek Project in Yavapai County, Arizona, which is modernizing irrigation systems and keeping critical water in the riverbed for aquatic habitat protection.
Terrapass is also supporting farm power through such projects as the Scenic View Dairies (MI) and the George DeRuyter and Sons Dairy (WA) where anaerobic digesters capture methane from manure and convert it to energy.
Partner With Terrapass to Fund High-Quality Carbon Offset Projects Today
At Terrapass, we know that climate change is an urgent problem, and we believe in making a measurable, quantifiable, and proven difference now.
If you believe in the same, then we invite you to learn more about how both individuals and businesses can calculate their own carbon footprint and start offsetting their environmental impact through a wide array of options.
Explore one-time purchases that allow you to offset air travel with flight carbon offsets or that special day with green wedding offsets.
Check out ongoing actions through subscription programs that fund carbon reduction projects, allowing you to offset your personal and/or business carbon footprint on a monthly basis.
Or own your own carbon offsets through the purchase of Terrapass Coins (TPSCs), an innovative new cryptocurrency product that will make your carbon offsets more portable than ever.
You can even give the gift of carbon neutrality to friends, family, or colleagues with a festive bundle or personal gift.
Make supporting verified, high-quality, carbon offset projects an integral part of your personal or professional green plan today.
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