Are Carbon Credits Actually Helping To Cut Emissions?
Climate deniers are by no means a dying race. In his controversial book Apocalypse Never, which recently topped Amazon's environmental science bestseller list, Michael Shellenberger apologizes on behalf of environmentalists for the "climate horrors we have caused over the past 30 years".
An important reason why the book turned out to be a great success is that TIME magazine named Shellenberger an environmental hero back in 2008. Yale Review has described Shellenberger's book as "deeply and fatally flawed". In contrast, six leading scientists have described it as "cherry picking", "misleading" and "outright falsehood". Modern climate deniers fall into four categories: the shill, the grifter, the egomaniac, and the ideological fool. Hard to say where Shellenberger belongs.
Most scientists, however, have no illusions that the climate crisis is one of the greatest existential threats to humanity.
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A good 50% of our current greenhouse gas values have been pumped into our atmosphere in the last three decades alone, and the values are still rising.
The evidence is irrefutable and growing: forest fires, heat waves, rising sea levels and extreme weather events are already wreaking havoc everywhere and could cost the global economy a whopping $ 1 trillion in crumbling infrastructure over the next five years, reduced crop yields, health problems and lost work time, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).
This reality has primarily driven the megatrend of ESG investing.
Big companies know this and have rushed into the promise of reaching net-zero or even carbon-negative status in our lifetimes
Your intentions may be good, but your often preferred path to achieving that goal - buying carbon offsets - is likely to fall far short of ideal.
Source: United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
Last year, online payments company Stripe announced it would pay $ 1 million each year to businesses to remove tons of carbon from the atmosphere. Stripe claims it is already fully offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions and plans to invest in green projects that will reduce emissions elsewhere.
Microsoft has also set a goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030 by paying other companies to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits.
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Meanwhile, hail-fighting firm Lyft has committed to being completely carbon neutral by offsetting the carbon impact of each of its trips. Last year the company bought more than two million tons of carbon offset.
The media giant Sky has been climate neutral since 2006, while the multinational conglomerate Siemens and IKEA have committed to becoming climate neutral by 2030.
Unfortunately, fossil fuel companies - some of the biggest offenders when it comes to carbon emissions - find they are not on this list of more than 100 companies that have committed to using carbon capture primarily to reduce their carbon footprint and other technologies.
However, it is no longer enough to just buy carbon credits in exchange for a clean conscience while these companies continue to run their business on high carbon fuels.
Scientists, activists and affected citizens are now wondering how companies use carbon offsets as a free pass for inaction. The types of carbon offset projects that are carried out are diverse, ranging from forest sequestration projects to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The world must reduce annual emissions by 29 to 32 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) by 2030 to have the chance of staying below 1.5 ° C. That is roughly five times the current obligations of companies, organizations and governments. We need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next ten years to avert catastrophic planetary changes.
The sad truth is that trees planted today simply cannot grow fast enough to meet this goal, and the majority of carbon offsetting projects will never be able to curb emissions growth if coal-fired power plants and gasoline vehicles continue to dominate.
This in no way means that projects aimed at offsetting CO2 should stop; on the contrary, we must continue to plant trees, protect forests and moors and invest in projects for renewable energies and energy efficiency. It just can't be a one-to-one model: Assuming that a single ton of bound CO2 is the price of an emissions certificate, buyers have to cut their emissions by 45% for the world to meet its climate goals.
UNEP has warned that the biggest risk with carbon credits is that they tend to fuel complacency. According to UN environmental climate specialist Niklas Hagelberg:
“UN Environment supports CO2 offsets as a temporary measure until 2030 and as an instrument to accelerate climate protection measures. It's not a silver bullet, however, and the danger is that it can lead to complacency. The October 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear that if we are to curb global warming, we must finally move away from carbon: by traveling electrically, using renewable energy, eating less meat and wasting less food. "
Renewable Energy Credits
Perhaps renewable energy credits or RECs are a better alternative.
While offsetting carbon is an action that effectively binds carbon, RECs are like a title deed that is part of a renewable energy source like a solar or wind farm.
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By purchasing RECs and coupling them with electricity from the grid, companies and organizations directly support the development of the infrastructure for renewable energies. RECs provide access to alternative energy sources in areas that are unable to produce their own renewable energy.
However, RECs are not 100% foolproof either, as some organizations that sell them can simply continue to buy electricity from public utilities regardless of how it's generated - as UC Santa Cruz California students recently discovered.
The only foolproof way to ensure companies cut their greenhouse gas emissions directly is the way from Amazon or Google.
Amazon has announced plans to invest in four new renewable energy projects to support the company's goal of achieving 80% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% renewable energy by 2030. Meanwhile, Google has signed up to $ 2 billion in wind and solar investments with plans to use the clean energy to power its huge data centers.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com
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