Carbon offsets are a license to pollute Carbon offsetting

Your report (Revealed: more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by biggest provider are worthless, analysis shows, 18 January) makes uncomfortable reading for enthusiasts of nature-based solutions to climate change. While forest protection should provide a win-win situation, benefiting both biodiversity and climate, it can too easily become lose-lose, because carbon offsets allow emissions to continue, worsening global heating and threatening not just forests but all natural ecosystems. The problem is that reliable quantification of the “additionality” of nature-based climate mitigation is near-impossible.

The answer is that ecosystem protection (and restoration, wherever possible) must become the default, not the add-on. Until that happens, any carbon trading based on natural processes should be limited to the offset of biologically based emissions, excluding those from fossil fuels.
Dr Phil Williamson
University of East Anglia

Your reporting of the phantom carbon credits scandal is very welcome. But the bigger problem lies with the concept of offsetting itself, whether in the established market in carbon or the quickly emerging market in biodiversity. Such schemes offer a license, indeed an incentive, to polluters to carry on polluting. Without damage – emissions or ecological vandalism – there is nothing to offset, a situation that would make investors and speculators in these markets very unhappy. As George Monbiot remarked in 2006, this setup is reminiscent of the indulgences scam run by the medieval church.
Richard Middleton
Crossmichael, Dumfries & Galloway

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