Ethical carbon offsetting has a role to play in tackling the climate crisis | Letters

Prof Mark Huxham and Mukti Kumar Mitchell on concerns about the viability of carbon offsets in response to an article by George Monbiot. Plus Barbara Foster and MSR Seshu on the climate implications of flights

George Monbiot makes important points about the role of nature-based solutions (Carbon offsetting is not warding off environmental collapse – it’s accelerating it, 26 January). We need to preserve our natural forests, mangroves, sea grasses and peatlands to slow current heating levels, and we need to restore and expand them to deal with our legacy carbon. But in suggesting that all offsetting is simply greenwashing, he does a disservice to the hundreds of community-based projects that are working to improve lives and conserve natural carbon sinks.

The Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services helps people in Kenya protect their mangrove forests and use money from the sale of carbon credits for water, education and health. The forests, the money and the projects belong to them. We do not take money from fossil-fuel companies, but rather from individuals and small corporations that are committed to reducing emissions but still want to compensate for those that they cannot avoid.

This is ethical offsetting and it has an important role to play. Please don’t confuse this with the corporate greenwashing of big oil.
Prof Mark Huxham
Convener, Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services

• In pointing out the misuse of carbon offsetting by multinationals, George Monbiot only shows one side of the coin. In my 25 years of working to save CO2, I avoided offsets for two reasons: failed offsets, such as forests dying, and future offsets, eg claiming that a flight to New York today is offset by planting trees that take 50 years to absorb the same amount of CO2. But we need a way to fund the drawdown of excess CO2 in the atmosphere (estimated at up to a trillion tonnes). To do this, carbon sequestration activities need a rapid injection of cash, which offsetting can provide. Certification has dealt with offset failures and there are now genuine time-bound offsets available that only count CO2 absorbed in, say, the current year.

Whether they pay to replace wood stoves with solar stoves in Africa or to finance British farmers to adopt low-carbon practices, offsets are essential to reach net zero. The question is not whether offsets are good or bad, but which ones are good.
Mukti Kumar Mitchell
Director, Carbon Savvy

• For some time I have felt that there was something amiss about flying off to some distant land for a holiday and salving one’s conscience by paying a carbon offsetting charge. Thank you, George Monbiot, for making it clear why the climate catastrophe will not be solved this way. Planting a few more trees with one hand while destroying forests or drilling for more oil with the other does not pass muster. Those of us of mature years who have created the problem should be first to try to limit our carbon footprints.
Barbara Foster
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire

• Your report (26 January) that at least 100,000 ghost flights could be flown across Europe this winter makes for highly disturbing reading. The consequential impact on the climate through the flights’ release of an estimated 2.1m tonnes of greenhouse gases is mind-boggling. All this being imposed just to force airlines to retain their slots at airports is irresponsible and inhuman. Whatever is happening to the commitments made by European nations at Cop26?
MSR Seshu
Secunderabad, India

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