Carbon offsets are a licence to pollute | Letters

Ecosystem protection must become the default, not the add-on, writes Dr Phil Williamson, while Richard Middleton says the concept of offsetting itself is the problem

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 licence, 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

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Practical problems with personal carbon allowances | Letters
Letters: Prof Alan McKinnon writes that it remains very difficult to measure emissions at a product level; Colin Challen believes that politicians have to be much more upfront about the changes we need to make


04, Nov, 2021 @6:22 PM

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


31, Jan, 2022 @6:14 PM

Article image
The Science Museum’s carbon capture exhibition is not ‘greenwash’ | Letter
Letter: Bob Ward says the the museum is performing a vital public service in putting on the exhibition, sponsored by Shell


22, Apr, 2021 @5:15 PM

Article image
Carbon offsetting is not warding off environmental collapse – it’s accelerating it | George Monbiot
Wealthy companies are using the facade of ‘nature-based solutions’ to enact a great carbon land grab, says Guardian columnist George Monbiot

George Monbiot

26, Jan, 2022 @12:33 PM

Article image
Revealed: more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by biggest certifier are worthless, analysis shows
Investigation into Verra carbon standard finds most are ‘phantom credits’ and may worsen global heating

Patrick Greenfield

18, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Can we humans save ourselves from self-destruction? | Letters
Letters: Richard Middleton, Robin Russell-Jones, Judith Wright, Tom Fyans, Richard Aldwinckle, John Nissen, and Mayer Hillman respond to the latest dire warnings from scientists and policymakers on biodiversity and climate change


07, May, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
Aviation industry must get real about emissions | Letters
Letters: Chris Preist calculates the scale of the carbon challenge, John Chapman calls for urgent regulation, Kim Hoare says we cannot carry on taking flights as and when we wish and Michael Miller says flying is unavoidably energy-intensive


01, Jul, 2019 @4:29 PM

Article image
As Cop26 begins, it’s time to face inconvenient truths | Letters
Letters: The UK is failing to lead the way with its climate policies, says David Humphreys, while Michael Stone calls for a more realistic way to measure the country’s carbon footprint. Plus letters from Dr Steve Hyer and Drusilla Long


31, Oct, 2021 @5:57 PM

Article image
Carbon credits: towards net zero or zero credibility? | Letters
Letters: Avoided deforestation should not be used as a basis for creating carbon credits, says David Humphreys, while Paul Steele and Anna Ducros introduce biocredits and Dirk Forrister defends current methodologies

27, Jan, 2023 @5:30 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on carbon offsetting: an overhaul is overdue | Editorial
Editorial: The industry has not delivered what it promised, and critics are right to be sceptical


02, Apr, 2023 @5:30 PM