NSW plan to offer emissions offsets with car registration sends wrong message, critics say

Government told to focus on boosting uptake of electric vehicles, public transport, cycling and walking rather than offset ‘gimmick’

Drivers in New South Wales will be offered the chance to buy carbon offsets when they renew their car registration in a step critics have described as a “gimmick” that could undermine efforts to cut transport emissions.

The NSW treasurer and energy minister, Matt Kean, announced the scheme on Friday saying it would give people “looking for practical ways to take action on climate change” more ways to cut their emissions.

“More and more NSW drivers are opting for electric vehicles each year, however this scheme gives those drivers who haven’t made the switch yet the option to offset their emissions instead,” he said.

When drivers of light vehicles receive their registration renewal, they will be offered the option to buy between $5 and $200 worth of Australian carbon offset credits. No overseas offsets would be bought.

Kean said buying $80 of credits was the equivalent to offsetting 2.4 tonnes of CO2 – the average annual emissions of a light vehicle in the state.

The transport sector was responsible for 22% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, with half of that coming from passenger vehicles, Kean said.

But critics have lambasted the scheme for potentially deterring people from reducing their emissions.

“This creates completely the wrong impression for consumers,” Bill Hare, an Australian climate scientist who advised the UN on appropriate use of offsets, said. ”It is a real concern to see the New South Wales government legitimising this through an official scheme.

“At worst that could undermine people’s intent to find ways to reduce emissions from driving. Offsets don’t really reduce emissions, and they don’t compensate for an emission of carbon dioxide coming out of the tailpipe of a car.”

He said the NSW government should focus on a more rapid rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure rather than promoting “gimmicks such as offering to offset drivers emissions per year for $80”.

Hare said the best ways for people to cut their transport emissions are to use more public transport, bicycles and to get an electric vehicle.

“New South Wales has a good set of policies here but these could be strengthened to make it easier for people in different circumstances to move to electric cars,” Hare said.

Dr Jennifer Rayner, head of advocacy at the not-for-profit Climate Council, said public transport improvements and steps to make it easier for people to walk and ride were two key changes to shift people “away from polluting cars altogether”.

“Given the range of clean transport options that are readily available, the focus for this sector should be on achieving near absolute zero emissions. This means getting as close to zero emissions as possible with minimal use of offsetting or ‘net zero’ accounting,” Rayner said.

She said Australia was one of the only OECD countries – alongside Russia – that did not have fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles, which made the country “a dumping ground for expensive, polluting petrol and diesel cars”.

Polly Hemming, director of the climate and energy research program at the Australia Institute, said the state government was “promoting the idea that you can just cancel out fossil fuel emissions” and this risked delaying the switch to low emissions transport.

The use of carbon offsets has become increasingly controversial, with questions outstanding over whether some Australian tree-planting and forest regeneration projects have actually cut emissions.

John Connor, chief executive of the Carbon Market Institute which represents stakeholders in the carbon offset industry, said there was “clearly more to be done” on transitioning transport away from fossil fuels.

But he said this transition could not happen overnight and it was “unhelpful to simply dismiss offsetting” which, he said, was an important tool available for consumers to take responsibility for emissions.

Making the announcement, the NSW government said it had appointed Corporate Carbon Advisory as the offset provider for the vehicle scheme and regeneration projects across the state would be supported.

The scheme was part of the government’s zero emissions transport strategy, the government said, that included $209m for EV charging infrastructure.

Stamp duty had been removed for EVs costing less than $78,000 and EVs costing less than $68,750 are eligible for a $3,000 rebate, the government said.


Graham Readfearn

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
NSW Labor vows to fix ‘broken’ environmental offsets system if elected
Spokesperson Penny Sharpe says current system has ‘no red lines’ and party will deliver changes within first 18 months of government

Lisa Cox

06, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Labor rounds on Greens ‘sabotage’ of emissions reduction plan
Frontbenchers unleash on party for signalling it might vote with Coalition to stymie reform of safeguard mechanism

Katharine Murphy, Adam Morton and Josh Butler

15, Feb, 2023 @9:47 AM

Article image
NSW environmental offsets scheme risks ‘trading away’ threatened species ‘for cash’, inquiry finds
Inquiry says it is too easy for developers to pay cash to biodiversity offsets fund with no guarantee offsets will ever be found

Lisa Cox

24, Nov, 2022 @6:58 AM

Article image
UK professor behind NSW fast rail strategy criticises Coalition for dropping plan
Exclusive: UK professor also says findings should be made public as with ‘every other country I’ve worked in’

Elias Visontay Transport and urban affairs reporter

06, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Mutiny on the Sydney commute: ‘pirate bus’ hits the road after privatisation leads to axed routes
Ken Wilson, whose crowdfunded service was created in frustration, says public transport needs to be in public hands

Jordyn Beazley, Elias Visontay and Tamsin Rose

01, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Rezone more land to get more housing, NSW government says – but that could be a recipe for disaster
Fast-tracking development in the Macarthur region will give Sydney a massive new infrastructure challenge

Anne Davies

26, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
‘Utterly damning’ review finds offsets scheme fails to protect NSW environment
Conservationists label report ‘utterly damning’ as opposition and crossbench MPs call for overhaul of state’s biodiversity market

Lisa Cox

30, Aug, 2022 @6:59 AM

Article image
Australia must not rely on emissions offsets if it is serious about climate crisis, Ian Chubb says
Head of carbon credit system review says absolute emissions cuts must be priority as Albanese government weighs up limits on use of credits

Adam Morton and Amy Remeikis

11, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Labor’s unlimited use of carbon offsets could lead to rise in emissions, report says
Analysis says land-based carbon offsets lead to more fossil fuel mining and fail to deliver genuine emissions reductions

Adam Morton Climate and environment editor

10, Feb, 2023 @1:01 PM

Article image
Plan for ‘sea of roofs’ will destroy last koala habitat in western Sydney, critics say
Environment groups call on federal minister to reject NSW government’s ‘deeply flawed’ Cumberland Plain conservation plan

Lisa Cox

01, Sep, 2022 @5:30 PM