This is a way of compensating for those carbon emissions that we cannot completely eliminate from our own lives, by financially investing in projects that help to make equivalent reductions in carbon levels somewhere else.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that carbon offsetting is not a substitute for personal or corporate carbon reduction, it should be carried out in conjunction with actions which minimise emissions, as part of a lifestyle plan to become carbon neutral.
How does offsetting work
Offsetting relies on having projects available that can either capture carbon from the atmosphere, achieved most effectively by increasing the capacity of the natural world to absorb it, or that help reduce emissions from the burning of carbon based fuels to create energy.
Tree planting, forestry protection and peatland restoration make up the majority of the natural climate solution projects, whilst increasing the capacity of renewable energy generation or making energy use more efficient, are typical of projects to help reduce emissions.
Investments in these projects can be made on an individual or corporate basis, either directly by funding a specific project or indirectly by purchasing products from suppliers who promise to offset carbon on your behalf. Shell, and others, for example, promise to offset their customers' emissions by purchasing carbon credits generated from projects in the UK and internationally that protect and regenerate forests.
Offsetting is not a substitute for personal or corporate carbon reduction
Which project to choose
Not all offsetting projects are equal and the integrity and effectiveness of each should be considered closely before making any investment.
Some schemes carry an accreditation, showing their impact has been verified. This is required by some businesses and organisations for accountability reasons and to show compliance with both legal and corporate social responsibility requirements. Whilst others carry no accreditation but can be equally or more effective due to lower running costs and greater transparency.
It is possible to choose projects that deliver value for local communities in the UK or overseas, as well as the environment, by tackling poverty, promoting energy independence and improving people’s health and wellbeing.
It's worth noting that tree planting projects in the tropics have the advantage of rapid growth and carbon sequestration impact, as well as the opportunity to reduce inequality between nations.
When looking at suitable offsetting schemes it is worth investigating some of the organisations who manage a portfolio of projects, as well as those who manage and implement projects directly themselves.
The examples shown below show a small selection of verified and unverified schemes offered by single project providers and those offering a portfolio of projects to choose from.
Organisations offering verified projects
Offer a wide range of international projects, from tree planting to energy generation, suitable for businesses, organisations and individuals. Projects range from building efficient cooking stoves in North Darfur to creating a hydroelectric facility in Chile.
Work within the UK on woodland creation and peatland restoration projects, assured by UK government 'codes of practice', which are suitable for businesses and organisations, as well as individuals.
Trees for Cities
A UK charity working nationally and internationally to improve lives by planting trees in cities. Corporate offsets are verified by an independent third party company. Individuals can donate but offsetting is not verified.
Organisations offering unverified projects
Rotary Club of Harrogate
Manage a scheme which aims to plant 25,000 trees within the Nidderdale AONB, part of the Harrogate District, to help increase woodland cover. Trees are planted by local volunteers.
The White Rose Forest
A local authority joint venture, working with landowners, community groups and businesses with the aim of increasing tree cover by a third to help create the new Northern Forest.
Quarter Acre Forest Project
Some projects are very small and in their infancy. Clive Wilson from UNA Harrogate is a founder supporter of this project, which offers an opportunity to help address poverty in villages in Malawi and place infants back with extended families to ensure the sustainability of their childhood and reduce the need for monitoring and charity.
This project is about allowing forest to recover in vast areas where it has previously been cut down.
Trees are growing in a place where this happens quickly
Costs are minimal as no tree planting is needed
The forest provides plentiful food to local people in the poorest country in the world
Offsetting payments bring income to the people who deserve it
It is payment for a much needed service to humanity rather than alternatives that are about charity