PDF _ RL34241 - Voluntary Carbon Offsets: Overview and Assessment
7-Nov-2007; Jonathan L. Ramseur; 15 p.

Abstract: Businesses and individuals are buying carbon offsets to reduce their “carbon footprint” or to categorize an activity as “carbon neutral.” A carbon offset is a measurable avoidance, reduction, or sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Offsets generally fall within the following four categories: biological sequestration, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reduction of non-CO2 emissions.

In terms of the carbon concentration in the atmosphere, an emission reduction, avoidance, or sequestration is beneficial regardless of where or how it occurs. A credible offset equates to an emission reduction from a direct emission source, such as a smokestack or exhaust pipe. The core issue for carbon offset projects is: do they actually offset emissions generated elsewhere? If the credibility of the voluntary offsets is uncertain, claims of carbon neutrality may be challenged.

Evidence suggests that not all offset projects are of equal quality, because they are developed through a range of standards. In the voluntary market, there are no commonly accepted standards. Although some standards are considered stringent, others are less so. At least 30 companies and organizations (domestic and international) sell carbon offsets to individuals or groups in the international, voluntary carbon market. Two recent studies that examined many of the offset sellers found a general correlation between offset price and offset quality.

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Topics: Climate Change, Economics & Trade, Information

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