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Carbon offsetting, how does it work?

What exactly is carbon offsetting? How it works ? What are the benefits of a carbon offset program? You have already heard of carbon offsetting with an image of replanted forest in support. But you don't know how it works exactly. In this article, we review everything there is to know about carbon offsetting.

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Carbon offsetting, definition

Carbon offsetting is a process of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon emission credits. Thus, those who want to offset their emissions are today encouraged to invest in sustainable development, and at the same time, to reduce their ecological footprint. In this context, the image of the replanted forest is the best known or the installation of solar panels. Concretely, it is a question of buying credits coming from a company or a project of renewable energies or reduction of greenhouse gases.

Understanding the carbon offset mechanism

Companies and individuals who want to offset their polluting emissions can buy a contract or certificates representing the CO2 savings made in depollution activities. Let’s take the example of the image of a forest financed by carbon offsetting: one hectare of tree can be equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide stored in the ground, in exchange for a certificate.

The Kyoto Protocol commits the signatory countries to financially support projects to reduce the carbon footprint outside their borders, in exchange, they obtain a level of “rights to pollute”. Several countries including France, Australia and the Netherlands have adopted this principle. Otherwise, there is a voluntary offset market in which anyone can participate. It is also a growing ecosystem framed by labels, the two most reliable references of which are the Voluntary Gold Standard (created by the WWF) and the Verified Carbon Standard (Verra).

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Should companies offset their CO2 emissions?

Regulations on CO2 emissions are complex and different in each country. Most governments around the world have understood the need to help companies reduce their CO2 emissions. Indeed, if companies do not reduce their emissions, it means that the government will have to make a lot of effort to do it for them or force them to do so with a carbon tax.

This is exactly what governments are doing, there has been an international consensus to help companies reduce their emissions. Companies whose activity pollutes must pay a tax for this: the carbon tax. Thus, companies have every interest in reducing their emissions, in particular by using renewable energies, which are less and less expensive, to avoid paying the carbon tax.

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The ecological and human equation of carbon offsetting

Please note that carbon credits have an official status, but this does not mean that they reduce all the consequences of our CO2 emissions.

Is the image of the replanted forest an illusion?

We reassure you that the image of the forest of young shoots financed by carbon offset programs is real. That said, would offsetting your CO2 emissions be an [almost] impossible dream? Not necessarily, carbon credits contribute to the financing of ecological projects precisely to reduce our carbon footprint, and that is a good thing. But they limit themselves to this, while greenhouse gas emissions also have an impact on health and on society. Many people suffer from the problem of global warming in the world, we think of certain groups of refugees who have to leave their region or country of origin, made uninhabitable by rising sea levels or severe heat waves, for example.

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To offset or not to offset your carbon emissions, that is the question

Carbon offsetting is only effective if it really reduces CO2 emissions on a planetary scale. For one thing, many countries aren't even aiming for carbon neutrality yet, which is not emitting more carbon than you can absorb. On the other hand, who says compensation, says catch-up of non-ecological energy production methods. The image of the replanted forest does not cancel the coal-fired power plants continue to pollute in the same way as before the carbon offset. Their environmental impacts may still continue for years to come, with or without the purchase of pollution rights by companies or certificates by citizens.

In the image of the sustainable forest financed by the carbon offset, there is a snake biting its tail. This mode of operation is not a sustainable solution, unless it is accompanied by a real change in behavior, both among citizens and at the level of governance. In itself, offsetting is not a bad idea, but in detail, aiming to produce a minimum of carbon emissions makes more sense.

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