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Monetising climate change, and when carbon credits are a cop-out

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Trend: demonetising climate denial content on Google and YouTube

Last week, Google and Youtube announced that they would be demonetising climate denial content. It’s a step in the right direction not only in the battle against fake news, but for climate science as a whole. If you picked up on the key takeaways of the IPCC’s climate report, published in August 2021, you’ll have noticed – if you hadn’t already – that things are looking bleak.

Fortunately, many industries have already started taking action to combat climate change. We’re waiting on key players, like the oil, fashion, and food industries to catch up… But on a wider scale, a number of sustainability campaigns are in place for businesses – regardless of their sector – to start making a positive difference.

What are carbon offset credits

One such example is carbon offset credits (also known as carbon credits, or carbon offsets). Carbon credits are permits that allow a company to emit a certain level of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. One credit equals one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions. The goal is to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by allowing polluting companies to continue to pollute up to a set limit. This limit is reduced periodically, and companies can sell their unneeded credits to other companies. Companies that exceed the limit are fined, and those that have leftover credits to sell can make money back. As a result, there is a double incentive for private companies to reduce their emissions.

It sounds like a good idea, but in reality it’s easy to take advantage of and does very little to benefit the environment. The fact is, emissions from the burning of fossil fuels can persist for more than 800 years. So while protecting and planting forests is a good way to remove carbon, even the strongest offsets guarantee a maximum 30-year insurance… Nowhere near the amount of damage that’s really being caused. Carbon credits are a literal token gesture that do very little practical good in protecting the planet from emissions. 

Furthermore, companies may find that paying for ‘leftover’ carbon credits from other companies is a cheaper and easier way of offsetting their emissions. So instead of doing anything about their own impact on the planet, they let others do the heavy lifting and then benefit twice over by buying off the credits for their own advantage. Of course, there are some businesses, in some industries, that will always struggle to operate on low emissions. And for those businesses, carbon credits, and the ability to buy more credits, is a legitimate way to manage their carbon footprint.

Greenwashing furthers climate change 

The OECD has found that offsets under €120 per tonnes of CO2 is at best a greenwash, and at worst, actually increasing climate issues. This is why businesses taking their climate goals seriously steer clear of forest offsets in favour of science-based initiatives that offer alternative rewards without the risk of manipulation by those uninterested in sustainability. But since most companies could undeniably be doing more to alter their sustainability goals, do carbon credits just present a cop-out?

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Author: Ella WhiteContent and Communications Freelancer writes about social media trends, environment & sustainability, and more.

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