WHEN COMPANIES that depend on emissions, such as easyJet, an airline, use offsets sold on private “over the counter” markets to claim carbon neutrality it is hard not to be reminded of the indulgences sold by the medieval Catholic church that helped sinners to go on sinning guilt-free. But the recent emphasis on “net zero” economies has made offsets central to climate-change plans. In a net-zero economy adding carbon dioxide, or another greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere is only allowed if an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas is removed from it.
Offsets already play a role in some international agreements and government-backed programmes. But the idea of including them in emissions-trading schemes triggers bad memories in Europe. Credits for dodgy offsets helped to undermine the credibility of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in its early years. International offsets are in the process of being expunged from the ETS, though they are still traded on the Californian emissions market.
Despite this rocky start, offset-trading could still work. Indeed, the 2015 Paris agreement already includes rules for how to account properly for offsets, according to Kelley Kizzier of the Environmental Defence Fund, a campaign group. Many of the issues with monitoring offsets come […]