Tom Powell – Climate Karanga Marlborough
Tom is sitting at the kitchen table, looking over the news. He looks up as Marg comes into the room.
Tom: “Marg, did you read about this American oil company that claims they emit no carbon? How can they say that? There must be heaps of carbon emissions in making petrol from oil and then getting it to us in those huge tankers”
Marg: “I think they do it by offsetting.”
Tom: “Offsetting? What’s that?”
Marg: “Let’s ask Google, she’ll know. HEY GOOGLE, HOW DOES CARBON OFFSETTING WORK?”
Google: “Companies can claim to offset their carbon emissions by paying to remove carbon from the air somewhere else or by preventing carbon from being emitted. If companies pay to remove or prevent as much carbon as they emit, then they can claim to be ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘zero emissions’. Most offsets are in forestry – either planting trees or protecting forests from deforestation.”
Marg: “OK, I can understand offsets for planting trees since they soak up carbon from the air, but you mean companies can also buy offsets for protecting existing forests? How does that work?
Google: “The company selling the offsets purchases the rights to a forest to protect it from being cut down. A certifying company agrees that the forest would be otherwise cleared and certifies that the carbon credits represented by the ‘avoided deforestation’ of forest are real. The offset company sells the credits and uses some of the money to protect and monitor the forest. The total credits are the amount of carbon that would be released if the forest were cleared.”
Tom: “So, companies pay someone to not cut down a forest and then claim they’ve removed the carbon in that forest from the air? Sounds fishy to me.”
Google: “The most common criticism of offsets, however, is that they allow companies to avoid reducing their actual greenhouse gas emissions, thus delaying action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming. They spend money on carbon offsets when they should be spending money on reducing their actual emissions.”
Marg: “I believe they call that ‘greenwashing’; claiming to do the right thing but actually just trying to look good to your customers.”
Google: “These companies are also usually taking steps to measure and reduce their carbon emissions.”
Tom: “So, I guess you are saying that the “zero emissions” claims may be a bit overblown, but these companies are still moving in the right direction. And, spending money to protect and grow forests is not a bad thing.”
Google: “The days of companies claiming ‘net zero emissions’ through offsetting may soon be coming to an end, however. One of the outcomes of last year’s COP 27 climate meeting was the establishment of a new Climate Mitigation Contribution credit to replace these offsets.”
Tom: “So, how can we tell which companies are actually doing the right thing and cutting their emissions?
Google: “There are a number of organisations which certify businesses and state organisations which are taking steps to measure and reduce their carbon emissions. Toitū Envirocare, a subsidiary of government-owned Landcare Research, provides the CarboNZero and CEMARS certifications in New Zealand. The company EKOS also offers certifications in New Zealand. Science-based Target Initiative is a collaboration of environmental organisations which provides certification internationally.”
“The B-Corp certification designates companies which take steps to measure and reduce their carbon emissions and otherwise act as good corporate citizens. The Bio-Grow certification for food products insures that they are grown ‘organically’, without pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertiliser, promoting healthy foods and sustainable soil health, which sequesters carbon to soils.”
Tom: “Well Marg, I suppose if we are out shopping and want to know if a product is from a company doing the right thing or not, we can always search it on our phones and find out.”
Google: “And, please remember to tell them Google sent you!”
If you have any questions about climate change and global warming, feel free to visit and ask at Climate Karanga Marlborough’s website (www.climatekaranga.org.nz) or on our Facebook page. We’d be happy to answer them.
These are a collection of opinion articles principally written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim. Some articles have been written by other CKM members, and their names appear with those articles.