Author: Juliene Bandayrel
ABSTRACT: The climate is changing, and tools such as carbon offsets are implemented to mediate the shared human impact on global warming and climate change. Carbon offsets are a way to balance personal carbon footprints and reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth’s atmosphere by funding or investing in environmental projects. An example of an environmental project may include: renewable energy projects such as wind farms generating electricity or tree planting to capture carbon emissions. Individuals can apply offsets to their own carbon footprint, corporations can apply offsets to total emissions, and governments can implement carbon offset programs under their jurisdictions.
We are seeing atypical climatic conditions when comparing historical data. As a result, we are unable to make typical climatic predictions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2022), there is evidence of changes in the Earth’s collective weather, oceans, and ecosystems on Earth such as the intensity of extreme weather events, precipitation patterns, increased ocean temperatures, increased sea levels, and shifts in wildlife migration and growing seasons.
So, what is causing climate change? The sun emits solar radiation onto the Earth and passes through greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), which then releases heat back into space. According to NASA (2022), human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, have increased the concentration of GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere causing the warming of our planet. The heat attempting to be released is trapped in the atmosphere due to the higher concentrations. This is known as the Greenhouse Effect.
Carbon offsets are utilized as a way to mediate the impacts of global warming contributing to climate change. They take place in the form of “credits” measured as 1 metric ton of CO2 (referred to as the offset) being equivalent to 1 metric ton of CO2 “reduced” or “removed” from the atmosphere (David Suzuki Foundation, 2021). Carbon offsets apply towards CO2 emissions from individuals’ and companies’ carbon footprints with the goal of achieving “net zero”. This is a balance between carbon emissions produced and carbon emissions reduced or removed. Whereas, carbon footprint refers to the total amount of emissions generated by our actions (The Nature Conservatory, 2022).
Carbon offsets are made available for purchase to be bought and sold via: international brokers such as Evolution Markets, online retailers such as Carbonfund.org Foundation, and trading platforms such as Carbon TradeXchange (David Suzuki Foundation, 2021). Governments have the ability to implement Cap-and-Trade programs, which are government regulatory programs that places limits on the total level of GHG emissions that a company or corporation produces (Environmental Defense Fund, 2022). For example, limits on sectors such as manufacturing and production and individual companies’ or corporation’s emissions. The trade portion of the program allows these entities to buy and sell their current or excess emissions to achieve the government designated limits, and avoid further penalties (Environmental Defense Fund, 2022). Plainly, the more that they are emitting, then the more they are required to pay.
Ultimately, the main goal of carbon offsets is to avoid, reduce and remove emissions from the atmosphere, specifically CO2, which has the highest atmospheric concentration of all GHGs. An example of an environmental project that is funded by carbon offsets is tree planting. According to Terrapass (2022), each tree planted sequesters approximately 1 metric ton of carbon within the first 40 to 50 years of its life. Tree planting is known to be one of the cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere in response to climate change, and anyone can get involved whether that be via tree existing planting companies or via individual planting (Carrington, 2021). According to Carrington (2021), the six biggest nations: Russia, Canada, China, U.S., Brazil and Australia contain half of the potential tree planting sites in the world. This makes it extremely ideal to invest in tree planting as a solution to climate change.
Carrington, D. (2021, August 31). Tree planting “has mind-blowing potential” to tackle climate crisis. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jul/04/planting-billions-trees-best-tackle-climate-crisis-scientists-canopy-emissions
David Suzuki Foundation. (2021, September 27). Are carbon offsets the answer to climate-altering flights? https://davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/carbon-offsets/
Environmental Defense Fund. (2022). How cap and trade works. https://www.edf.org/climate/how-cap-and-trade-works
Land Rover Our Planet. (n.d.). Mulan Wind Farm [Photograph]. Openverse. https://wordpress.org/openverse/image/cf636300-ca9e-4d01-b4e5-827b6fb9fe57
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2022, February 15). The Causes of Climate Change. Causes | Facts – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/
Terrapass. (2021, September 23). What Is the Effectiveness of Tree-Planting Offsets? https://terrapass.com/blog/what-is-the-effectiveness-of-tree-planting-offsets
The Nature Conservancy. (2022). What is your carbon footprint? https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, January 11). Basics of Climate Change | US EPA. US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/climatechange-science/basics-climate-change
Juliene Bandayrel is currently in her final year of the Environment and Urban Sustainability (Honours) program at Ryerson University. She is a Centennial College alumnus, and graduated with honours from the Recreation and Leisure Services program.