Carbon Removals vs Carbon Reductions
Know what you are buying with your carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets can be confusing.
That is something we set out to change when we launched Native CCUs. Each Native CCU represents:
1 tonne of CO2 as assessed by CarbonCrop’s methodology
Removed from the atmosphere within the last 5 years
Durably stored in the growing biomass of regenerating native forest
Regardless of the initial establishment date of that forest
Placing a binding obligation on the landholder to ensure CO2 stays sequestered for the next 100 years
Each CCU is also traceable back to the date and source of sequestration and independently auditable by a third party.
Did you know that when you offset your carbon emissions you may not be purchasing a carbon removal?
A removal offset recognises carbon removed from the atmosphere - atmospheric CO2 goes down as a result. This is in contrast to the vast majority of ‘offsets’ issued, which are reduction offsets. Reduction offsets recognise an action a carbon emitter has taken to reduce their carbon emissions because doing so would earn them that carbon offset you just purchased (or, at least, they’re willing to claim that’s the reason if it gets them a carbon credit!)
With reduction offsets, the offsets you think you are buying to neutralise your carbon footprint potentially aren’t doing that at all - between the offset and your emitting activity, atmospheric CO2 levels still went up. This is the origin of the phrase “We can’t offset our way to zero” - this is entirely true when speaking of ‘offsets’ for reductions!
We aren’t fundamentally against carbon offsets that are from reductions. In fact, if a big polluter changes their behaviour based on receiving that incentive, then that is a battle won, but it’s not how we will win the war.
It is notoriously hard to prove additionality of these offsets as you need to prove intent. Some 52% of projects that claim to meet additionality criteria fall short on audit and in our view it is this scenario that is most harmful to the market overall.
We have gone too far to “reduce” our way out of a bad situation with the climate. Even if we reduce global emissions in line with the most ambitious of the United Nations forecasts, we still wouldn’t solve the problem through that alone. We also need to remove existing emissions and that is a ‘removal’ carbon offset, and removal offsets come from nature based solutions (for the most part). Between moving to low emissions technologies, and offsetting residual emissions with removals, we absolutely can ‘offset our way to zero’, and can even offset our way to negative emissions. Not only can we - we have to!
Our technology uses satellites, aerial imagery, remote sensing technology and automation to monitor and measure actual carbon removals from forests. Our Native CCUs only recognise removal of carbon from native New Zealand forests (currently) and that means we can recognise what is native forest and what is a wildling pine, and ensure that a detected wildling pine is not counted.
This is a big win because what we are doing is placing an economic value on our native forests and their ongoing carbon sequestration, aligning incentives to the landowners of these forests to create better forests and protecting the carbon they store, and doing this in the form of a “removal” offset. Whatever changes landowners make, the more they remove, the more offsets they get, and the more they get paid. Everyone’s incentives are aligned… and in the process we also achieve the many other benefits of protected forest!
We never issue offsets for ‘avoided deforestation’ or avoided carbon emissions of any sort.
So next time you are buying a carbon offset, check whether it’s a removal offset or a reduction offset so you know what you are buying. Or buy a Native CCU and know it represents a tonne of carbon removed from the atmosphere.