Thursday, December 6, 2007

Carbon Offsets

There is a lot of interest in buying carbon offsets. I can not shake the feeling that they are sort of like buying indulgences. Somehow the concept just does not sit well with me.

The idea is the you can buy carbon offsets from companies to offset the CO2 equivalent that you produce. You can buy this from companies that have made efforts to reduce their output but have a right to produce more CO2 or from projects that capture carbon.

There is no reason to buy these offsets at the moment other than guilt. The cost seems to be running in the range of $5 to $15 per tonne of CO2. Not very expensive given that I produce about 13 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year. It would have cost me an extra $17 to $50 to have offset all my air travel and only about $130 to offset all my greenhouse gas emissions.

But what would I get for this $130? A piece of paper that I could claim less GHGs had been produced and I was allowed to claim part of that reduction by paying something to the company that made the reductions. How do I verify this? Who can be sure that there really was a GHG savings?

I know I produce less GHGs than the average Canadian, but even for the average person one should be able to buy offsets to cover 100% of their GHGs for less than $1000. Are there enough offsets for a nation of 33 000 000 to buy them?

If there is a real take off for offsets and the price rises with demand, what happens when people can no longer afford them?

I can buy offsets, but no will pay me to produce less GHGs. I already produce less than the Canadian average but I get no reward for this. Should I not be granted offsets I could sell? Say each Canadian is allowed to produce 20 tonnes and you can sell the rest. Between all of my family, we would have 30 tonnes we could sell. we should be able to get $300 for that.

I understand the concept of cap and trade and the whole idea behind offsets, I am still simply not convinced this is a route that will produce anything truly world changing.

I found this survey of late that goes someway towards measuring different carbon offset programs, but none of them are in Canada.