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Considering Carbon Offsetting ?

These days we all know we need to try and reduce the size of our carbon footprint. The best way to do this is to look at each of our activities which produce emissions (driving, heating cooking etc) and either avoid or reduce them.

This might mean walking instead of driving for short journeys (avoiding) or using public transport (reducing). Another option is carbon offsetting. Offsetting should be a last resort, ideally offsetting measures should be taken as well as and not instead of reduction or avoidance.

Unfortunately it is not always possible avoid or reduce emissions and if that is the case, offsetting can be a useful option.

What is Carbon Offsetting?

Every activity that we do which involves using energy generated using coal or oil increases the size of our carbon footprint. There are many calculators available on the internet which allow us to calculate the size of our carbon footprint, which is the amount of carbon, measured in tonnes, which we produce as a result of our activities.

Carbon offsetting means doing something which reduces another’s carbon emissions. This can mean for example installing solar panels or a wind turbine and selling any excess energy produced back to the National Grid (so that the electricity companies need to produce less electricity) or, as is more common, donating money to projects which aim to reduce carbon emissions. When making a donation you purchase “credits” which are worth a certain amount of carbon.

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint

There are a number of sites on the internet which can be used to calculate your carbon footprint, such as Act On CO2 and this is the first step towards offsetting. You will need to input all of your energy usage including heating, lighting, cooking, driving, public transport and air travel. By knowing how much your gross carbon emissions are you know how much you need to offset. You will not necessarily want to offset all of your emissions, for example you might be taking a plane journey and want to just offset that.

What Offsetting Projects are Available?

Anything from wind farms in Cyprus, methane gas extraction from landfill sites in South Africa, providing people with solar cookers in Indonesia or generating electricity from sugar mills in Ecuador might qualify as an offsetting project. The main requirements are that the emissions reductions are calculable and that the project would not have gone ahead without funding from the purchase of carbon offsetting projects.

Some projects are profitable enough to go ahead anyway and these would not qualify as offsetting. As well as the environmental benefits of course, offsetting projects can have other benefits such as improving conditions for people in developing nations and creating jobs and new investment.

Choosing the Right Carbon Offsetting Project

It is important to choose the right project. There is a big market for the purchase of carbon credits and inevitably this leads to a number of rogue projects which exaggerate or even falsify the effect they have on reducing emissions. There may be also be projects where the managers genuinely believe they good projects but they are not.

In any event, you want to make sure your donation is put to good use. The United Nations, through its Clean Development Mechanism, compiles a list of projects which are compliant with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

It is based on this UN list that our own Government has developed its Quality Assurance Scheme. This scheme provides a list of approved offsetting schemes with the Government verify will provide genuine emissions reductions. The list of approved carbon offsetting scheme providers can be found here.

What Does Carbon Offsetting Cost?

This obviously depends on the chosen scheme and the amount that you need to offset, but it is probably much cheaper than you think. For example, a return flight from Heathrow to Barcelona for two passengers, a distance of 1,147 km One way), would increase your carbon footprint by 0.36 tonnes. To offset this by donating via British Airways, who sponsor a portfolio of approved schemes, would cost just £4.30. To offset a return flight to Bangkok, a distance of 9,547 km one way would cost £20.30.

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