Means to an End: High Profile UK NGOs Defend Offsets

Last week we covered UK-offset company Climate Care's defence of carbon offsetting in response to a television documentary. Now we see from the company's website that others have also been jumping to the defence of offsets, namely Jonathon Porrit (founder of Forum for the Future and chair of the Government's Sustainable Development Commission) and Dr Steve Howard (CEO of The Climate Group). In a letter to the Independent newspaper, the pair argue that offsets are a legitimate part of a wider strategy against climate change:

"While the first step for any business or individual must be to cut emissions at source, offsetting allows those who are not obliged to take action to balance out their carbon emissions by helping to finance low carbon technology projects around the world. Without this valuable source of income, these projects would not be developed. The contribution they make is measured not only in direct reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but in the social and economic benefits of reducing reliance on fossil fuels."

The letter goes on to argue that recognizable, universal standards are absolutely vital to ensure that offsets are able to reach their potential. Steve Howard's Climate Group have worked on the development of the Voluntary Offset Standard, and they claim a "credible industry body is being formed to help maintain and develop stringent quality assurance in this sector." Ultimately though, the letter argues that the principal value of offsets is to create additional investment in carbon reduction technologies, "over and above that which Government regulations have achieved, and makes those reductions wherever they can be made fastest and at the lowest cost."

As we've argued many times before on these pages, the value of offsets seems to depend very much on how they are used. If they are an excuse for business as usual, then they are clearly useless, but if they are part of a wider strategy, they may make some sense. It is clear that we will not reach a low carbon society overnight, so tools that can a) help engage people in the impact of their actions, and b) help them go some way towards taking responsibility for those actions, can only be a good thing.

For further exploration of the issues surrounding carbon offsets, check out our guide on How to Green Your Carbon Offsets, our post on the occupation of a London-based offset company's offices by climate change protesters, or our interviews with Tom Arnold or Adam Stein, both of Terrapass, or Jason Smith of Drive Neutral. ::Climate Care::

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