Carbon offsets may be the new junk food - habit-forming and ultimately not so healthy - especially if, in the case of offsets, stopping global warming is the goal. More and more organizations are warning that buying offsets is not only a tricky undertaking for businesses and individuals, it might not be that eco-friendly. Right now there's still no fool-proof way to insure your dollars go to a project that actually reduces CO2, or even go to a real project at all. The price to offset each ton of carbon also varies widely, between a low of about $7 - 8 to a high of as much as $40.
The Voluntary Carbon Standard, recently launched by the Climate Group, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the International Association for Emissions Trading, is supposed to make some rules and create oversight of all the offset schemes out there. But WWF says VCS lacks real teeth and depends on the goodwill of the exact companies (many if not most of them for-profit) that have the most to gain from selling offsets. Yes as consumers, if we know we'll be flying off for the holidays, or want to give our favorite driver the gift of so-called carbon neutrality, what are the best options?The Swedish Energy Administration says investing in Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or Joint Implementation (JI) projects or the EU Emissions Trading System are currently the only ways to make sure your money is going to a regulated project. That's not to say that other projects don't have merit. Checking out EcoBusiness' handy carbon offset chart or the freshly-minted Carbon Catalog it's clear that some non-profits such as DriveNeutral and the Solar Electric Light Fund have appealing projects that just seem like a good place to sink some Christmas cash - they are in essence climate charities. EcoBusiness and Carbon Catalog are by no means exhaustive, but they are a good place to start.
And Climate Clean, a newer for-profit company providing offsets, offers five questions here to help buyers determine how permanent and verifiable the CO2 reductions in an offset project are.
But if in the end this all seems somewhat perplexing, take heart: not even the scientists and bureaucrats working with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have figured out exactly how to offset their own air travel emissions, and so they haven't yet done so! However, one bright spot - at next week's next set of climate talks in Bali, the ministers themselves will help offset some of the estimated 47,000 tons of CO2 generated by the 10,000 participants by cycling around from meeting to meeting instead of driving. P.S. Climate Chaos is a free game available at FreeGamesNews