Offsetra: The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting
Oxford academics published in September 2020 a report titled ‘The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting’. The report recognises the important role that the voluntary carbon markets will play in enabling the journey to net zero as organisations step-up their activities to mitigate the carbon impact of their operations, whilst acknowledging that the marketplace must also be undergo ongoing scrutiny to ensure that credits that are marketed are delivering the carbon impact they claim.
The report reinforces one of the key considerations for those looking to offset: that offsetting is not a panacea, and taking meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions prior to purchasing carbon credits to compensate for residual emissions must be a fundamental position for corporate and institutional purchasers of offsets.
The report also begins to consider the future of carbon offsetting, noting that scaling up the prevalence and volume of projects that enable long-term carbon sequestration should be considered the objective for the market. Indeed, Ecosystem Marketplace’s recent report suggests that renewable energy projects are less frequently being considered ‘additional’ due to economics and regulation, and in the medium-term we can expect these credits to be significantly less available on the verified registries as the voluntary market shifts to secure investment in to novel, carbon storage solutions, whether ‘blue carbon credits’ or through state-of-the-art carbon capture and storage.
Whilst aligning to the UK Government’s ambitions to leverage funding to deliver on longer-term carbon capture solutions, the position from Oxford University does not give consideration to the valuable co-benefits that carbon offset projects can deliver to the local communities where they are based.
In Offsetra’s experience, it is often these co-benefits that can secure real buy-in from corporate and individual buyers alike. By pulling down high-integrity climate finance to local communities that are experiencing social, economic and environmental challenges — carbon offsetting can go further than simply attributing a financial value to 1tCO2e, and become a legitimate means to pull down funding from those who are able to pay, to those that are in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities and surrounded by rapidly degrading environments.
So, what are the Oxford Offsetting Principles?
- Prioritise reducing your own emissions first, ensure the environmental integrity of any offsets used, and disclose how offsets are used.
- Shift offsetting towards carbon removal, where offsets directly remove carbon from the atmosphere;
- Shift offsetting towards long-lived storage, which removes carbon from the atmosphere permanently or almost permanently; and
- Support for the development of a market for net zero aligned offsets.
Not all carbon offsets are created equal, and given the range of available carbon credits available for those looking to do their part via offsetting, Offsetra welcome the report from the University of Oxford to ensure that there is ongoing analysis and commentary within the voluntary carbon market. It is through discourse and scrutiny, that the voluntary carbon market can mature and scale to put a real dent in our bloated atmospheric carbon balance.
During Offsetra’s time in the voluntary carbon markets, we have seen a number of carbon offsets sold at significantly higher prices than would perhaps be expected, and indeed these same projects are often sold at lower prices by competitors in the space. This asymmetry in the market will be addressed over time as providers establish themselves and a broader understanding of the carbon offsetting marketplace is developed by consumers. We consider it our responsibility to be transparent in our approach and our offsets when in conversations with clients to contribute to this progress of the market.
In all, whilst we agree with the principles set-out, Offsetra would like to see the value and profile of carbon offset projects that deliver additional co-benefits for local communities to be explicitly acknowledged. Carbon offsets address the ultimate issue: climate change. However, the voluntary carbon marketplace is also uniquely well-positioned to address many of the other inequities that have developed during our age of abundant consumption.
At Offsetra, two of our projects deliver a number of social co-benefits to local communities as well as being verified carbon reduction projects:
Financing our Agrocortex REDD Project addresses biodiversity concerns in the Brazilian Amazon by helping project 12 species of endangered flora and fauna.
Financing our Bull Run Forest Carbon project in Belize, help deliver positive socioeconomic impacts by ensuring jobs can be retained to undertake maintenance, monitoring and patrols in the region — these jobs would otherwise be lost.