Wrangling the wild west of the voluntary carbon offset market
It’s no wonder the tech industry likes removals: it’s a quick-fix technocratic solution to a very complex human problem. The fact is carbon capture technology does absolutely nothing for climate justice, IPLCs and other marginalized societies. The oldest and best carbon capture technology already exists and is working just fine: trees, and the voluntary market incentivizes their protection. Offsetting, while reducing deforestation at scale, also financially incentivizes the communities who are responsible for protecting their own forests. Pure tech solutions to complex human problems aren’t enough… the socioeconomic impacts must be considered.
@sophie, @kim - excellent, brilliantly clear article. A pleasure to read.
There’s lots of detail in this article, but I would like to shine a light on the comment about avoidance. We need to avoid extra emissions as much as possible. If we don’t, any removals are just erasing the new emissions.
The diagram showing the effect of avoidance and removals, taken from Swiss Re, misses part of the original figure; that shows what would have happened without the avoidance, that there would have been 2tCO2e. The purchase of an avoidance tCO2e means one less tonne has been emitted into the atmosphere. (I just clicked through the link to see the original diagram in Swiss Re’s article.)
Counterfactuals don’t exist’ true. But the next clause, ‘so avoided emissions are fatally flawed’ isn’t true. There are many people who have worked for decades, so together, have thousands of hours of experience, to provide best case scenarios and calculations. We can’t be sure about something that hasn’t happened - but we can describe it, its anticipated effects and the likelihood of those happening. And if a group of professional people, from many disciplines and geographies, can sign off on a ‘methodology’ for calculating the emissions that will be avoided by greener, cleaner action, then it is likely that the methodology will calculate emission reductions within a reasonable confidence band. These methodologies can be and are reviewed if science and monitoring technology changes. But from the start, they are designed with much intellectual rigour and in good faith.
The methodologies, filed with the United Nations, Verra and the Gold Standard, help those who are trying to move capital to make positive change to do that. Yes, we need removals, but we also, importantly, need avoidance.
This article has so many errors it's hard to know where to start. The fact is, every lamb is sacrificed to justify mechanical carbon removal which is eye watering in it's energy need let alone $1200 per tonne CO2 by Climeworks. All the analysis (monograph) sees DAC as less expensive so why is Climeworks price gouging? Further, one of the latest monographs justifies an economic model that foresees selling synthetic carbon hydrocarbons into California's fuel ETS.. So captured CO2 is made into fuels ... only to be burned again. It's simply shocking and if that's the case, the case for DAC supporting net zero is blown out of the water. And as for lambs? NBS, slagged off relentlessly by Bloomberg. And now here's the new one: CO2 avoidance. Everything but DAC is trivialised to justify it.
So why is it US tech heads don't ask real questions and instead persist with fluffer pieces? Ask them. But they would do well to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Thank you for writing this!
Your "tale of two credits" section suggests that removals are quantitatively better than avoided tons. But the math in the figure is missing a key ton. I explain the problem here: https://bra.in/8vAmW3 It should be intuitively clear that legitimately avoiding an emission has to be at least as good as removing a ton from the atmosphere, and in fact it is.
Thanks for this information it's very useful, I'll need to read it more than once to digest.
Something I've been wondering for a while... As we have so much double counting of carbon across the value chain due you believe it is possible we are over purchasing offsets?
I recognise we are many miles off this being a problem but it was more just a theoretical question.
It seems the reason nature based solution, despite being the only tried and tested way of locking stable soil carbon away while using the carbon to energise life (carbon forms the building blocks of life) is rated so low in these studies, is there aren’t enough climate biologists 👩🔬 helping us understand carbon cycles!
Technology plays an important role in MRV’ing sequestration or drawdown, but technology cannot achieve the quality removals natural cycles and biology managed well can.
Great summary CTVC team. Definitely reason to be skeptical of all the corporate pledges and concern over false confidence of buying to reduce emissions. We don’t have time to get this wrong. DAC is not going to save us anytime soon. We’re very interested in quality ratings and traceability. Amazing how many startups we are seeing that expect to monetize offsets as a secondary source of revenue. It’s the carbon credit gold rush.
Excellent piece. Thanks to the authors for this effort to shed some light into a complex and constantly moving topic as is VCM. As other have commented, there are some debatable ideas, such as minimizing the role of avoided emissions, yet the bulk of the discussion can be found here. Another thing that I found missing is the political side. It is very important for the VCM to follow on the ongoing discussions on operationalizing Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and how it can play an important role as governments support or block offsets provided by the voluntary market. I hope this discussions continue and we can find great synergies between regulated and voluntary market forces as fast as we can given the urgency of the climate crisis.
nice article. See the guided learning pathways CIBO has pulled together for complementary content. https://www.cibotechnologies.com/pathway/cibos-guided-learning-pathways/ Especially the Definitive Guide to protocols https://www.cibotechnologies.com/pathway/the-definitive-guide-to-carbon-and-climate-commitments/
Brilliant write up, one stop shop to start diving deep into each of the topics listed.
Delighted to see this deep dive and look forward to reading, and sharing any comments or questions.