Researchers have found that carbon offsets actually are effective in reducing carbon emissions.
A carbon offset is an arrangement in which carbon emissions or greenhouse gases are reduced to compensate for emissions made somewhere else. For example, you have a business that can't afford to cut down on carbon emissions. You can then choose to spend on an environmental project that would compensate for your own carbon footprint. It's not the same as minimizing your carbon footprint, since there's still some amount of carbon emissions, but at least it's something.
It also turns out that it's actually successful in reducing carbon after all, and perhaps it's a more doable strategy for many businesses and individuals. Researchers at Stanford University analyzed the effects of a carbon offsetting program in California, which allows businesses to invest in forest preservation. This is in exchange for the businesses' allowance in California's cap-and-trade system for emissions.
The Benefits of Carbon Offsets
Timber companies own about 15% of forestry projects.
In a cap-and-trade system, a business has the chance to avail of some financial incentives if they successfully reduce their emissions. The researchers found that the offsets in the program produced just 1% of emissions in 2015, or the equivalent of 4.7 million metric tons of carbon. As part of the study, the researchers also evaluated whether or not there would still have been a reduction in emissions if there were no incentives in carbon offsets.
According to the study, for-profit businesses were the ones who owned most of the offsetting projects. Non-profit organizations whose interests are in environmental conservation, in contrast, would have made an effort to reduce their carbon footprint even without an incentive. The researchers found that non-profits own just 26% of forestry projects. Timber companies, investment firms, individuals, and Native American tribes own the rest.
It turns out that the forestry projects would not have existed in their present state if there were no financial incentives for entities that invested in them. The study found that 64% of the projects were in forests that had experienced or are experiencing active logging. Thus, the financial incentives were indeed necessary.
Carbon offsets also weren't just beneficial in terms of carbon emissions reductions. Property owners also reported a number of unexpected benefits, like an improved quality of water.
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