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Ski Club of Manchester, Carbon Offsetting, Good, Bad or Ugly?

By: Jen Bridgeland

Please note that the following article expresses my personal opinions and does not necessarily represent the beliefs of the SCOM committee as a whole. I am happy to enter in to any respectful discussions about these issues and my intention is to provide food for thought that gives members the space to come up with their own opinions

As I excitedly prepare for my first ski trip in nearly 2 years I am also aware of the fact that I will be flying again and I am thinking about what that will do to my carbon footprint. So should I be considering carbon offsetting?

The idea behind carbon offsetting is that we estimate the amount of carbon that we produce from our daily lives (our carbon footprint) or from a one off activity such as taking a flight to the Alps, and then we pay an organisation to undertake actions, e.g. tree planting, which will remove an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere.

So that’s good right? Surely everyone agrees that we need to reduce our carbon levels, so what’s the problem?

One opinion is that this does not give us any incentive to actually reduce our carbon footprint in the first place and that it encourages the wealthiest people with the biggest carbon generating lifestyles to assuage their consciences with a cash payment which relieves them of the need to have to make changes to their daily lives. Changes which in the long term are necessary in order achieve a more significant reduction in global warning.

That may be true. If we accept the idea that the world needs to ensure that global warming is kept within the 1.5 degree increase of pre industrial levels in order to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, then worldwide we will all need to make big changes to our lifestyles. And those with the biggest carbon footprint ie those in the industrial and more developed nations, will have to make the biggest changes of all. Carbon offsetting on its own will just not cut it!

But maybe carbon offsetting does have a role to play. It can be one of the tools that we use in the fight to reduce global warming. If we all have a personal plan to reduce our carbon footprint, if we are all working towards bigger and better changes in our lifestyles then perhaps carbon offsetting can be a small part of that plan in the short term.

So what is the ugly bit? Many carbon offset schemes have been controversial with suggestions of fraudulent practices in which carbon credits did not exist or did not represent an actual reduction in carbon. So how do we know if a carbon offsetting organisation will achieve the benefits that they claim? How do we know if our money is being spent wisely and productively? A quick look on the internet shows a minefield of options to navigate and investigate.

A starting point is the new Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity (VCMI) initiative which was launched at COP26 recently (see ). This is a global initiative of governments, experts, NGO’s and others whose aim is to ‘develop guidance on high integrity voluntary use of carbon credits’ We should soon be able to find out which organisations are genuinely undertaking actions which are reducing carbon based on ten principles set out in the initiative.

However this initiative has only just been launched and is currently in the ‘Consolidation and Implementation’ phase, we are yet to see how successful it will be and how well it delivers on its goals.

Meanwhile the only option if you are thinking of carbon offsetting is to do a bit of research before you buy. A review of the evidence behind carbon offsetting can be found on the GOV.UK website, or on the Environment Agency Blog.

Also some well-known and trusted organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and The Woodland Trust recommend some carbon offsetting organisations and have handy carbon calculators. Some national newspapers eg The Guardian have also undertaken reviews and published recommendations.

So back to my thoughts on flying to the Alps. As part of my personal carbon reducing plan I definitely will be offsetting the carbon from my flights this year but I will also be investigating more environmentally friendly ways to travel in the future.

See you on the slopes!

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