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NftP Climate News: How Should We Count Carbon?

Written by Liz Couture

February 9, 2020

If you are not the “accounting type”, you could be forgiven for feeling confused about all the number-crunching “gobblygook” words used in the climate change vocabulary these days.

Take the words “carbon offset”, for example. It was recently announced in The Economist magazine that there would be global accounting done for not just one, but TWO types of carbon offsets! One type of offset is a direct reduction and the other is an indirect reduction. Say that I book a trip by airplane and I wish to reduce my carbon footprint impact, I can put some money towards an offset that helps build a forest somewhere to “sink some carbon” via the breathing of the trees. Since I can’t avoid the carbon emissions of the plane (alternative energy planes have not been invented on a large scale yet), but since I want to be more environmentally conscious and effective, then I can choose to pay more for my flight with a carbon offset. The carbon offset type used in this example is an indirect reduction, referred to as “avoidance” by former Governor of Bank of England Mark Carney, who said that “climate crisis deaths will be worse than covid”.

The other type of carbon offset, a direct reduction (or “removal” of emissions) from the source is the offset that needs to be carefully considered. In the future, when all the countries will supposedly be at net-zero emissions, there will still be some industries that have not yet transitioned to fossil-free fuels. For example, what if the long-haul planes of today are not replaced by alternatives by 2035? Then, indirect offsets would be needed. However, the argument here and the problem is that using indirect offsets will not amount to enough to compensate for the continued excess emissions of our human activities.

At this time, the suggestion being made is to continue with both types of accounting of offsets.

Economists and entrepreneurs propose that with properly run carbon markets, with carbon offsets in place as part of the climate change emissions solution, and with banks and brokerage houses transitioning to deal with the ever-complicated world of carbon emissions targets and tracking, then carbon offsets will be part of the solution. Furthermore, even corporate tycoons like Elon Musk understand that reducing direct carbon emissions is not enough. The CEO of electric vehicle manufacturer, Tesla, has recently announced a “carbon sucking contest”. The $100 million prize goes to the best inventions that actually draw down emissions back to the earth.

One of the first “aha” moments I had when I was learning about climate change issues and solutions was when someone said to me, “remember, what you measure, you can monitor”. But of course! The measuring of current emissions and potential reduction opportunities as part of target reporting are beginning to happen at all levels: the local level here in Richmond Hill, the Regional Level, and the Federal Level. Not only that, but countries all over the globe will be trading offsets on the market in a BIG way, according to Mark Carney, who is also the newly self-appointed co-founder of a task force looking into making these markets more fair, transparent, and effective.

So, if you are not “a numbers person”, you can be forgiven for not wanting to do a deep dive into the accounting statements of the brave new world of climate change accounting of carbon offsets.

We need to make sure that carbon emissions are reduced. This needs to happen. We are in a climate emergency!

Reducing emissions from future activity is not going to be enough, and we need to draw down greenhouse gases that are still lingering in the atmosphere.

Good luck, Mr. Carney, and I hope you get some smart people helping you out with that “offsets accounting”.

About the Author

Liz Couture is a graduate of Ryerson University Business School, a self-employed small business owner, a Lead Organizer for Drawdown Richmond Hill, a contributor to the “climate movement’ through the arts ~ music, writing, and story telling. Liz is also a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and a trained speaker for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. Currently, Liz is working from home studio during the pandemic.

About NftP Climate News

The goal of NftP Climate News articles is to highlight 3 to 4 recent news articles on climate change. We want to provide a brief summary to help our members stay up to date on what’s happening climate-wise. Although there can sometimes be a lot of bad news, we are striving to balance this out by including at least one piece of good news.

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