Carbon Footprint Solutions

Carbon Offset vs. Carbon Credit: Understanding the Language of Climate Action

In the fight against climate change, we often hear terms like “carbon offset” and “carbon credit”. While they are often used interchangeably, these two phrases actually have different meanings. Carbon offsetting is something you do, while a carbon credit is what you use do it. Understanding the difference between them is important for businesses and individuals looking to address their environmental impact.

Carbon Credits: Creating a Global Market for Carbon Emission Reduction

The concept of a carbon credit originated decades ago as mechanism to fund the reduction of carbon emissions. One carbon credit represents the reduction of 1 metric ton of CO2 from the atmosphere. There are two different kinds of carbon credits – voluntary and compliance. We will explain the difference, but this article primarily focuses on voluntary carbon credits which apply to everyone – businesses and individuals alike.

Compliance carbon credits are relevant for only a small number of very large companies. Compliance credits exist in government regulated cap-and-trade carbon markets that are isolated to specific high-emission industries like power generation or heavy manufacturing.  In regulated carbon markets, the government identifies an industry that is responsible for significant carbon emissions.  The government establishes a carbon emission limit for each facility (a cap) and enforces financial penalties on facilities that exceed their cap.  Facilities with carbon emissions below their cap are awarded credits that they can sell to facilities who are over their cap. Hence the term cap-and-trade. Notable regulated carbon market includes the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), California (CARB) in the United States, and the China Emissions Trading System (ETS) to name a few.

Voluntary carbon credits on the other hand are generated by projects that are implemented exclusively to reduce carbon emissions. These projects rely on the sale of carbon credits for funding and have no other regulatory or financial incentives to exist. Voluntary carbon credit projects are basically carbon reduction factories. These carbon reduction projects are major capital projects just like building and operating a manufacturing plant. They have significant up-front investment and ongoing operating expenses. They need continuous carbon credit revenue for decades to recoup the cost of construction and operation. Every year that these projects reduce carbon emissions, they generate carbon credits that they sell to keep the doors open. That’s why it is important for you and I to buy carbon credits. We help existing projects continue to operate and we create demand for new projects.

Carbon Offset vs. Carbon Credit Understanding the Language of Climate Action

Only certain types of carbon reduction projects are allowed, and they must meet rigorous data collection, inspection, performance and reporting standards. So, what makes something a carbon reduction project? These rules are set by registries like Verra, Climate Action Reserve, American Carbon Registry, and Gold Standard. Registries are organizations that identify scientifically valid forms of carbon reduction and establish the data collection and reporting standards necessary to prove that a carbon emission reduction has occurred.  The rules are called project methodologies.

Carbon reduction project developers all over the world follow apply with the registries to build and operate projects under the rules of a certain methodology.  These include nature-based projects like protecting forests so they can grow and capture carbon, to engineered projects like installing systems to capture methane leaking from landfills. There are many types of projects and there are many more in development. Newer projects include direct air capture (DAC) plants that literally suck CO2 out of the air and soil carbon projects that incentivize farmers to use farming practices that store CO2 in soils.

When you buy carbon credits, you become the owner of the carbon reduction they generate, and you ensure that these projects continue operating and reducing carbon emissions. Terrapass is proud to play a critical role in bringing these amazing projects to our customers, so they have the funding needed to succeed.

What Are the Important Terms for Carbon Credits?

Voluntary: There is no regulation or requirement to generate or purchase voluntary carbon credits; they are available for purchase by anyone who wants to fund carbon reduction, from individuals to businesses.

Additionality: A key concept in carbon credits; this means that the project wouldn’t have happened without carbon credit revenue, leading to a genuine reduction in emissions.

Reduction and Removal: Reduction (or avoidance) carbon credits are generated by projects that reduce a source of greenhouse gas emissions, like landfill gas capture. Removal carbon credits are generated by projects that remove CO2 from the atmosphere like forestry or direct air capture.

Carbon Offset: Balancing the Scales

At Terrapass, we talk about three critical steps in climate action, Calculate, Conserve and Offset:

  • Priority 1: Calculate means understand where carbon emissions come from in your business or personal life by estimating your carbon footprint annually.
  • Priority 2: Conserve means create a plan to reduce carbon emissions over time and achieve consistent progress.
  • Priority 3: Offset means balance the carbon emissions that you can’t eliminate (your residual emissions) by purchasing carbon credits.

Imagine you take a flight that generates carbon emissions. Carbon offsetting is compensating for those flight emissions by purchasing carbon credits that fund an equivalent amount of carbon reduction.

Before Terrapass, carbon offsetting was mostly an area for major corporations who can calculate their own carbon emissions and buy carbon credits from projects without any help – but most of the world cannot do that. Terrapass changed that by creating the tools, products and platform that enables anyone to easily estimate their carbon footprint and purchase carbon credits from amazing projects.

Terrapass is constantly working to make it easier for individuals and businesses to offset their carbon footprint.  We are doing this by creating a wide variety of newer, smarter products that match our customers’ needs like Business Plans, Family Plans or Wedding Offsets. We are also working with businesses to make carbon offsetting part of how you buy products.

It’s Not Too Late To Make Climate Change Your Business. Learn More

Without question, we need to reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere as quickly as possible. The only way to do this is to stop carbon emissions everywhere we can and offset our remaining emissions. We must do both of these in order to achieve the impact we need. Most importantly, this within our reach – if every individual and every business does their part, then together we can reduce the impact of climate change.

Beyond the Basics: Additional Facts About the Carbon Market 

The Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Initiative (VCMI): VCMI is a not-for-profit organization focused on ensuring carbon offset programs are credible and contribute to real environmental benefits. They work to prevent misleading claims and promote high-quality carbon markets that fight climate change. The market for carbon credits is vast and complex. While some credit providers maintain high standards, concerns exist regarding project verification and the overall effectiveness of some offset programs. Choosing reputable providers with transparent reporting is crucial.

Choosing the Right Approach with Carbon Credits

It’s crucial to choose reputable carbon credit providers with strong quality standards, verified projects, and transparent reporting such as Terrapass. By understanding the differences and limitations, you can make informed decisions to offset your environmental impact and be part of the solution.

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The post Carbon Offset vs. Carbon Credit: Understanding the Language of Climate Action appeared first on Terrapass.

By: Daniel Ho
Title: Carbon Offset vs. Carbon Credit: Understanding the Language of Climate Action
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Published Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2024 19:47:50 +0000

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