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Are you buying fake plastic trees or flourishing forests?

June 2, 2023

Now we understand what carbon offsetting is, let’s explore how we can be sure that a carbon offsetting project is genuine.

How do we verify carbon offsetting?

There are stringent UK requirements which a project must meet, in order to be legally called carbon offsetting. Meeting these requirements is costly, time consuming and long-term. If you are considering investment in a project, here's what you need to check for.

To be legitimate, carbon offsetting needs to provide proven additionality.

Additionality simply means that any projects need to prove that such benefits are additional to what would be achieved anyway. Proving additionality has cost implications in project development, auditing, verification, and registration, as well as the requirement to provide additional capacity to guarantee offsetting levels in case of failures.

It means if you were to do something anyway like for example planting a tree for commercial purposes such as timber for construction in an existing location – it can’t be considered as providing additional carbon offsetting.

To be legitimate, carbon offsetting needs to assure permanence.

This means the permanent condition for offsetting has to be achieved in a guaranteed way for a specific time – usually 100 years. Only some locations are feasible for such projects both in land availability and financially.

It takes years to develop such projects to be ready for the sales of Project Issuance Units, which in time become Carbon Reduction Units, and therefore, this means that the cost of maintaining the project for those timescales must be met.

To be legitimate, carbon offsetting must prove avoidance of double counting.

Preventing the benefits of projects being claimed more than once means implementing systems for registering and tracing benefits, providing public visibility and traceability over time, and demonstrating the transfer of land use to carbon offsetting over a period of many years.

In the UK, carbon capture offsetting projects are registered on the UK Land Registry - the same place that the deeds to your house are recorded. You can’t just establish a carbon offsetting project anywhere – there must be a change of land use, and provisions exist that exclude land such as used by farmers for food production. Unless the project is registered on the UK Land Registry, it can’t be claimed as carbon offsetting.

To be legitimate, carbon offsetting must meet the standards of the UK Green Carbon code.

In the UK we have amongst the highest legislative standards in the world, and stringent requirements describing the ways in which a carbon offsetting project can promote itself. This legislation brings penalties for those who unfairly make claims or provide misinformation for their gain.

If a charity is tree planting for environmental benefits such as flood mitigation, or wildlife diversity, and it’s not a project adhering to the UK governments only accepted standard for carbon offsetting using woodland ‘The Woodland Carbon Code’ - then it can’t be claimed as carbon offsetting.

Anything else, no matter how cleverly it is described, without meeting the standards

set out by the UK government is simply greenwashing.

What is greewashing?

Simpy put, greenwashing means something is giving the appearance of environmental benefit without proof of that benefit. Greenwashing generates revenue by offering the perception of carbon offsetting, using a lower cost option with lower standards.

This is because demand for carbon offsetting projects has exponentially exploded in recent years, driven through increased legislation for businesses, increased consumer demand for companies to act, and incresaed speculation by financial institutions treating offsetting units as investments.

There is limited availability on the market to meet the demand, and a huge cost difference in merely planting trees, compared to the cost of a properly certified carbon offsetting project using tree planting. This means that the cost price of carbon offsetting units has risen by more than ten times since 2020.

Organisations are jumping on the carbon offsetting bandwagon, offering benefits at a fraction of the cost without having legitimate carbon offsetting projects. Some even bundle low cost overseas carbon offsetting schemes together with UK tree planting to give the impression of the offsetting being provided from UK Projects. In reality these trees are often being planted to pay for someone else’s carbon offsetting benefit – single counting but double revenue!

What are the risks for motorsport?

Most carbon offsetting projects now in the UK can sell an entire project in one go to one customer. Causes such as motorsport, are very niche with low demand, which means even greater costs when buying on a small scale, and even more costs if you want carbon units to be administered in an event's name.

It’s easy to be fooled by clever marketing into thinking that you are purchasing legitimate carbon offsetting projects. If it sounds too good to resist, looks like carbon offsetting and is cheaper than carbon offsetting, then the chances are it’s not legitimate.

If you’re using carbon offsetting as a way to change motorsport’s impact on the environment, be very careful not to be fooled into using low cost greenwashing.

If it’s not genuine carbon offsetting, and more importantly it’s not assured to give carbon offsetting benefits, you risk being accused of greenwashing - which can only harm our sport.

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