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What are offsets?

Environmental offsetting enables a company, country or individual to be legally or morally allowed to pollute or otherwise damage the environment as long as they pay someone else somewhere else to attempt to compensate for some or all of the negative consequences. The most common offsets are carbon offsets and biodiversity offsets, but there have been discussions about introducing ecosystem and even cultural offsets.

This section focuses on carbon offsets. To read more about biodiversity or other offsetting visit www.fern.org/biodiversityoffsetting.

What are carbon offset projects?

Carbon offsets create carbon credits which businesses, countries and individuals can buy to compensate for emissions reductions they would otherwise have to make. Carbon offsets are a key part of most existing and planned carbon trading schemes, though they have now been ruled out of the EU Emissions Trading System from 2020 onwards. Carbon offset credits can be bought voluntarily by those wishing to assuage guilt or show their green credentials, but the majority are bought by businesses and governments legally bound to reduce their emissions, or by governments seeking to strengthen the carbon trading market.

Carbon offsetting in general has a number of systemic flaws, most of which are dealt with in Fern’s report Trading Carbon. How it works and why it is controversial and briefing Designed to Fail. Carbon Trade Watch also outlines a number of offsetting projects that have intended and unintended negative consequences.

Forest carbon offsets are particularly problematic as forest carbon sinks can easily become carbon sources. Carbon dioxide through deliberate human activities such as intensified forest harvests and changes in land use, as well as natural events such as pest infestations, diseases and forest fires. Other concerns unique to forest carbon offsets are the impossibility of measuring the amounts of carbon being stored and sequestered by forests. For more information about the problems with forest carbon offsets see Carbon Discredited: Why the EU should steer clear of forest carbon offsets and Counting the cost: forest credits and their effect on carbon markets.

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Most recent publications

Forestwatch issue 141

  • Obstacles on the road to sustainable bioenergy criteria
  • Climate haggling... to be continued
  • UK timber procurement: Help shape criteria
  • The Saami Council applauds breakthrough
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PDF iconOPEN179.99 KB

Forestwatch issue 140

  • Ilisu dam: teetering at the edge
  • Liberia’s dubious timber concessions
  • UK Environmental Audit Committee heeded
  • EU aid: must do better
DocumentSize
PDF iconFW 140.pdf176.55 KB
PDF iconBonn II meeting update.pdf131.11 KB

Forest Watch Issue 138

  • Billions of Euros available for afforestation
  • Forest activists win prize
  • Recession+ETS=few carbon reductions in the EU
  • Adapting to climate change?
  • Republic of Congo to sign a VPA with the EU
  • Special report from the UNFCCC forest climate meeting in Bonn
DocumentSize
PDF iconFW 138.pdf259.51 KB

Forest watch Issue 137

  • Fossil Fools day 2009 targets the G20
  • India: The hidden costs of free trade
  • Natura 2000 and CEPF
  • Urging recognition of forest peoples’ rights
  • Liberia negotiations begin
  • EU calendar online
  • FERN moves to Mundo-B
DocumentSize
PDF iconFW 137.pdf246.89 KB

Forestwatch Issue 136

  • Forests in EU-China bilateral agreements
  • Liberia received praise where due
  • Closer eye on EU finance?
  • EU illegal timber proposal strengthened
  • Climate Package disappoints
  • DG ENV boss shuns offsets
  • Reducing emissions or playing with numbers?
DocumentSize
PDF iconFW 136.pdf243.52 KB
PDF iconPlaying with numbers.pdf112.95 KB

FERN submission to UK Parliament

FERN submission to the UK Select Committee on Environment, spelling out FERN's vision on forest, climate, rights and carbon trading

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Microsoft Office document iconOPEN76.5 KB

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