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On the Road to COP26: The disturbing return of offsetting

3 February 2021

On the Road to COP26: The disturbing return of offsetting

With the colliding crises of habitat loss and global heating firmly on the agenda of the EU and UN, 2021 is going to be a huge year for forests. The postponed biodiversity and climate conferences of parties (COPs) are set to take place, and considerable momentum is building behind renewing targets and pledges to tackle these interconnected issues. They must avoid endorsing misguided solutions. 

Governments and private companies alike are competing to show their green credentials with net zero schemes that propose ‘compensating’ emissions by theoretically absorbing greenhouse gases elsewhere. Given the significance of this year for international commitments, it is disturbing to see that carbon-offsetting initiatives − creative means of avoiding actively reducing emissions − are making a comeback. 

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) will soon release the report of the ‘Taskforce on Scaling up Voluntary Carbon Markets’ consultation, an initiative led by Mark Carney − financial advisor to the UK-hosted COP26 and an ally of Boris Johnson − which civil society criticise for being designed in the interest of the fossil fuel industry. 

The UK government is expected to endorse the findings of the IIF Taskforce. The report could influence different country positions on offsetting at COP26, where climate targets will be set. The risk is that the Voluntary Carbon Markets could pave the way for an increase in private finance going into offsetting emissions through tree-planting schemes, nature-based solutions and other projects, many of which do not benefit forests or the climate, and often actively do harm

new report from Greenpeace contradicts Carney’s projections by showing that companies’ tree planting plans as part of their net zero pledges, far exceed the amount of land available. This is not news to organisations, including Fern, that have been campaigning against offsets for many years. With offsets firmly back on the horizon, international decisionmakers must stop allocating time to tried-and-failed carbon market ‘solutions’, and explore instead difficult but necessary emission reduction choices. 

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