Helping to offset climate change

3rd March 2014

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  • Management ,
  • Reporting ,
  • Mitigation ,
  • Adaptation



At the start of Climate Week, analyst Vicky West argues that some carbon offsetting projects offer a way to reduce net emissions and protection from some of the impacts of climate change

Our climate is definitely changing – and almost all scientists, according to recent IPCC and Royal Society reports, believe this is due to human activity. They also agree that it’s now urgent that we take action to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and work out how we adapt our infrastructure and lives to the changes in our climate.

The intense, frequent and record breaking levels of rainfall we’ve seen in recent months across Wales and the south of England could be a consequence of our changing climate. Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist told the BBC there was “no definitive answer” to what caused the storms, but that all the evidence suggested a link to climate change.

“There is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events,” she said. “[And] the UK has seen the most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years.”

The solution must surely involve everyone – individuals, businesses and governments – playing their part to reduce emissions and adapt to different weather conditions.

Many large businesses are now legally required to report their GHG emissions and there are excellent examples of companies who have drastically reduced their emissions and made significant cost savings at the same time. Analysing the way we do business certainly seems to pay dividends.

However, as demonstrated by the GHG management hierarchy in IEMA’s 2012 position statement on climate change , no business will be able to reduce their GHG emissions to zero. In the spirit of doing everything possible to reduce an organisation’s impacts, it makes sense then to consider compensating for any remaining emissions by purchasing carbon credits.

Such a move helps someone else to avoid emitting GHGs or actually takes CO2 out of the atmosphere elsewhere. This may support the business towards a wider transformational change opportunity such as achieving “carbon neutrality” or working towards having a “net positive” impact on the environment.

For those firms that choose to take this path there are some good standards to help you. Projects certified against the Gold Standard and VCS, among others, offer high quality offsets, mainly generated in developing countries.

Closer to home, the woodland carbon code offers carbon units generated by UK woodland creation projects that take CO2 out of our atmosphere. All are available on the Markit Registry – which enables organisations to track projects offering carbon, water and biodiversity offsets, as well as issue, trade and retire credits.

Furthermore, the benefits of woodland creation can be many fold – as well as soaking up CO2, woodlands can improve air quality, provide wildlife habitat, timber and woodfuel as well as sites for public recreation.

In the right places, new woodlands can also improve water quality and reduce flooding such as we have seen in recent weeks, helping us to adapt to the changing climate.

This week is Climate Week. It’s a time to consider how we can all take action to help our climate and the next generation. Carbon offsetting is one option that offers organisations a way to compensate for unavoidable emissions and help communities to adapt to the challenges of climate change.

Dr Vicky West is a climate change analyst at the Forestry Commission

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