People offsetting their carbon emissions will soon be able to do so with greater clarity and certainty with the development of a voluntary standard for offsetting, released for public consultation today.

Environment Secretary David Miliband said the standard and associated code of practice would raise the bar for the offsetting industry.

"Offsetting isn't the answer to climate change. The first step should always be to see how we can avoid and reduce emissions - through thinking about how we use energy in our homes and businesses, and the way we travel. "However, some emissions can't or won't be avoided. That's where offsetting has a role to play. It's a way of compensating for the emissions produced with an equivalent carbon saving."

Mr Miliband said that consumers needed an assurance that when they offset their emissions, their money is spent on projects that have genuine carbon dioxide emission reductions.

"People need to be sure that the way they offset is actually making a difference. The Government's standard and code of practice, with a quality mark so people can check easily before they choose an offsetting product, will help to provide that certainty. "Ultimately, this is about providing certainty for consumers in an emerging environmental market."

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said: "Many individuals and businesses want the option of offsetting the emissions that result from the transport choices they make, as one way of balancing the benefits of travel with its environmental impact.

"This new voluntary standard will not only bring clarity for those who are already offsetting - it will also encourage many more to consider how they can lighten the footprint they leave on the planet."

Offsetting is a way of compensating for emissions produced with an equivalent carbon saving, lessening the impact of a consumer's actions. Consumers can offset a particular activity, such as a flight; their emissions over a period of time, such as their annual car mileage; or across their entire lifestyle or business, including all of the gas and electricity they consume and their emissions from transport. Carbon offsetting involves calculating emissions and then purchasing equivalent credits from emission reduction projects that have prevented or removed the emission of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide somewhere else.

The Government's standard would be based on the use of certified credits from the established Kyoto market, through sources such as the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These credits are backed by an international framework and institutions to ensure that real emission reductions take place, as well as providing a clear audit trail. The code of practice proposes that offset providers supply consumers with clear information and transparent prices. Defra plans to support the standard by providing guidance to consumers on offsetting, which will also help consumers to make informed decisions about their actions.

A number of offset providers and travel companies who want to offer their customers offsets in line with the Code of Best Practice have written to express their support. PURE the Clean Planet Trust, Global Cool, Equiclimate and Carbon Offsets Ltd are among the offsetting providers who already meet the Government's standard by offering Certified Emission Reduction credits for their offsetting products. Others in the travel industry, such as First Choice Holidays and, have undertaken to meet the standard by the end of the year, when offering the choice to offset to their customers.

Travel publisher Rough Guides have agreed that in future they will recommend that their readers look out for the Government's quality mark when offsetting. City firms Man Group plc, Grant Thornton and Every Investor that are donors to PURE will also use the standard, by offsetting using CERs themselves and also offering them to employees and possibly their clients.

The Government is also taking action on its own emissions, with all central Government ministerial and official air travel being captured under carbon offsetting schemes since April 2006. Around 30 departments, agencies and bodies are participating in the Government Carbon Offsetting Fund, which will source and deliver 255,000 CER credits, with a provision for a further 50,000 credits over the next three years.

But, some experts believe the new standards will raise carbon offset costs with schemes that claim to offset the environmental damage of carbon emissions caused by activities such as driving and flying will become more expensive under a new government plan to raise standards across the industry. The environment secretary, David Miliband, today said that only offset schemes using officially recognised carbon credits will be awarded a new government stamp of approval. Ministers want to deter people from using offset schemes that buy credits on a different, unregulated, market.


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