The government launched on Thursday a voluntary, U.N.-type code which could more than double the cost for people and businesses wanting to be “carbon neutral” by paying others to make cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Companies have jumped on carbon offsetting as a way to flag their efforts to curb climate change, while individuals have also become more carbon aware, wanting to offset their car and plane journeys.
The British move could more than double the cost of going “carbon neutral”, after growing fears that the industry boom could be fuelling schemes with dubious environmental credentials.
“People need to be sure that the way they offset is actually making a difference,” said Environment Minister David Miliband.
“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.”
Carbon offsetting involves paying others to cut emissions on your behalf, by planting trees or building wind farms for example, with the ultimate objective of offsetting all your emissions and going carbon neutral.
Miliband said offsetting schemes were not the solution to climate change but that the new standards would “raise the bar”. A code should be in place by autumn 2007, after a consultation.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth said the move was unhelpful if it encouraged people to think they could buy their way out of cutting their own contribution to climate change.
“We urgently need to cut our emissions, but offsetting schemes encourage individuals, businesses and governments to avoid action and carry on polluting,” said Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper.
Under the voluntary British standard people would have to buy the same carbon credits that countries use when trying to meet emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, in a market overseen by the U.N.
separate unregulated market supplies most offsets and is less expensive. The environment ministry compared estimates of nearly eight pounds versus 17 pounds per tonne of emissions cuts for unregulated versus U.N.-type carbon credits.
Britain said unregulated markets would not qualify for their new scheme because these could not guarantee a standard.
One worry about projects in the unregulated sector is that people may be paying for projects, say in developing countries, to make emissions cuts that would have happened anyway – for example from installing energy efficient light bulbs to cut fuel bills.
“Some of these projects are not so much for cutting emissions but to save on energy and maintenance costs,” said Einar Telnes, Director for climate change services at Det Norske Veritas, which certifies projects for the U.N. carbon credit market.
By Gerard Wynn
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