Paris-compliant offsets - a high leverage climate intervention?

post by Louis_Dixon (bdixon) · 2020-10-05T16:55:32.163Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · EA · GW · 3 comments

A group of researchers at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford have published a set of principles around aligning offsets for net zero. The full report is here.

My tl;dr is that they argue we should be rapidly exploring higher quality and more durable offsets. If adopted, these principles could be a scalable and high-leverage way of moving organisations towards net-zero - so please share widely, and if you work at a CSR program, please get in touch with Eli here!

My summary below is adapted from this Twitter thread. I think this could be high impact because the principles encourage work on CCS. In their climate cause profile, Founders Pledge said "CCS is the top scoring intervention", expected to achieve a significant chunk of emissions reductions to 2050. However CCS remains neglected by both governments and philanthropists.

From the thread:

Are carbon offsets still hot air? They don't have to be. Offsetting can be a powerful tool to achieve net zero emissions
The importance of very long-term storage cannot be overstated - CO2 released by fossil fuel combustion elevates global temperatures for hundreds of thousands of years, so to be fully effective, offsets must (eventually) all be equally permanent.

The authors argue that:

As offsetting (re)gains momentum, we risk another “race-to-the-bottom” on offset quality. We argue that credible, Paris-compliant offsetting IS possible, but only under certain, stringent conditions:
ONE: Cut emissions, use high quality offsets, and regularly revise offsetting strategy as best practice evolves. Some "species" of offset are fundamentally problematic on the basis of additionality, permanence, improper conversion to CO2e terms, etc. We propose a taxonomy of offsets.
TWO & THREE: "Shift to long-lived storage" & "Shift to carbon removal offsetting" Your portfolio of offsets must shift away from short-lived storage toward long-lived storage, AND away from emission reductions toward carbon removal.
These are two separate transitions. Not all carbon removal offsets offer appropriately permanent storage. And many emission reduction offsets do. In advance of global net zero, additional emissions reductions are atmospherically equivalent to carbon removal.
The importance of very long-term storage cannot be overstated - CO2 released by fossil fuel combustion elevates global temperatures for hundreds of thousands of years, so to be fully effective, offsets must (eventually) all be equally permanent.
FOUR: Support the development of net zero aligned offsetting.
Not all of the technologies or projects are mature. Long-term agreements are critical to get high quality offsets off the ground. Form alliances in your sector to achieve scale for offset purchasing.

3 comments

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comment by shaybenmoshe · 2020-10-05T18:01:59.508Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for posting this!

Here is a link to the full report: The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting
(I think it's a good practice to include a link to the original reference when possible.)

comment by Louis_Dixon (bdixon) · 2020-10-05T18:55:53.008Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oops meant to add that - it's now in the first paragraph!

comment by shaybenmoshe · 2020-10-05T20:21:54.026Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great, thanks!