12 Aug 2017

Carbon offsets: (how) do they work?

From This Way Up, 12:50 pm on 12 August 2017
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Photo: (Supplied)

Apart from recycling, cutting down on food waste, using less fossil fuel, planting trees, eating less meat and dairy, and cooking insects for dinner, an easy option today is to buy carbon offsets - usually sold to travellers as a way to offset the carbon associated with their voyage.

Air New Zealand and Jetstar offer the option when you purchase your flights, and there's a a bunch of voluntary carbon-offsetting programmes that are easy to find online.

So which ones are best, how do you choose, and what actually happens to the money you pay to offset your carbon use?

George Block of consumer.org.nz weighs up the options.

[Extract is reprinted with permission. For full paywalled version of the article go here]. 

Voluntary carbon offsetting schemes

Consumer NZ asked 4 voluntary carbon offsetting schemes for information on the projects backing their carbon credits and how these projects are verified.

Consumer NZ then calculated the cost of flying from Wellington-Auckland return according to each scheme's calculator, both in terms of kilograms of emissions and dollar value.

Of the four schemes, Enviro-mark, Jetstar and Air New Zealand sell carbon credits eligible to be traded under schemes, such as New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The ETS requires certain industries to buy credits to compensate for their emissions.

The exception is Ekos Rainforest Carbon Boutique, which focuses entirely on voluntary offsetting, selling credits based on its own projects and verified by third-party agencies.

Enviro-mark Solutions
Emissions: 276kg (kg/CO2e)
Offset cost: $4.28

Note: Offsetting costs vary depending on the source of credits chosen. NZ PFSI reforestation credits cost $4.28 for the Wellington-Auckland return trip. Gold Standard solar cooking stove credits and VCS solar power credits from Mexico cost $2.88 for the journey, while VCS wind farm credits are the cheapest, at 88¢.

What it offers: Offset calculators for individuals and businesses, along with certification programmes for businesses wanting to go carbon neutral. The individual calculator allows you to work out the carbon impact of a range of activities. This includes travel and transport along with waste disposal and energy use.

What you get: Enviro-mark lets you choose from a range of Gold Standard and VCS offsets. You have the option to purchase credits from renewable energy, energy-efficiency or reforestation projects. The renewable energy projects include a wind farm in China and a solar plant in Mexico, both are VCS-certified. The energy-efficiency scheme is Gold Standard, involving the distribution of solar cookers in China to replace traditional coal-fired cooking stoves. Reforestation offsets come from PFSI forests.

Note: A new calculator is being launched this month. Our assessment is based on a trial of this calculator.

Jetstar Carbon Offsets
Emissions: 114kg (kg/CO2e)
Offset cost: $1.20

What it offers: When booking a flight, you can tick a box to offset your CO2 emissions. The calculator will automatically estimate the offset cost and add it to the ticket price.

What you get: Carbon credits are from a range of Gold Standard and VCS projects in New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Thailand. All credits are also certified under the Australian government's National Carbon Offset Standard, its official response to UN climate change obligations.

Ekos Rainforest Carbon Boutique
Emissions: 149kg (kg/CO2e)
Offset cost: $3.38 
Note: Cost increases to $6.38 for 281kg if you include radiative forcing.

What it offers: Carbon offsetting for individuals and businesses. Offsets are available to purchase from a menu of pre-calculated domestic flights or driving a vehicle for 10,000km. You can also receive a free quote for offsetting household emissions or international flights.

What you get: Offsets are generated from 4 projects run as partnerships between Ekos and indigenous forest owners: the Rarakau Rainforest Conservation Project in western Southland, and 3 rainforest protection programmes in Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands. The New Zealand offsets are audited against ISO14064-2, while the Pacific projects hold the "Plan Vivo" standard. None of them hold Gold Standard or VCS certification.

Air New Zealand Carbon Offsets
Emissions: 134kg (kg/CO2e)
Offset cost: $4.80

What it offers: When booking a flight, you can use Air New Zealand's calculator to estimate and offset the CO2 emissions from your flight, or donate to the Air New Zealand Environment Trust.

What you get: Carbon credits are generated from PFSI native reforestation projects owned and managed by the Native Forest Restoration Trust. If you donate to the Air New Zealand Environment Trust, part of your money goes towards replanting Mangarara Station in Hawke's Bay.