Empty Promises; Let’s Talk Fake Carbon Offsets

Flat World Partners
4 min readMay 24, 2021

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A growing number of corporations have announced bold ambitions to reduce their emissions to “net-zero” by purchasing carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are a market mechanism in which companies purchase carbon credits (measured in tonnes/CO2) from sellers running carbon projects such as afforestation. This represents voluntary action that would ideally support projects that wouldn’t have funding to get off the ground.

Unfortunately, a lack of standardization, measurement, verification and fungibility of offsets can lead to difficulty in achieving transparent market conditions that would deliver quantifiable and verified drawdown from 410 parts per billion to 180 ppb.

For example, a 2020 article in Bloomberg Green revealed that companies like JPMorgan, Disney and Blackrock, may have invested large sums in tracts of forest land in the US that were never threatened and which were already protected. Meanwhile JPMorgan and BlackRock continue to hold significant investments in fossil fuel industries.

Getting to the root of this issue requires adjusting the language in the IPCC documentation. Offsets obfuscate the real price of carbon removal, diverting resources away from true drawdown projects such as direct air capture to basalt mineralization.

The term “offsets” needlessly complicates voluntary carbon markets, reducing the integrity of the market and could potentially delay signals to policy makers who might otherwise accelerate the development of projects that can produce fungible and verified credits. Offsets that are tradeable on the market should be strictly specific types of removals with very specific types of sequestration. In fact, let’s just do away with the term offsets altogether. The IPCC should be using two concepts: Carbon Reduction (energy efficiency, renewables, etc.) and Removals + Sequestration. Vodka made from captured carbon is neat but it’s not going to meet the criteria that really matter:

  • Cost per tonne — Cheap as possible as soon as possible. Under $50/tonne is the goal
  • Scalability — easily scaled to achieve gigatonne results
  • Permanence (e.g. injection into basalt for mineralization)
  • Tonnage — we have limited time so large amounts of CO2 need to be processed efficiently

Heather Langsner, VP Impact

Revenue from negative emissions or carbon offsets could reach $1.4 trillion annually by 2050, up from about $300 million today according to a study published by Vivid Economics.

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