Carbon offsetting and carbon removal: What are the differences and how can they help you achieve net zero?

Carbon offsetting and carbon removal: What are the differences and how can they help you achieve net zero?

Are you concerned about your carbon footprint and want to take action to reduce it?
You might have heard of terms like carbon offsetting and carbon removal.
But what do they mean and how do they work?
Let’s explore the differences between these two concepts and how they can help you achieve net zero.

What is Carbon Offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is a way of compensating for your greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by supporting projects that either lower CO2 emissions or prevent them from happening in the first place.
Some common examples of projects include reforestation, renewable energy, carbon-storing, agricultural practices, and waste and landfill management.

When you buy a carbon offset, you are paying for a certain amount of CO2 to be avoided or reduced somewhere else. For example, if you emit one ton of CO2 by flying, you can buy an offset that funds a wind farm that prevents one ton of CO2 from being emitted by fossil fuels. In this way, you are balancing out your emissions with an equivalent reduction elsewhere.

Carbon offsetting can be a helpful way to acknowledge your carbon footprint and support underfunded renewable energy projects around the world, but it does not actually remove CO2 from the air. The original ton of CO2 that you emitted is still out there, contributing to global warming. Carbon offsetting also does not guarantee that the projects you support are additional, meaning that they would not have happened without your funding, or that they are not double-counted, meaning that they are not claimed by more than one entity.

What is carbon removal?

Carbon removal is a way of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere else.

This can be done by natural or technological means. Natural solutions include reforestation, improved forest management, and soil carbon sequestration, which uses plants to absorb CO2 through photosynthesis and store it in biomass or soil.

Technological solutions include direct CO2 capture, which uses machines to capture CO2 from the air and either use it to make new products like building materials, synthetic fuels, or plastics, or store it underground in geologic formations.

Image credit: The Climate Choice

When you buy a carbon removal credit, you are paying for a certain amount of CO2 to be extracted from the air and stored permanently.

📌 For example, if you emit one ton of CO2 by driving, you can buy a removal credit that funds a direct air capture plant that removes one ton of CO2 from the air and injects it into a deep saline aquifer. In this way, you are reversing your emissions by taking back the CO2 that you put into the atmosphere.

Carbon removal is essential for achieving net zero, which means balancing the amount of GHG emissions that we put into the atmosphere with the amount that we take out.

How can you use carbon offsetting and carbon removal?

Both carbon offsetting and carbon removal can be useful tools for individuals and organizations who want to reduce their environmental impact and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

However, they should not be seen as substitutes for direct emissions reductions. The best way to lower your carbon footprint is to avoid or reduce activities that generate GHG emissions in the first place, such as driving less, flying less, eating less meat, using less energy, and switching to renewable sources.

If you cannot avoid or reduce your emissions completely, then you can consider buying carbon offsets or removals to compensate for them. However, you should be careful about choosing high-quality and credible projects that have clear environmental and social benefits. You should also look for projects that are verified by independent third-party standards and registries, such as Gold Standard, Verra, American Carbon Registry, or Climate Action Reserve.

To help you find and compare different carbon offsetting and removal options, you can use online platforms such as Cool Effect, Offset Earth, Project Wren, or Climeworks. These platforms allow you to calculate your carbon footprint, choose from a variety of projects around the world, and track your impact over time.

By using carbon offsetting and carbon removal wisely and responsibly, you can make a positive difference for the planet and contribute to the global effort to achieve net zero.