Environmental Issues > Global Warming Main Page > All Global Warming Documents

Wind farm

What are carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets represent reductions in greenhouse gases (GHG) that compensate (or offset) emissions from somewhere else. Offset projects such as wind farms and methane capture at animal farms or landfills help individuals, companies, or governments reduce their carbon footprint.

Offsets can be bought and sold voluntarily, or as a way for businesses and industries to lower their compliance obligations under cap-and-trade programs.

  • Voluntary offsets allow individuals and businesses to counteract unavoidable carbon emissions by paying for reductions at projects that avoid or capture GHG emissions somewhere else.
  • Under a cap-and-trade system, offsets can be used by businesses and industries to help them comply with the program. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast and California's cap-and-trade program both certify reliable offsets.

While both voluntary and compliance offsets represent reduced emissions, cap-and-trade programs may have additional requirements or specifications for the types of offsets. The most important criteria for all offsets are Real, Additional, Verified, Enforceable, and Permanent.

Are some offsets better than others?

Yes, which means you'll have to do some homework before deciding which carbon offsets to purchase. It’s important to look for quality at the point of the project and at the point of sale, so that you receive real, unique emissions reductions.

To ensure the quality of the carbon offset project and reductions, several robust standards, verification processes, and credit registries have been developed.

  • Offset project standards ensure that projects are additional (i.e. they are not legally required and would not have occurred in a business-as-usual scenario, meaning you’re making a difference) and that emissions reductions are real, verified, enforceable, and permanent.
  • The Climate Action Reserve (CAR) is a program that sets high-quality additionality, quantification, and verification standards for GHG projects, and verifies, certifies, and issues certified credits for verified emissions reductions from those projects.

To ensure that you're getting the high-quality reductions that you're paying for, look for carbon offsets that have been certified at the retail level, the sales and delivery of which is independently verified.

  • Oversight of the offset provider, and sale, in addition to the project, not only ensures use of high-quality project standards (as described above), but also correct and exclusive delivery of reductions, and truth in marketing.
  • Green-e Climate is an independent certification for retail carbon offsets that contain only verified reductions from projects that meet high-quality, endorsed standards (including CAR), and which provides independent verification that the correct volume and types of reductions (i.e. certified reduction credits) have been exclusively delivered to you with sufficient and accurate disclosure.

Where can I find certified carbon offsets?

Express your personal preferences. Ask offset providers about the kinds of projects they source from, how those projects ensure real environmental benefits, and whether the projects have any negative impacts.

You may find some offset projects more appealing than others –- such as supporting methane capture at a family farm versus a factory farm. Find out whether you agree with the activity before putting your dollars to work.

How do I figure out how many offsets to buy?

You can determine your greenhouse gas output using an online carbon emissions calculator, like the EPA's personal emissions calculator. Enter your car's gas mileage, your home's electricity bill and your recycling habits to find out how much CO2 you are adding to the atmosphere.

A tool, not a golden ticket

Offsets are meant to complement, not replace, efforts to reduce your personal carbon output or that of your business. For example, NRDC purchases offsets to mitigate carbon production from two sources that cannot be replaced by renewable energy: office heating, which uses oil or natural gas, and business travel. And for the latter, NRDC encourages video conferencing and less polluting modes of travel -– such as taking a bus or a train instead of flying.

Look to cost-effective internal reduction opportunities before looking to offsets. First, cut back on unnecessary personal energy consumption through purchasing energy efficient appliances, weatherizing your home or driving a hybrid car. Next, buy from renewable energy sources for electricity for your home and business. Finally, purchase carbon offsets to help fill in the gaps.

last revised 1/15/2014

All Tags [ View Popular Tags ]:
AB 1493
AB 32
ACES
agriculture
air pollution
air quality
Alaska
algae
AliyaHaq
Arctic
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
asthma
automakers
BeckyHammer
BenChou
biodiesel
biofuels
cabon
California
cap 2.0
cap and trade
carbon assessment
carbon capture and storage
carbon dioxide
carbon emissions
carbon footprint
carbon offsets
carbon pollution
carbon standard
caribou
cars
causes of global warming
CCS
Chile
china
Clean air
Clean Air Act
clean energy
clean energy economy
climate
Climate Action Plan
climate change
climate disruption
climate disruption tax
climate legislation
Climate Security Act
coal
coal plants
coal-fired power plants
coastal flooding
consequences
coral
DanLashof
dirty fuels
drilling
drought
earth day
economy
Elizabeth Kolbert
emissions
endangered species
endangered species protection
energy
energy efficiency
energy efficient buildings
energy policy
energy security
environmental protection agency
EPA
extreme weather
farming
fish & fishing
flooding
floods
florida
food
Forests
fuel
fuel efficiency standards
fuel savings
Gary Braasch
gas prices
global warming and health
global warming and the economy
global warming emissions
global warming emissions copenhagen accord
global warming legislation
global warming treaties
Great Lakes
Great Lakes National Parks
green buildings
green jobs
green sports
greenhouse gas
greenhouse gas emissions
greenhouse gas regulations
greenhouse gases
grizzly bear
growing green awards
habitat loss
Harmful Algal Blooms
health
health effects
health effects of pollution
health impacts
heat
heat wave
heat waves
holiday
hurricane
hurricane Irene
Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Sandy
hurricanes
hybrid
hybrid vehicles
India
India Initiative
infrastructure
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
International
international agreements
interviews
IPCC
KellyHenderson
KimKnowlton
Kyoto protocol
LarryLevine
Latin America
LCFS
legislation
liquid coal
livestock
marine conservation
Massachussetts v EPA
mccain leiberman
mccain-leiberman bill
McKinsey
melting ice and glaciers
Mexico
MiriamRotkin-Ellman
Montreal Protocol
mortality
mountain pine beetle
mountaintop removal mining
national parks
natural gas
new energy economy
nuclear energy
ocean acidification
ocean policy
ocean pollution
oceans
oil
oil shale
oil shale development
oil shale development in colorado river basin
oil shale impact on water
ozone
PeteAltman
photos
polar bears
polar ice cap
policy
pollution
power plants
public transportation
record-high temperatures
refrigerants
renewable energy
renewable energy/clean energy
renewables
respiratory illness
Rocky Mountains
salmon
Sandy
sb375
science
sea levels
sea-level rise
ski
smart growth
smog air pollution
solar power
solutions
species protection
sprawl
StarlaYeh
storms
stormwater pollution
Supreme Court
sustainable communities
tar sands
tennessee
testimony
tourism
toxic waste
transportation
transportation bill
trout
U.S.
VEETC
vehicle emissions
vehicles
water
water conservation
water supply
water sustainability
weather
Western Arctic
what you can do
white bark pine
whitebark pine
Wilderness Preservation
wildfires
wildlife
winter sports
Yellowstone

Sign up for NRDC's online newsletter

See the latest issue >

This Is Global Warming

YouTube Video
Watch the Video »

Our new video shows the effects of global warming in the world today.

Give the Gift That Will Make a Difference: Clean Energy Boost

NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs

Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.


Donate now >

Switchboard Blogs

Indian Heat Action Plan and Video Spotlight Climate Adaptation Efforts
posted by Anjali Jaiswal, 10/2/14
Modi-Obama Summit Forges a Greener US-India Partnership
posted by Anjali Jaiswal, 10/1/14
Lots of Energy in the US-India Partnership
posted by Avinash Kar, 9/30/14
Share | |
Find NRDC on
YouTube