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Seven ways to reduce CO2 emissions
Carbon offsetting is meant to neutralize CO2 emissions and global warming, but does it really help the planet? This gallery assesses the impact.
February 26, 2009
Putting a Price on Carbon (1/7)
Carbon offsets are measured in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. They are bought and sold by carbon offset providers, international brokers, and retailers.
Consumers can purchase them to neutralize their personal CO2 emissions. Driving 2,000 miles (3218 km) in a mid-sized car releases about a ton of CO2. Offsetting these emissions costs about five dollars. Depending on the offset provider, parts of the money will be invested to produce renewable energy or other projects to reduce carbon emissions.
Eco-taxing Air Travel (2/7)
Flying has become one of the easiest and cheapest ways to travel. The downside of a jet-set lifestyle is the tons of CO2 emitted during a flight. A return flight from the UK to New Zealand produces about four tons of CO2.
Some airline companies offer passengers the option to neutralize these emissions by buying carbon offsets along with their tickets. Lufthansa calculates that offsetting a return flight from the UK to New Zealand would cost about 116 dollars. The money goes to projects in India to produce electricity from biomass.
Turning Garbage to Gold (3/7)
A Chinese worker looks for usable things in a landfill covered in noxious fumes. Landfills are one of the biggest sources of man-made methane emissions, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Its impact on global warming is enormous. Some carbon offset credits result from burning methane for energy production.
Beware of Carbon Cowboys (4/7)
The number of carbon offsetting providers is growing rapidly, but not all of them are reliable. According to a study from Tufts University, only a few out of dozens of providers can be recommended.
Some companies sell credits from non-existing carbon reduction projects, fund renewable energy projects that would have happened anyway, or sell the same credits several times over. Offsetting companies' credentials should always be checked before buying.
Ensuring Quality: The Gold Standard (5/7)
The Gold Standard, an international standard for carbon emission reductions, ensures that offset investments pay off for the environment, too. Created in 2003 by a group of NGOs—including WWF, SouthSouthNorth, and Helio International—the Gold Standard is a non-profit foundation.
The Gold Standard is only awarded to renewable energy and energy efficiency offset projects that would not have happened without carbon offsetting investments. Projects can only take place in countries that do not have to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.
Offsetting Emissions through Reforestation (6/7)
View of a national park in Costa Rica. The country aims to be the first to offset all of its CO2 emissions by cleaning up its fossil fuel-fired power plants, promoting hybrid vehicles, and planting trees.
Offsets from tree planting, however, are widely criticized. Although new trees do bind extra CO2, this reduction is undone as soon as forest fires destroy the trees again. That is why tree planting projects are not certified under the Gold Standard.
Reduce Your Own Emissions First (7/7)
Given its shortcomings, many agree that carbon offsetting is only the second-best solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cutting your own emissions helps much more than paying someone else to do it.
Once harmful gases are in the atmosphere, there is not much you can do to make them disappear again. Or as one offsetting company puts it, “Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.”