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What is Ducky’s take on carbon offsets?

Ducky does not sell carbon offsets, and we recommend all other courses of action to reduce personal and corporate footprint before purchasing offsets. An investment in carbon offsets should be carefully vetted, as the system is weak and often misused

A carbon offset is an investment in a project that reduces carbon emissions on your behalf - e.g. the construction of a renewable energy plant. According to the GHG Accounting and Reporting Standards for Cities (p. 44) and Corporate Value Chain (p. 103), carbon offsets must be reported separately from emissions; you can’t deduct offsets from your emissions. Carbon offsets are different from other contractual instruments in the market-based methodology for Scope 2 reporting. Offsets claim to reduce emissions while e.g. renewable electricity guarantees of origin or renewable energy contracts do not make this claim. 

A major challenge of purchasing carbon offsets is verifying that they are valid and of high quality. The Carbon Offsets Guide provides a list of criteria for high-quality carbon offsets, but each of the criteria has its own set of pitfalls:

  • Additionality: this criteria states that the reduction in emissions could not have taken place if it weren’t for the sale of offsets. It can be difficult to prove that the project wouldn’t have gone on without the additional funding of offset sales, typically requiring some in-depth analysis. Projects that don’t qualify as additional would be reductions that are required by law, or that are economically viable in their own right, as is the case with many projects that reduce electricity usage. 
  • Permanence: the emissions avoided by the offsets have to stay out of the atmosphere, essentially forever (from the carbon accounting perspective we usually consider a 100 year timeframe). This means for example that a project reducing emission by planting trees would have to guarantee that the trees won’t be cut down in the next 100 years - something that can be quite difficult.
  • Exclusive claims (avoiding double-counting): if a factory or country sells emissions reductions, they can no longer claim these emissions reductions in their overall carbon accounting. Otherwise they’re being counted as reductions by both the purchaser and the seller. This may seem obvious, but it was the subject of some debate during COP27 - and luckily there’s now an agreement to ban double counting, although it could be difficult to regulate. There’s also nothing stopping two projects claiming responsibility for the same reductions. 
  • Avoiding overestimation: Actually calculating how much carbon emissions a project reduces or avoids can be difficult. Often you wouldn’t know the number until many years later, so you have to operate with estimates or ranges of carbon offset. 
  • Carbon leakages: In addition, you have to be sure that a reduction in emissions in one place doesn’t cause an increase in another - for example preserving one area of forest might lead to another being cut down.

Ducky’s standpoint on offsets is that while they can be used to increase funding and awareness for important renewable energy and biodiversity-friendly projects, the reporting schemes and operation of such projects vary widely (much like greenhouse gas reporting). As such, until more standardized monitoring of carbon offsets are available (the recently introduced EU Taxonomy is a good start), emissions reductions should be first priority, with carbon offsets a last resort.