Government warned not to rely on carbon offsetting to reach net zero

Green charities warn relying on carbon offsetting is a 'terrible mistake' after Telegraph investigation showed projects are failing

 A miner shows off what he claims is a sapphire in the village of Tananarive in Madagascar
A miner shows off what he claims is a sapphire in the village of Tananarive in Madagascar Credit: Paul Grover for the Telegraph 

The government has been warned not to rely on carbon offsetting to reach its net zero goals, after a Telegraph investigation revealed major flaws in some schemes. 

The Department for Transport is currently considering whether to force airlines and other transport companies to include a carbon offsetting charge for all journeys. 

The government has also indicated that it will rely on an international offsetting scheme in order to reach net zero emissions from the aviation industry. 

But they have been warned that they risk making a “terrible mistake” after The Telegraph revealed some voluntary offsetting schemes, which are self-regulated, risk fooling consumers hoping to mitigate their emissions contribution. 

On Saturday, a Telegraph investigation uncovered deforestation in one carbon offsetting project in Madagascar that was intended to protect the forest. 

“We are concerned that ministers will be tempted to put the government’s stamp of approval on carbon offsetting in their forthcoming aviation strategy. This would be a terrible mistake,” Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said. “Carbon offsetting looks like an easy way out but in reality it’s a dead end.” 

Grant Shapps, the Transport Minister, has spoken out in favour of carbon offsetting schemes, telling parliament it was “a great idea” and promising to work closely with the transport sector on it. 

The government also played a key role in negotiations to set up the international aviation offsetting scheme, Corsia, under which growth in emissions after 2020 will be offset. The international aviation body ICAO is expected to decide next month which offsets it will allow to be used in the scheme. 

The government is under pressure to lead on its commitment to reach net zero on global emissions by 2050, the first such pledge from a Western nation, especially as it hosts international climate talks later this year. Its climate advisers have said aviation and shipping emissions should be included in the pledge, but the government has indicated it will rely on offsetting under the ICAO scheme to get there. 

ICAO has promised stringent regulation of its offsetting schemes, but campaigners warn that offsets cannot go far enough to achieve the emissions limits needed to reach the goals in the Paris Agreement. 

Tim Johnson, the director of the Aviation Environment Federation, said “offsetting, which at best is an interim measure, gives the illusion of action that avoids consideration of these difficult policy decisions and allows actual emissions to keep rising.” 

Meanwhile, investigations by The Telegraph show that most Government departments have abandoned their own plans to offset their travel.

The Government Carbon Offsetting Facility was launched in 2007 to buy carbon credits to offset ministerial travel, but it was quietly closed down in 2014.

Freedom of Information requests by this newspaper to all major departments show that the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development (DFID) are the only departments which had used carbon offsetting schemes since 2017.

For all travel after April last year the Foreign Office has said it will “calculate the offset costs based on market rates and will reinvest this money in sustainability projects across our estate to reduce our global carbon emissions”.

DFID said that they offset air and rail travel through their travel booking company.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said that they have taken a number of steps to reduce air travel and encourage staff to have virtual meetings where possible.

“Currently, it is not a requirement for central government departments to offset flights – this is something BEIS is considering, but our priority remains to reduce emissions in the first instance rather than offset.

“BEIS has committed to reduce the number of domestic flights by 50 per cent by 2020, compared to volumes in 2010,” the spokesman added.