What is offsetting and where do offsets come from?

Environmental Economic measures

This week in Dublin, airline delegates from all over the world will be gathering to discuss all things aviation. One of the main topics of conversation will be the upcoming decision on a global market-based measure for aviation emissions at ICAO later this year. If passed, this measure will play an instrumental role in helping aviation achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020.

Countdown to the ICAO AssemblyAviation has been building towards the introduction of a market-based measure by ICAO for many years now. With the decision this October likely to be on a global offsetting scheme, people are beginning to ask what offsetting is and where do these offsets come from? How can we be sure that they will actually result in saving CO2? Over the course of this week, we will be publishing a series of blog posts that explore some of the elements.

First up, where do these offsets actually come from and what sort of projects qualify?

In short, any project that can demonstrate that it saves CO2 that might otherwise have been produced. These could be projects related to renewable energy, forestry conservation or means by which people (often in developing countries) can save energy. It is these associated social benefits that’s the really great thing about this scheme – things that not only reduce CO2 emissions, but also help people in their everyday lives. For example, around a third of the global population relies on traditional biomass or wood burning stoves to cook meals and heat water. Through the proceeds of offsets, newer, energy-efficient, stoves can be provided to communities that need them.

Other projects look at means of purifying water without the need to expend energy through boiling. In Uganda, for instance, one project allows people to treat unsafe water quickly and effectively with chlorine. This not only avoids CO2 emissions, but also ensures clean drinking water is available.

Investing in renewable energy projects is another means by which airlines, or indeed anyone else, can offset their CO2. Wind farms, for example, are an ideal way of cutting emissions. As well as providing locally sourced, renewable energy, wind power projects also provide additional benefits. They create jobs in clean energy, help in the development of new technology and avoid any local air-quality issues.

There are hundreds of these projects taking place throughout the world and soon, with the full buy-in from air transport, we can expect many more of these innovative projects to spring up.