How can we be sure that offsetting works?

Environmental Economic measures

In October this year, it is expected that the ICAO Assembly will agree on the implementation of a mandatory global offsetting scheme for aviation emissions, enabling the industry to achieve its goal of carbon-neutral growth. For our third blog in this series on offsetting, we will look at the credibility of offsetting, more generally.

Firstly, the global offsetting scheme will oblige airlines to participate in the existing global carbon market. For some airlines, this will be nothing new (see our previous blog on how the industry is already engaging in the carbon market).

The offsets purchased will need to meet certain sustainability criteria, something which is verified and regulated by standards setting agencies. For an offsetting project to receive accreditation, they will need the seal of approval from an organisation like the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism and, potentially, Verified Carbon Standard or the Gold Standard.

In the case of the Gold Standard, all projects must adhere to seven main principles: do no harm, enhance sustainable development, involve all relevant stakeholders, deliver demonstrable emission reductions, be compliant with all laws, be transparent and be subject to regular MRV. The Verified Carbon Standard has similar principles at the heart of its model, with emphasis on verifiable CO2 reduction, permanency and transparency.

Once an offset unit (certified by one of these agencies) is created it is transferred into a carbon credit, which will then be sold on the open ‘carbon market’ to an airline or anyone else who want to offset their carbon footprint. Finally, to make sure that airlines are fully complying with the offsetting scheme, a global registry will need to be set up, working in conjunction with existing national registries. This will track what offsets were issued, traded and surrendered, ensuring that the number of offsets is equivalent to the emissions produced.

You can see how this whole process works in this infographic

Through working with these independent certification bodies and traders, airlines and their customers can be sure that any increase in CO2 emissions after 2020 will be credibly offset. All that remains now is the political agreement.