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Carbon offsetting

When a person, company or country offsets their emissions, this means that they compensate for part of their carbon footprint by paying someone else, outside their own value chains, for the emissions reductions they claim to have achieved. They usually do this by purchasing carbon credits, each of which is supposed to represent a tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases (CO2e).

Companies around the world have labelled their activities as carbon or climate neutral, have set net-zero emissions targets or have otherwise sought to green their image by buying carbon credits from climate projects and using them to offset their emissions. 

This is an extremely problematic practice. At a time when the science shows that the emissions of advanced economies like the EU need to fall by 65% by 2030, offsetting does nothing to reduce the actual internal emissions of the offsetter, it simply shifts the problem onto someone else’s shoulders.

Moreover, the climate impact of projects financed through the sale of carbon credits is unclear. At best, they do not represent an actual tonne of emissions. At worst, their climate impact is grossly exaggerated. 

What is CMW doing about it?

When it comes to carbon offsetting, Carbon Market Watch focuses on:

  • Monitoring the use of carbon credits used for offseting by companies, countries and individuals
  • Investigating the quality of projects and the carbon credits they issue
  • Scrutinising the work of standards bodies, intermediaries and ratings agencies
  • Advocating for a ban on claims based on offsetting in order to indirectly regulate the voluntary carbon market

“Offsetting emissions is not the solution – it is an illusion. The only way to truly help the climate is by slashing emissions.”

Benja Faecks

Policy expert on global carbon markets

“Offsetting emissions is not the solution – it is an illusion. The only way to truly help the climate is by slashing emissions.”

Benja Faecks

Policy expert on global carbon markets

What changes is CMW demanding?

Countries and corporations prioritise deep, rapid and sustained emissions reductions 

Companies stop offsetting their emissions 

Standards and intermediaries stop selling carbon credits as offsetting tools

Buyers of carbon credits find more sustainable uses for carbon credits, such as the ‘contribution model’ in which buyers simply state that they contributed to climate action via funding a certain type of project(s)


Climate inaction by proxy

Our investigation into Occidental Petroleum’s heavy investment, including taxpayers’ money, in untested direct air capture reveals the huge dangers involved in misusing carbon removals as a substitute for genuine climate action.

Pricing the priceless: Lessons for biodiversity credits from carbon markets

Biodiversity markets are meant to channel private sector funding towards schemes that aim to conserve and restore biodiversity. In its current form, the unregulated funding schemes are reminiscent of the voluntary carbon market, which has a track record of supplying poor quality, cheap credits that inadequately transfer funds to the Global South. 


Image: Jas Min, Unsplash
After years of campaigning by activists, the tide is finally turning on the idea of companies buying carbon credits to compensate for their emissions. But how exactly is carbon offsetting harmful and what’s the alternative?

Corporations assessed in the 2023 Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor plan to offset up to 45% of their combined carbon footprint

Contact our experts

Gilles Dufrasne
Lead on Global Carbon Markets


Jonathan Crook
Expert on Global Carbon Markets


Benja Faecks
Expert on Global Carbon Markets


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