New rules to raise the bar for carbon offsets

New carbon offsetting standards should improve the credibility of UK schemes by making sure they eliminate with the amount of atmospheric CO2 promised to customers.

The Government’s voluntary offsetting standard and code of practice put up for consultation this week would be based on Kyoto certified credits measured against international standards such as the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism.

The standards would be supported by a code of practice advising companies to account for the projects they fund in a transparent way and to keep customers well informed.

Overall the proposals aim to introduce “greater clarity and certainty” to the offset market as well as raising the bar and encouraging more activity, the Government said.

Environment secretary David Miliband said that, although offsetting is not the answer to climate change, it is a “first step” to cutting emissions.

“People need to be sure that the way they offset is actually making a difference,” David Miliband said.

“The Government’s standard and code of practice, with a quality mark so people can check easily before they choose an offsetting product, will help to provide that certainty.

“Ultimately, this is about providing certainty for consumers in an emerging environmental market.”

Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Many individuals and businesses want the option of offsetting the emissions that result from the transport choices they make, as one way of balancing the benefits of travel with its environmental impact.”

A number of offset providers already meet the standard, including Global Cool, Equiclimate, Carbon Offsets Ltd and the carbon offsetting charity Pure, launched last November (see related story). Others, such as First Choice Holidays and, have pledged to meet the standard by the end of the year.

Phil Wolski, Pure’s head of fund raising said: “We welcome the fact that Government has raised the bar to our standards.”

“We understand that 57 of the current 61 offset schemes in the UK do not meet the new standards although some have pledged to become compliant during 2007.”

The business community welcomed the scheme but warned against regulation stifling growth in the offsetting industry.

Michael Roberts, CBI director of business environment, said: “Firms are finding there are a lot schemes available, so they will appreciate extra clarity and benchmarking. But the Government must ensure that any regulation does not stifle or undermine this important and growing sector.”

Concerns were also raised about the voluntary scheme’s effectiveness. “If companies fail to take up this voluntary code, the Government should make it mandatory,” said the ippr think tank’s Simon Rettalack.

The ippr also warned against a complacent attitude to flying once emissions have been offset: “Today’s improvement in offsetting should not be interpreted as a green light for a business-as-usual approach to flying.

“Companies and passengers should also take steps to reduce the number of flights taken, and the Government should reassess its policy on airport expansion to reduce the number of flights in the future.”

Goska Romanowicz

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