MPs’ knives out over carbon offset code

The government should “think again” about its decision to exclude voluntary emissions reductions from its proposed code for carbon offsets, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said on Monday

The Environment Department (DEFRA) confirmed earlier this month that it would go ahead with a code and consider widespread support for it to include “high quality” voluntary offsets from the non-regulated market. Its current proposals only allow certified credits – such as those from the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism (CDM) – to qualify.

In a report on offsetting issued on Monday, the committee said this approach would create “more problems than it solves”. “It is our belief that this will result overall in less carbon being offset,” the report says.

The committee recognises that voluntary emissions reductions have had problems – several tree-planting projects used to generate offsets have failed. However, the majority of projects produce “methodologically sound and verifiable” emissions reductions.

Voluntary emissions reductions also support small-scale projects such as the installation of energy-efficient stoves in Africa that are not taken account of under the CDM. “We recommend strongly that the government think again about its proposed code,” the committee says. “It must produce a code based on all credit types which will recognise the important role that the voluntary market has to play in counter-balancing the flaws of the compliance market.”

The committee lists seven criteria which voluntary emissions reductions should meet. Importantly, this includes a requirement that offsets can only be sold after the emissions reduction has taken place. Several industry codes of practice under development, including The Climate Group’s Voluntary Carbon Standard, already meet the criteria, it says.

The report also looks at the role airlines have played in promoting carbon offsetting. British Airways’ initiative has been “risible”, it says.