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The Carbon Offsetting Wild West

February 22, 2020

By Paul Homewood



The Telegraph has an investigative report into carbon offsets today, unfortunately paywalled. For those who can access it, it is here.

The report claims that customers are at risk of being ripped off in a “Wild West” unregulated carbon market, and that in many cases the schemes may not be offsetting emissions at all.


It includes this video, which gives a glimpse into the abuse of the system.

Just to pick some of the points raised in the story, it is claimed that many offsetting projects which claim to prevent deforestation or plant trees have had the opposite effect. For instance, saplings dying because of droughts and forests ripped up by the Cambodian army or Brazilian gold miners.

Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, said: “It’s bad enough that big carbon emitters like airliners are using offsetting as a license to pollute, but they often encourage their customers to join in the greenwash too.

“Passengers are given the impression that, by coughing up a few quid, they can magic away the planet-heating gases from their flights. But what customers aren’t told is that this market is an unregulated wild west and there’s little evidence that offsetting schemes generally work.

“The best and safest way to reduce carbon emissions remains not to produce them in the first place.”

Meanwhile studies have shown that around three quarters of projects do not provide any environmental gain because they would have happened anyway.


I really don’t understand why any of this has come as a shock, as it was all so predictable. If you chuck millions of pounds at developing countries no questions asked, you should not be surprised if they just take the money and carry on as before, looking after their own interest.

Even if the political will was there, in countries like Madagascar, where the video was shot, government officials have very little power or resource to lay down the law in these sort of remote, rural areas.

And in many cases, the West is merely paying for things that would have been done anyway.


I have long held the view anyway that the whole offsetting industry is little more than a virtue signalling sham.

The Telegraph complains that customers are being ripped off. But most probably don’t actually care whether their money pays for a tree to be planted or not. All they really care about is the warm glow that paying for their indulgences gives them. After all, if they really cared about carbon dioxide emissions, they would not have even taken that air flight in the first place.

And this is particularly the case for the likes of airlines and oil companies, for whom offsets allow them to carry on business as usual whilst burnishing their green credentials.

  1. matelot65 permalink
    February 22, 2020 11:56 am

    Not forgetting that improving our emissions by closing efficient metal processing plants in the UK and allowing the coal powered plants in China and India to take up the slack does not help save the Earth. It just makes pollution worse and puts UK workers out of a job!

  2. February 22, 2020 12:15 pm

    Brilliant post. Thanks. This post on the carbon credits market may be of some interest.

    • Mack permalink
      February 22, 2020 10:35 pm

      Chaamjamal, your detailed, eloquent and helpful contributions to the climate debate, via your own blog contributions, are always interesting and worthy of a much wider audience. I would happily recommend your site to fellow travellers here on Paul’s site, if they haven’t dipped in already, for an additional perspective. Keep up the good work! Best wishes etc.

  3. Gamecock permalink
    February 22, 2020 12:16 pm

    ‘and that in many cases the schemes may not be offsetting emissions at all’

    OMG – next, we’ll find out that there is gambling at Rick’s.

    ‘It’s bad enough that big carbon emitters like airliners are using offsetting as a license to pollute’

    What about your using the Climate Scare as a license to call CO2 pollution? You think your noble cause justifies your corruption.

  4. Jackington permalink
    February 22, 2020 12:17 pm

    Aha, I see now how Boris intends to get to net zero CO2 by 2050 – smoke and mirrors, sorry, carbon offsetting.

    • February 23, 2020 9:31 am

      Hence the *net* part, which really means *not*.

  5. Adamsson permalink
    February 22, 2020 12:32 pm

    You mean they were taking the money and keeping it?
    How completely shocking!

  6. It doesn't add up... permalink
    February 22, 2020 12:32 pm

    Were I working for an airline I would take pleasure in offering a much valued service to transporteople rapidly to other parts of the world. Not working for an airline, I am just as sceptical of carbon indulgences as I would be working for one. Were I running an airline, I suppose I might be forced to consider them as tax and cost of doing business. At least until sanity returns to our politicians.

  7. John Pearson permalink
    February 22, 2020 12:55 pm

    There is also an excellent column by Charles Moore in the same paper.

  8. Pancho Plail permalink
    February 22, 2020 12:56 pm

    I want to know when my cheque is due to arrive for all the trees and shrubs I have planted over 50 years or gardening.

  9. Mike Jackson permalink
    February 22, 2020 1:03 pm

    It really is time we had somebody well-enough recognised and respected to call out the likes of Parr and his deliberately dishonest use of words like “pollute” and “planet-heating gases”.

    He knows — or if he doesn’t know then his doctorate isn’t worth the parchment it’s written on — that CO2 is not a pollutant, that deliberately playing on the average person’s limited scientific knowledge to conflate carbon and carbon dioxide is simply immoral, and to claim, on the basis of very little scientific evidence that aircraft exhaust gases have any material or measurable effect on the temperature of the atmosphere is not true.

    But then, if there is a more self-serving and mendacious organisation on the planet than Greenpeace I have yet to come across it.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      February 22, 2020 4:09 pm

      Mike, I’ve said it before, but the reason they chose carbon as their demon is subconscious racism (I love to see their reaction when I tell them). They need the kiddie-scaring bogeyman. Carbon fits the bill. CO2 is too benign.

  10. Patsy Lacey permalink
    February 22, 2020 1:23 pm

    One of the causes of the Reformation was what the Catholic church called simony – ie the practice of selling indulgences or the trafficking for money of spiritual things. Since “green” is the new religion it was probably inevitable that some bright entrepreneur would come up with a modern take on the practice.
    Since those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, the practitioners of modern simony should remember that the Reformation and retribution followed.

    • Steve permalink
      February 24, 2020 6:24 am

      It is amusing to read the critical articles of the Climate Change scams on the Conservative Women and Brietbart sites and find that Google has directed marketing computers to immediately advertise the indulgencies next to the comments. The crooks are quick off the mark.

  11. Broadlands permalink
    February 22, 2020 1:48 pm

    “The best and safest way to reduce carbon emissions remains not to produce them in the first place.”

    Are you crazy? How will “we” transport anything without carbon fuels? And, try to remember that reducing CO2 emissions does not reduce what has already been emitted…now at 415 ppm.

    • Jackington permalink
      February 22, 2020 2:42 pm

      Which equates to 0.014% of all the extant gasses present in the atmosphere. Doesn’t sound much to me. Can it really be so omnipotent?

  12. Immune to propaganda permalink
    February 22, 2020 2:54 pm

    The thing is Paul, It’s all for nothing anyway because CO2 levels were higher in previous ice ages. Stockholm University discovered CO2 levels fourteen times higher than today’s measly 400ppm at 4400PPM In Ice core samples from the Ordovician /Suliman glaciation. Further evidence and more recent was the cooling phase between 1940 and 1970 which spooked the UN and the BBC in to declaring scientists predict the next ice age is on the way, most importantly CO2 was rising through the whole of this cooling period.

    CO2 does not cause global warming – fact. All these trillions are wasted because of civilisation hating eco socialists who have taken over world policies and replaced rationalism and common sense with hysteria, junk science and stupidity.

  13. Charles Turner permalink
    February 22, 2020 4:44 pm

    Just in from Australia,

    Good on ’em!

    • February 22, 2020 8:35 pm

      “It is common sense that we believe colder things cannot further warm anything that is already warmer …”.
      Oh Lord not that one again, so putting on an overcoat at 5C won’t warm your body at 37C but that’s not the process, Dr Spencer has patiently explained the GH effect umpteen times:

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        February 23, 2020 7:36 am

        If you think CO2 acts like an overcoat, you really are ignorant. Heat travels from warmer to colder. It cannot travel (net) the other way. You cannot make a colder object colder still by placing it near a warmer object and warming that warm object further. Entropy.

  14. Phoenix44 permalink
    February 23, 2020 7:39 am

    Carbon offsetting is a necessary scam though, as Greenpeace understands and objects to. It allows us to pretend we are doing something whilst carrying on as before.

    • February 23, 2020 8:05 am

      No-one is claiming that Phoenix44, you really ought to read Dr Spencer’s lucid explanation at the link.

  15. Roger Marlow permalink
    February 23, 2020 8:52 pm

    One of the drivers of climate alarmism is the irrational desire to shut down industry, airlines and modern (but usually only Western) society in general. Carbon offsetting is therefore not welcome to those advocates as it allows all that to continue unhindered. Solution? Discredit carbon offsetting and demand that the only “right” thing to do is to continue the destruction of modern society. The quote from Greenpeace rather gives the game away.

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