Does carbon offsetting really work?

Carbon offset supports important projects

  • Carbon offsetting is investing in projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The projects support important climate change solutions; from renewable energy to efficiency measures or tree planting. Putting money towards these projects is good for our planet.
  • So why is it such a controversial topic?

Does carbon offsetting work?

  • It is very difficult to show that the money spent led to the promised reduction of carbon emissions.
  • As an example, think of a forest protection project that is reducing carbon emissions by preventing deforestation. Concerns exist around additionality (maybe the forest was never going to be chopped down), permanence (the forest might burn down in the future) and leakage (what if the loggers are chopping down another part of the forest instead).
  • Scientific reports have backed up some of these concerns, one critical study concluding that three-quarters of reviewed projects would have probably gone ahead without the offset funding.
  • In summary, carbon offset projects do good but not always as much good as promised. A tonne of emissions simply does not add up to a tonne of carbon offsets.

What’s the impact of carbon offsetting on the climate change fight

  • Carbon offset projects themselves deliver important environmental value. However, there is a growing fear that the presence of offsets is delaying actual emissions reductions.
  • This is a problem because offsetting alone cannot get us all to Net Zero. There is not enough land to absorb all of our carbon emissions, as highlighted by Oxfam’s estimate that five times the size of India may be needed to meet planned carbon removals.
  • Whilst you or your business is still emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, you are still part of the problem.

Should I support carbon offset projects?

  • Yes! Carbon offsetting supports important environmental projects. Organisations like WWF, SBTi, Oxford University and the UN all agree that carbon offsetting plays a vital role in the fight against climate change.
  • Businesses just need to do it right, and their customers need to understand how offsets fit into their wider sustainability journey.
  • Our next blog will detail Zellar’s approach to offsetting the right way, with three key rules:
    • Reducing emissions is the number one goal
    • Give meaningful financial support to projects
    • Support biodiversity as well as carbon offset projects


Tightening the Net: Net zero climate targets – implications for land and food equity – Oxfam Policy & Practice

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