Carbon offsetting initiatives have been offered by private companies – including British Airways and Shell – for many years. These voluntary schemes give customers the choice to pay a premium, on the understanding that the company will offset some greenhouse gas emissions. Since carbon offsetting became an option, projects around the world have resulted in a saving of approximately 994m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂) equivalent. But given that global CO₂ levels in 2018 were 33.1Gt, it’s fair to say that a lot more could be done.
The UK could become net zero emissions tomorrow if the government wished, but it would cost the tax payer dearly. In 2017, the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 460m tonnes. If, for example, the government used the Gold Standard offsetting scheme, at an average cost of £10/tonne, that would amount to an astonishing £4.6 billion bill. Most would agree this would be an excessive cost for the government to bear, and anyway the public, private and third sectors should share responsibility for tackling emissions.
Local authorities have an important role to play in meeting this target, given their ability to work with residents, charities and businesses to make meaningful changes at a local level. Some local authorities are leading the way by setting ambitious targets: Liverpool City Council aims to become the UK’s first “climate positive” city by the end of 2020. The council has formed a partnership with a private sector organisation – the Poseidon Foundation – to achieve this through carbon offsetting.