Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The big green con

It is high time we took a reality check on the 'green' credentials of the carbon offset business. I have looked at numerous websites, and my conclusion is that the overwhelming majority are cynical attempts to exploit a growing environmental awareness, that do little to help conserve the planet for the future. Most are for profit businesses, and while there may not be anything intrinsically wrong in this, in practice, it will rarely lead to long term benefits to the natural environment.

The World Land Trust got involved in carbon offsets, simply because we saw it as a mechanism for raising funds for carrying out activities which were in themselves incredibly important-- that is saving land that is important for biodiversity. The fact that it also locks up carbon, is an added bonus for us. But there are plenty of cynically exploitative businesses out there, planting trees almost randomly.

It is generally recognised that for tree planting to have a significant carbon offset, it needs to be in the tropics, and having carried out our own research, and having worked with experienced local partners, we now know that it is relatively expensive to do this properly -- in fact we reckon it costs £12-£15 a tonne, to do the job properly, and ensure long-term survival. Consequently, I am very suspicious when I see businesses (that also have to make a profit, unlike a charity)claiming they can do it for as little as £7.00 a tonne. It is perhaps time the Advertising Standards Authority took a close look at some of the claims.

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