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Carbon offsets

Avoiding and reducing emissions is always the best solution. Emissions can also be offset by carbon credits purchased from voluntary carbon market. Both in Finland and abroad, several projects to offset emissions are underway.
© Maaseutuseurat

Mitigation activities produced in projects decrease emissions or increase carbon sinks. For example, these projects increase the production or use of renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, develop carbon sinks or reservoirs through afforestation, or reduce carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by sequestration and/or storage.

Projects can validate their mitigation outcomes into carbon credits via carbon crediting programmes and obtain carbon credits for voluntary carbon markets. One carbon credit corresponds to one thousand carbon dioxide equivalent tons (1 t CO2e).  

Most of the carbon credit projects are carried out abroad, but domestic offset services are also increasingly available.

Consumers can offset their emissions for example by:

  • purchasing carbon credits or carbon offsetting services, 
  • purchasing carbon-neutral/carbon-offset products,
  • selecting carbon offsetting as an additional service in connection with the purchase of a product/service (for example, carbon-neutral transport, air travel carbon offset).

Can you trust carbon offsets?

The compensation or offsetting of emissions may include uncertainties related to the measurement, verification, and durability of compensation. Good carbon offsets minimise uncertainties and takes into account several aspects, such as:

  • the accounting methodology,
  • solid baseline,
  • monitoring and reporting,
  • independent verification,
  • additionality,
  • permanence,
  • transparency,
  • avoiding double counting, and
  • avoiding carbon leakage.

Operators may not describe their carbon offset projects and uncertainties very accurately, which makes it difficult to assess reliability. In addition, the permanence of offsets is different for example in afforestation projects compared to the technological removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Some emission reduction projects are covered by carbon certification programmes or otherwise third-party verification and/or validation, in which case it should be possible to rely on the realisation of the offsets. However, ambiguities have been identified in these projects as well.

The impact of uncertainties can be reduced for example by using overcompensation, i.e. by purchasing more carbon credits than the emissions caused or by having a stock/buffer of compensatory units, which is utilised if the offsets do not take place as planned (as in forest carbon sequestration, where emission reduction units are often sold in advance).

Do not fall for misleading marketing

In the case of carbon offset products and environmental claims related, companies should present in a transparent manner how emissions have been generated/calculated for the product, what emission reduction measures the company has taken prior to the offset and the way the offset has been implemented. In case of doubt, an active consumer can ask the company for further information.

In connection with the marketing of products and environmental claims, you may also contact the Consumers’ Union of Finland or the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority, whose consumer ombudsman is the supervisory authority for environmental claims.

Misleading generalisations in environmental advertising for consumers

Ground rules are needed

Voluntary emission compensation is a newly developing sector in Finland. In order to ensure the reliability of operations, more detailed ground rules are needed, as well as more information for consumers and other purchasers of offset services.

The Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry are funding various research and development projects to produce more information for purchasers and producers of carbon offsets and decision-makers. 

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Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)
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