Government's carbon offsetting plans exposed as con

2 June 2009 Science News

Dangerous climate change will be unavoidable if the UK, EU and USA succeed in increasing the use of carbon offsetting, Friends of the Earth is warning in a new report released today [Tuesday 2 June 2009] that exposes carbon offsetting as ineffective and damaging.

The report, released to mark the launch of Friends of the Earth's Demand Climate Change Campaign for a strong and fair global climate agreement at UN talks - which resume in Bonn next week and culminate in Copenhagen in December - exposes carbon offsetting as a con which is failing to reduce, and in some cases is even increasing, carbon emissions.

The Government is actively promoting the increased use of offsetting at the UN climate talks, including proposing a plan to carbon offset by buying up forests - which will not stop deforestation and will cause significant social harm to the people that rely on them.

Friends of the Earth believes world leaders must change the way we tackle global warming if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. The green campaign group is urging people to join its Demand Climate Change campaign by signing an international petition at to call for an end to the carbon offsetting con and put pressure on world leaders for real action.

Friends of the Earth wants a commitment from rich countries to cut their carbon emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020 - through real change at home, not by buying offsets from abroad - and earmark new money for developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change and grow their economies using clean technology.

Andy Atkins, Executive Director at Friends of the Earth said:

"Western governments are cheating us all by plotting to expand carbon offsetting at the UN climate talks - which means avoiding real action through dodgy accounting instead of taking bold action to tackle the climate crisis.

"Carbon offsetting is doing nothing to combat climate change, is putting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people at risk and is entrenching inequality between rich and developing countries' levels of emissions.

"And offsetting is cheating Britons out of the new jobs and industries which investing in green technologies at home would bring.

"Gordon Brown must push for rich countries to deliver on their historic responsibility to cut their emissions first and fast and pay up for their fair share of global costs to fight climate change."

Notes to Editors:

1. A full copy of Friends of the Earth's report, ‘A Dangerous Distraction', as well as a summary of key facts from the report, is available at

2. Friends of the Earth spokespeople are available for additional comment and interviews - please contact the Friends of the Earth press office to arrange.

3. ‘A Dangerous Distraction' shows that offsetting is profoundly unjust, fundamentally flawed, and cannot successfully be reformed because:

a.  It pays for projects intended to reduce emissions in developing countries while rich countries continue pumping out climate-changing gases with impunity - when the science demands that carbon reductions are made in both developed and developing countries;
b. Often the projects funded would have taken place anyway, so no additional carbon is saved;
c. Many of the projects are fossil-fuel based projects which increase emissions rather than reduce them;
d. Offsetting reduces pressure on rich countries to develop sustainable technologies and provides an excuse for politicians to give the go-ahead to carbon intensive projects such as airport runways and coal-fired power stations;
e. Offsetting increases inequality in carbon consumption between rich and poor countries.

4. The UK Government is proposing that rich countries should be able to buy chunks of forest whilst continuing to pump out emissions, in an extension of carbon offsetting. 1.6 billion people rely on forests, including 60 million indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests for their livelihoods, food, medicines and building materials.

Including forests in carbon markets is likely to trigger a land grab - leaving these communities struggling to survive.
Furthermore, as the proposal defines plantations as forests, REDD funding could be used to replace forests with large monoculture plantations. Plantations only store 20 per cent of the carbon of intact forests, so this would reduce REDD's impact on cutting carbon emissions.

5. Friends of the Earth is part of Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, the UK's largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change and limiting its impact on the world's poorest communities. The coalition's supporter base of more than 11 million people spans over 100  organisations, from environment and development charities to unions, faith, community and women's groups. Together we demand practical action by the UK to keep temperatures well below an average 2 degree rise. For further information visit


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