Rethinking offsetting for a Net Zero world

I recently contributed to Policy@Manchester’s On Net Zero publication, where John Broderick, Matthew Patterson and I consider the role of offsetting in a net-zero world. We argue that offsetting should be limited to evidenceable, permanent removals – not reductions against ‘business as usual’. We also argue that it shouldn’t be considered as a silver bullet – there is no evidence to suggest that these removal technologies will be deployed at scale. Please find an extract below and the full version here.

The past two years have seen a surge in the popularity of net zero and zero-carbon targets, amongst policymakers, organisations and the general public alike. However, while the terms are often used interchangeably, net zero targets such as the UK’s mean something specific. A ‘net’ value implies that a process of balancing has taken place. Net zero, therefore, does not imply that there are no longer any carbon emissions. On the contrary, it means that any emissions released are balanced by removing (capturing carbon from the atmosphere) or abating (other people giving up ‘their’ emissions) the same quantity of emissions elsewhere.

The assumption is, therefore, that not all emissions in the UK, or any other territory or organisation, will be eliminated. As such, any plan to get to net zero has to grapple with exactly how this balancing takes place.