Carbon offsets won’t save the planet or halt climate change and biodiversity loss.
There — I said it.
Offsets were a great start when a better solution didn’t really exist. But now it’s time for a change.
“We’ve overexploited the planet, now we need to change if we’re to survive,” says Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor of the UK government. The issues the planet is facing right now include but are not limited to the following:
Need I go on about how dire the situation is? Let’s dig into how to get out of this situation and why carbon offsets won't stop climate change and biodiversity loss.
When we look at carbon offsetting, we view nature as a tool for carbon sequestration, and we neglect biodiversity, which keeps humankind alive with vital services like:
“Biodiversity underpins all life on Earth and ranges from genes to plants, to us humans and even the differences among ourselves,” said Shaya van Houdt, Single.Earth’s Biodiversity and Natural Climate Solution Expert.
It’s then no surprise that rapid biodiversity loss is putting humankind’s survival at risk. We’ve lost 60% of all terrestrial wildlife in the last 50 years and 90% of the ocean’s big fish in the previous century.
We’re facing biodiversity loss at a faster rate than at any time in human history. Around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, claims the UN. Furthermore, we may be experiencing a mass extinction event, which is when 75% or more species are lost at a time.
“Scientists have defined nine planetary boundaries within which humans can survive. Operating in the ‘danger zone’ of any planetary boundary means that we’re gambling with an ecosystem collapse every day. We are far out in the danger zone in biodiversity loss,” says Merit Valsalu, Single.Earth’s Co-founder and CEO.
While carbon offsetting is often used with humble intentions, it just isn’t enough, even when ethical and transparent climate conscious projects are used.
A best-case scenario could be a company that’s cut their carbon emissions to a minimum and what little they can’t, they offset. Which is an amazing start, by the way. Or an individual doing the same: sustainable and thought through actions in cutting emissions to as little as possible and offsetting the rest. Also -- kudos.
The problem with this is that even though the intentions are good, carbon offsets can’t solve climate change or biodiversity loss, which are two of the biggest threats to humankind’s survival on Earth. Nature-based carbon offset view nature as a carbon sequestering tool excluding biodiversity from the equation.
Technology-based carbon offsetting like Direct Air Capture could solve this problem, but it is not currently available at the scale needed to make an immediate impact. Hoping for future technology to solve today's problems is not going to cut it.
A worst-case scenario is where it gets dangerous. For example, a low-quality offset project is used for PR and consumers are greenwashed into thinking they are doing a green deed. In reality, the company is emitting more and more greenhouse gases behind the scenes.
To put greenwashing into perspective, a 2021 study of the websites of 12 of the biggest European fashion brands showed that 60% of the environmental claims made could be classed as “unsubstantiated” and “misleading.”
If carbon offsets are used as a substitute for real climate action, they only make climate change worse.
Due to the backlash to phony carbon offsetting projects, the industry had to define a“high-quality” carbon offset: one that’s additional, not overestimated, permanent, not claimed by any other entity, and not associated with significant social or environmental harm.
The problem is, many carbon offset projects fail to meet the “no harm” policy. The intentions are good, but the system is failing.
The simplest example of that is how clear-cutting forests and reforestation have been incentivized to maximize carbon sequestration. Sounds good, right? A lot of carbon sequestration is needed, as the carbon that stays in the atmosphere heats up the planet. Well, the problem with incentivizing clear-cuts is that biodiversity is lost and — as mentioned above — biodiversity loss is one of the biggest threats to humankind’s survival.
Again, even though the intentions might be good, there’s a need for a solution that sequesters carbon without losing more biodiversity.
For example, 31% of the planet is covered in forests, the center of biodiversity and the best technology nature has for locking away carbon. The two features work together seamlessly: the wilder and more diverse forests are, the more effective they are at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. What if we could protect the forests Earth has left, so they’d keep sequestering carbon while protecting biodiverse ecosystems?
I started at Single.Earth in the early days when we had a vision but not much to back it up. I fell in love with the idea of solving the main cause of biodiversity loss: human action destroying nature.
Now, two years later, we’re a global team of 70+ experts in science, tech, and business. People with a variety of backgrounds unified in the desire (nay, need) to make a difference.
What makes Single.Earth stand out is that we’re not going for an idealistic solution that won’t work in real life.
“The most significant validation of what we do comes from the science team. They’ve taken the ideas and validated them, finding ways to implement the innovative solutions and figuring out practical ways to make them happen,” said our CEO Merit about Single.Earth’s science team of 15+ people.
A nature-backed economy will protect as much nature as possible by introducing a solution that allows nature preservation to be profitable, so nature can do its thing of sequestering carbon and enabling biodiversity to thrive.
After all, there’s a huge gap in nature protection funding. “The biodiversity funding gap has been estimated at between $598 billion to $824 billion per year over the next ten years. Traditional sources of conservation funding, such as philanthropic donations and public funding, are inadequate to address this funding gap. Therefore, we need to develop new, innovative mechanisms to fund nature conservation,” commented Francois Barnard, Single.Earth’s Natural Capital Lead.
Conserve nature, earn income. How? Let’s dig in. ⬇️
When you think about it, it’s backward: why are humans OK with destroying more and more nature and “just” balancing it out? Why not try to keep the existing ecosystems safe? After all, they keep humankind alive.
And if you think, “Well, yeah, in an ideal world we could leave nature alone,” then — surprise — it’s possible! And it’s not an idealistic solution, but one that’s accessible for most: land owners, individuals, and businesses.
In the past, leaving a piece of land alone, be it a forest or wetland, wasn’t profitable. A lot of people own land for the sole purpose of making money and we understand that.
Now, with Single.Earth, land owners can earn income for preserving their land.
Until now, nature has been monetized primarily for raw materials. While healthy ecosystems have an enormous existential value, they have little value in the modern extractive economy, which has led to the depletion of nature and the finite natural resources of our planet.
Enter MERIT tokens. MERIT is a virtual currency that represents — and protects — the work nature does to sustain life by sequestering carbon and hosting biodiversity. The tokens are issued to land owners based on the ecological value of their lands for as long as they keep their natural resources in good health.
Single.Earth aims to shift the current paradigm and incentivize protecting the ecosystems that make this planet habitable. This gives everyone a way to make a positive impact with nature-backed finance, from land owners to individuals and businesses. When you buy MERIT, you finance nature preservation.
Then, the green line below will be humankind’s future. What a beautiful and lush nature-filled future we’d have. Now, let’s make it a reality, shall we?
Head to Single.Earth to learn more and join us in making a difference.
Why aren’t carbon offsets enough to fight climate change? They don’t look at the whole picture. Climate change isn’t just about the amount of carbon in the atmosphere or stored in nature — it also has a lot to do with biodiversity. So, if we want to make change happen, we need a solution that involves both carbon and biodiversity.
Single.Earth is on a mission to help preserve and restore existing ecosystems.
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