The Guardian’s research on the validity of Verra’s carbon offsets is raising questions for entities that rely on such credits to claim emissions reductions. Once again questions are being asked about the use of Australian councils of international carbon offsets projects to compensate for local emissions.
Fifteen local governments in Australia, including those in central Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, are known to be buying offsets through Verra’s registry platform, spending millions of dollars to claim carbon-neutral status.
Australia’s carbon credits scheme itself has been criticized repeatedly in the past as the Australian government has been claiming emissions reductions from investments in local projects that have turned out to be flawed.
As it turns out from various investigations, carbon offset schemes around the world have largely proven so far to be overstating the emissions reductions they must have achieved. Also, millions of dollars have been wasted on offsets that don’t actually translate into CO2 compensations at all.
Now Australian councils are being questioned on whether they actually check if the money they spent on overseas carbon offsets actually generate the emissions reductions they state they do. So far, Australian councils have not responded to questions about their due diligence process on overseas offsets projects.
Last year, Brisbane city council, Australia’s largest local government, spent $6 million offsetting its emissions. It banked 130,000 metric tons of carbon emissions on a landfill gas recovery and power generation project in China.
According to climate futures senior research fellow Lily O’Neill, such initiatives are considered “a joke” as a council whose core function is to dispose of waste should not be spending money reducing emissions on that same activity offshore.
Another critic of the councils’ offsets spending is the Labor opposition in Brisbane, led by Jared Cassidy. He describes the Guardian investigation as a “wake-up call”.
“The only large-scale action a council can take to reduce emissions on a citywide scale is remove organic material from landfill… You can’t simply buy your way out of it… If you want to make real change you start in your own back yard,” explains Mr Cassidy.
One response from a City of Sydney spokesperson regarding the scrutiny on their offsets purchases, is that over the past few years, the city had been “buying an increasing share of high-quality local carbon offsets” and aimed to have 100% high-quality Australian regenerative offsets by 2025.
Carbon offset purchases are being registered by some organizations as a way to get out of responsibility to do something to cut emissions. Many forget that carbon offsets are actually a last resource and should be used only to compensate for emissions that cannot be reduced by other measures. Therefore, they buy their way out of making any change in their operations and actually doing their due part in reducing greenhouse gases.