Hmmmmm we hear you say, carbon avoidance versus carbon removal. That sounds borrrrrrinnnggggg.
We don't think it is, but it absolutely can be. But we're going to be quick and NOT BORING.
It's important to know the difference and be able to spot each out in the wild - whether a company claim or if you're looking to buy some carbon credits* of some kind.
Like all things in climate the devil is in the detail and where climate change fighting value is the primary consideration, avoidance vs removal really does matter.
Here's the super quick summary of the difference:
- Carbon Avoidance - are projects that generate carbon credits as they do not emit carbon, thereby avoiding emissions in theory. For example solar power plants, replacing fossil fuel cook stoves with low carbon alternatives, EV car companies and landfill gas capture among others. Avoidance offsets can theoretically be used to balance emissions, even if no reduction or removal has taken place
- Carbon Dioxide Removal (aka CDR) - are things that actually take CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it somewhere safely where it can't contribute to global warming and climate change. There's 3 buckets of how that happens:
At present about 95% of the offsets available to buy are avoidance. Yep, you heard that right. Only about 5% are genuinely removing carbon from the atmosphere. This needs to change and do a full switch around so the majority are removal.
Carbon avoidance offsets* can be bought for a few dollars per tonne of carbon emissions, whereas the true cost of the emissions is estimated to be a whole lot higher.
They don't work in the way we need - they don't pull out emissions from the atmosphere - and are also grossly undervaluing the emissions.
It's very, very, very debatable how much impact they'll have in the main Climate Crisis* mission to reduce and remove emissions so they can't keep heating up the planet.
In comparison carbon removal is more expensive, but it works in the way we need to reach net zero by 2050. It takes out the emissions heating the planet and locks them away for a period of time so they can't contribute to the warming.
Quick note: some avoidance projects have great co-benefits to people and the wider environment, like avoiding more deforestation. Because we can't afford to lose any more valuable carbon sinks and biodiverse ecosystems.
Ready to go deeper?
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If you're particularly interested in carbon removal we'd recommend starting with:
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They also build on each other, to help you get to grips with everything and form your own thoughts and opinions.
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For explanations of all the terms in italics with asterisks* check out our Climate Buzzword Dictionary