Carbon Avoidance Projects and Offsets Definition

Avoidance Offsets are projects that generate carbon credits as they do not emit carbon, thereby avoiding new emissions in theory. Many types of carbon avoidance create credits for something that hasn't happened.

The carbon credits generated by avoidance projects can be bought by individuals and companies as offsets to compensate for emissions taking place somewhere else, even if no reduction or removal has taken place.

Example carbon avoidance projects include:

- solar, wind or other renewable projects (used to support power grid decarbonization). About 10 years ago it made sense to create credits for this, but in most places now renewables are the most financially viable choice. They're cheaper to deploy, so no extra incentive is needed, and the project developer would have likely chosen that power source even without selling carbon avoidance credits (so there's no additional carbon reduction happening than would have happened without the credits being issued).

- Replacing fossil fuel cook stoves in developing countries with cleaner alternatives. We believe this has significant human and health co-benefits, even if the scale and tonnes of emissions it addresses are negliable. So it's something to potentially good to support, but not for it's carbon reduction or climate impact.

- Enhanced/Improved Forest Management - these projects often are for something that isn't done to a piece of land, like a forest, rather than anything new or additional happening. A large percentage of these project types have been in for a lot of justified criticizm over the years for not delivering on the promises they made.

- Energy efficiency - all things should be as energy efficient as possible! This said, as each country decarbonizes it's power grid to be mostly low carbon or renewable electricity the trend is an ever decreasing carbon intensity on the grid, decoupling power generation from carbon emissions.

- Reducing waste: Waste disposal can also release greenhouse gases. By reducing our consumption and recycling more, we can help to reduce emissions. We should just do this anyway (it is so inefficent and wasteful not to).

- Avoided Deforestation - where a project developer promises not to cut down a forest and generates carbon credits based on not doing anything. There's an argument that one of the best things we can do for forests is leave them alone, however, when this happens in a location it's hard to see the unintended impacts elsewhere - this area was protected but another area over there was cut down instead (known as leakage).

In climate change fighting value some avoidance projects are good, some things are bad and some it's not at all easy to tell. There’s a bunch of gray and not all projects' primary value should be measured in tonnes of carbon. While some avoidance projects have other value beyond carbon - for example human or economic - we don't believe (& the science doesn't support) that they should be used as a way to justify continued new emissions.

Carbon avoidance vs carbon removal offsets

Carbon avoidance credits can be bought for a few dollars per tonne, whereas the true cost of new carbon emissions is estimated to be a whole lot higher. A more appropriate and realistic "price of carbon emissions" is estimated to be in the $100 to $200 per tonne range.

This all illustrates two key issues with carbon avoidance projects:

- They're often just way too cheap to do the thing they say they do (if measuring in tonnes of carbon emissions)
- They get used to justify continuing to releasing more emissions and are potentially a disincentive to decarbonize quicker (which is very much not ideal)

TLDR: carbon avoidance projects may create some genuine value (rarely justifiable in tonnes of carbon, even though that's how they're sold), though they are not a replacement for the science-backed path to combating human-caused climate climate by decarbonizing as much of what we do and growing carbon removal for everythinng we can't reduce.

Demystify more climate-related terminology with our Climate Buzzword Dictionary (yes, it's more of a glossary, but hey, this is what it's called now!).

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