While many people still have their suspicions about carbon offsets and suggest that offsets are a copout from reducing a company’s (or individual’s) own emissions, carbon offsets do play an important role in the global effort to combat climate change. In some instances, achieving significant reductions from a company’s own activities is either cost-prohibitive or technologically impractical. Companies should, of course, develop their emissions baselines and reduce as much as possible before purchasing offsets.
With the recent legislative hurdles removed, California and the Western Climate Initiative are now poised to enter the fray with their own cap and trade system. It is important to note that not all carbon offsets are created equal. Some are developed to higher standards to ensure that the project indeed reduced emissions above and beyond business as usual (“additionality”). Also, some compassionate climate capitalists have been seeking out carbon offset projects that not only reduce carbon emissions but also have significant social, economic and/or environmental benefits in the communities where the projects are developed.
These projects are often referred to as having co-benefits or some call them charismatic projects. Charismatic carbon projects are poised to experience significant growth because there is increasing demand from offset buyers because companies that buy charismatic offsets gain more brand value for buying them than if they had just bought garden variety offsets. Charismatic carbon projects can be certified to high standards such as the Gold Standard or the CCB Standards, both of which require thresholds for quality offsets, additionality, as well as demonstration that the project had positive local benefits for the community.
Here are a few interesting examples of charismatic carbon projects from around the world:
Cape Town, South Africa:
This Clean Development Mechanism project involved the installation of solar hot water heating, insulation and energy efficient lighting in low-income housing in Africa. The project will reduce an expected 138,000 tons of CO2 throughout its lifetime. But the co-benefits go well beyond emissions reductions. The project resulted in a 56% decrease in household spending on electricity, created 85 jobs, and resulted in a 76% reduction in respiratory illness due to warmer homes in the winter. A local community member summarized the benefits: “The project brought skills and jobs for young men, they don’t hang around street corners anymore, it has brought dignity to the community ... Our children are much safer now, no more hanging wires...We are warm. We are saving. We don’t get flu as often. Life is much easier.”
Wildlife Works is an innovative holistic carbon project developer focused on developing high quality charismatic forest projects. Their first project, Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, an 80,000 acre wildlife corridor, had been under threat from cattle grazing, poachers and farming. Through Wildlife Works’ innovative model they are not only protecting the forest and generating carbon offsets, they have also helped to create sustainable employment in the community for 56 people. Many other climate capitalists are seeking to combine forest protection and community enhancement such as Ecosystem Restoration Associates who developed the first Gold level certified CCBA project in Canada, and the Green World Campaign, based in Colorado.
My company, CO2 IMPACT, is developing a charismatic carbon project in a hard-working brick-making region of Colombia. The brick-makers currently have their own home-made, super inefficient and polluting kilns (usually in their backyards) where they burn coal or wood to make bricks. Due to the inefficiencies from their kilns, the quality of the bricks is low, and the inefficiencies result in high operating costs, leaving little profit margin. On top of this, the brick-makers' whole families, including children, frequently work in the kilns, exposing themselves to high levels of contaminants. Our project in Huila, in partnership with a local NGO, Corciencias, has established 5 cooperatives and is leveraging carbon finance to secure 7 eco-efficient kilns to replace more than 100 artisanal kilns in the community. We expect to generate 100,000 tons per year of carbon offsets for 10 years (1 million tons total) while increasing the efficiency by 60% and hopefully reducing child labor and rates of respiratory disease.
In a previous article here at Triple Pundit I was critical of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales’ radical stance against capitalism. I believe that capitalism is a required component to solving the climate crisis and I think it would be hard for even President Morales to argue with charismatic projects.
Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of the forthcoming book, Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.
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