Green Group EDF Sees Legitimate Role for International Offsets

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International offsets can make a legitimate contribution to voluntary climate action, according to green group EDF, setting out key principles on Thursday that contrast with other campaigner calls to end the practise in an increasingly uncertain sector.

High-quality carbon offsets can help businesses meet their voluntary climate goals and increasingly support the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to the publication by EDF alongside ENGIE Impact, the sustainability consulting arm of French energy firm ENGIE.

"Carbon offsets can provide real, credible emissions reductions that help companies and the world address the climate crisis. But not all offsets are created equal, and there can be legitimate questions about their validity and whether they’re helping or hurting the climate,” said report co-author Kelley Kizzier, EDF’s associate vice president for international climate and former UN climate negotiator for the EU.

The report makes recommendations for legitimate offset use but admits there is “a lot of work ahead” in determining how offsetting can be used in the Paris era.

The voluntary carbon market is currently booming as companies make Net Zero commitments, but faces uncertainty going into 2021 over whether international emissions transfers should be accounted for with corresponding adjustments (CAs) in host countries under yet-to-be-finalised rules in the UN Paris Agreement’s market-based Article 6.

EDF/ENGIE Impact’s report sets a more positive tone on offset use than work released this week by campaigners Carbon Market Watch and researchers NewClimate, which recommended that companies replace international offsetting with climate finance contributions to avoid the risk of double-claimed emissions and disincentivising host countries from setting ambitious climate goals.

Environmental campaigners have long been divided about whether offsets can legitimately contribute to climate action or merely provide low-cost cover for companies to continue polluting.

The EDF/ENGIE Impact recommendations follow a year-long process to convene more than 50 key players in the voluntary carbon market—including nearly 10 major companies, international NGOs, voluntary carbon market standards, and three other former UN climate negotiators.

None of the participants were named in the report, with the authors saying that they had so far failed in their efforts to find consensus among the group.

Kizzier told Carbon Pulse that willing participants are set to be named at a steering group meeting at the end of January, once they each obtain internal approval.

She said the recommendations represent the authors’ best efforts at consensus and are “broadly representative of the landing zones we found through the process." The participants have not yet been asked to formally endorse any particular elements.

The report said that where carbon credits are used by companies, they should:

  • Be used in addition to and in concert with science-aligned decarbonisation strategies, and accelerate the scale and pace of decarbonisation recommended by scientists.
  • Contribute to the most urgent and impactful opportunities to stabilise global atmospheric concentrations of GHGs and drive systemic change. These include approaches that address short-lived climate pollutants (e.g. methane), the protection of existing carbon stocks and those that accelerate the adoption of cost-effective, low carbon and carbon removal technologies and actions.
  • Avoid locking in emissions or long-term fossil fuel consumption.
  • Be of the highest quality, reflecting reductions, avoidance or removals that are additional to those that would occur in the absence of demand for carbon credits; are measurable and verified; and are generated from activities and programmes that have measures in place to address material risks of non-permanence and leakage.
  • Be associated with a recognised and credibly-governed standard-setting body that provides transparent and robust processes for registration, validation, monitoring, verification, methodology assessment and approval, and unit transaction and retirement tracking.

EDF has also published a wider guide intended to help businesses set pathways to net zero.