Christiana Figueres, the outgoing head of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, has put out a video asking people to buy UN carbon offsets to help fight global warming — it’s so easy, she says, she’s bought offsets for herself and her family.
“I’ve offset all my emissions for myself and my family,” Figueres tweeted Thursday, linking to a video asking people to cut their carbon footprint and buy UN offsets. “You can do it, too! Let’s all go climate neutral now”
But Figueres is using the very UN body she leads to offset her carbon dioxide emissions. In the video campaign, she asks people to visit climateneutralnow.org, a website run by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Figueres is the current executive secretary of the UNFCCC.
Like Figueres, the UNFCCC website asks people to cut their own carbon footprint by riding bikes and buying local. But there are always those “unavoidable” CO2 emissions from all those pesky modern conveniences, like toilets and computers, which the UN says you should buy carbon offsets to reduce.
The UNFCCC asks that you pay between $1 and $5 per metric ton to offset CO2 you emit, which goes towards various green energy projects in developing countries. For example, you can pay $2.50 per metric ton you emit to some company to build electric buses in China.
UNFCCC says “offsets with high environmental integrity help you reduce global emissions elsewhere to balance out the unavoidable emissions you cause in your day-to-day life.”
The UN is not the first group to offer carbon offsets. Former Vice President Al Gore started the world’s first carbon trading market in Chicago based on trading offsets and other emissions credits in the hopes the U.S. government would enact a sort of cap-and-trade program. That didn’t happen, and the Chicago exchange stopped trading carbon credits in 2010.
Today, there are lots of groups selling carbon offsets, but experts are increasingly criticizing carbon offsets as mechanisms for actually impacting global warming.
A 2015 report by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) found many offsets being sold are actually fraudulent. SEI also found offsets ended up increasing emissions by 600 million metric tons.
In fact, the Atlantic detailed in 2013 the rampant fraud in another UN carbon offset scheme meant curbing CO2 emissions from deforestation. The Atlantic reported “many projects that don’t meet the UN’s environmental requirements end up eventually being sold on the voluntary carbon market” and other “projects offer carbon credits that are inflated in number based on misleading methodologies, do not exist on anything but paper… may serve as a front for other illicit activities.”
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