Carbon offsets: what they are, how they work and what that means for Bulb

Carbon offsetting is an internationally recognised way to take responsibility for the carbon you emit. It lets people or companies invest in carbon reduction projects around the world to balance out their own carbon emissions. We measure carbon emissions in tonnes. Offsetting one tonne of carbon means there will be one less tonne of carbon in the atmosphere than there otherwise would’ve been.

Carbon offsetting allows us to support a number of different carbon reduction projects in the developing world, including protecting forests that absorb CO2, sponsoring renewable sites generating green energy and distributing clean-cooking stoves that improve air quality. All projects help to reduce global carbon emissions.

Let’s look at how it works for projects that support rainforest protection. Conserving trees, which absorb and store CO2, helps to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Projects support the conservation of forests by working to stop practices like logging, conversion to agriculture or mining in the world’s rainforests. Keeping the rainforest standing means tonnes of carbon remain stored in trees rather than released into the atmosphere. Each tonne of carbon emissions avoided is sold as a carbon credit, which you can use to offset your own emissions.

This same logic applies to any type of activity that reduces how much CO2 is emitted, including new renewable energy generation and providing clean-cooking stoves, amongst others.

How are carbon offsets verified?

Every carbon offset certificate Bulb buys is verified through 1 of 3 internationally recognised standards: the Gold Standard, the Verified Carbon Standard or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)'s Clean Development Mechanism.

All standards ensure that:

  • there is a robust audit trail
  • carbon savings are additional to what would have happened anyway, known as ‘additionality’
  • carbon emissions are not just moved elsewhere, also known as ‘leakage’
  • carbon savings are sustained over time, preventing what we call ‘delayed emissions’
  • carbon reductions are only claimed once, preventing any double counting

What type of carbon offset projects does Bulb work with?

At Bulb, our gas is 100% carbon neutral. We offset the emissions from the gas we supply by supporting carbon reduction projects around the world. Plus, we're the biggest buyer of green gas for homes in the UK so a chunk of our gas mix comes from renewable sources, like food or farm waste, too.

So, for every tonne of CO2 emitted, we purchase offsets through our partner ClimateCare. These purchases support environmental projects in the developing world.

Bulb helps to fund several carbon reduction projects across the world, including renewable energy projects like solar and wind farms in India, clean-cooking stoves in Ghana and Kenya, bio-digester projects in China, and rainforest protection in Sierra Leone.

Are carbon offsets just a get-out-of jail free card?

We’re on a mission to reduce our members’ carbon emissions and, together with them, we’re actively helping to protect the planet. We supply 100% renewable electricity to all our members. We help our members reduce the amount of energy they use through a range of different products, including:

We’re also the biggest buyer of green gas for homes in the UK. When Bulb launched back in 2015, we bought less than 1% of the green gas available in the market. From April 2019 to March 2020, we bought more than 20% of all available green gas. 

We think it’s a positive action to take responsibility for the carbon emitted by our non-green gas (emissions we currently can’t avoid) by funding carbon reduction projects across the world. The alternative would be to do nothing to address these unavoidable emissions. We also offset all of our own operations, so Bulb HQ is totally carbon neutral.

We know that offsetting carbon emissions alone will not solve climate change. But the UN agrees that carbon offsetting is needed to help keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the critical level of global warming before catastrophic climate impacts. Offsetting should be part of a wider strategy to reduce emissions. At Bulb HQ, we’ll keep looking for opportunities to increase the proportion of green gas we supply, and to help our members further reduce their energy usage.

How can you be sure that rainforest projects aren’t doing more harm than good?

ClimateCare, our partner, carefully selects Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects to ensure they are implemented by experienced and culturally sensitive teams on the ground. Crucially, local communities are at the forefront of project planning and implementation.

The rights and inclusion of indigenous and local people are at the centre of successful project implementation, and our partner considers these aspects thoroughly during their due diligence process. REDD projects work with those in poorer communities with the goal of supporting them to live sustainably within their home environment and to provide them with opportunities for improving their livelihoods, while maintaining their forest’s resources.

REDD projects are built upon the principle that keeping the forest standing should be financially sustainable – for its value to local communities and the world in its entirety. In doing so it sets out to tackle the causes of deforestation, providing an alternative to activities such as logging, conversion to agriculture and mining.

Why are carbon reduction projects nearly always in the developing world?

Carbon markets are governed by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This is international climate legislation that distinguishes between countries with emission reduction targets, and those with none.

In countries that have climate reduction targets, all emission reductions within that country are counted and claimed by the government. This means that if a carbon offset project operated in that country, its emission reductions would be counted by the government, as well as the organisation that was purchasing its emission reductions. This is referred to as ‘double counting’ and means the organisation buying the carbon offset wouldn’t be able to claim those emission reductions.

This means carbon reduction projects only occur in countries without a Kyoto protocol target. These countries are nearly all in the developing world, as during the Kyoto negotiations it was not seen as justifiable to put carbon reduction targets on their smaller economies.

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