A dangerous distraction Why offsetting will worsen the climate and nature emergencies

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Conference, COP26, we've written a report that shines a light on how the polluting industries destroying our planet are trying to green their image using offsetting.

Climate scientists have said that global temperature levels must be kept below 1.5 degrees to prevent the very worst impacts of climate breakdown. Earlier this year, leading scientists confirmed that if we want to have a chance of staying below the 1.5°C  threshold, we urgently and drastically need to reduce our emissions.

The best way to prevent the heating of our planet is to end the use of fossil fuels for good. Yet offsetting is being used as an excuse to continue using these climate-wrecking fuels.

What is offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is touted as a way to compensate for continuing fossil fuel emissions by reducing emissions elsewhere or drawing them down using trees, etc. As well as carbon offsetting, businesses and governments are also promoting biodiversity offsetting. This is where harming nature in one place is in theory compensated by restoring nature elsewhere. 

Both types of offsetting are based on the premise that we have the luxury of causing environmental harm in one place by reducing harm in another. We no longer have this luxury. We need to both stop harming the planet and launch a major restoration plan. 

Offsetting is being used as a convenient excuse for governments and businesses to continue business as usual. 

Very bright sun in a very bright fire-like background

The offsetting con

We urgently need to slash our fossil fuel emissions. Planting trees can’t take up all these emissions. Carbon pollution will warm the planet for centuries. Trees and other "nature-based solutions" may only lock up carbon for decades. 

We also need to protect and restore nature. You can’t harm nature in one place and make amends by restoring it somewhere else. Habitats are as unique and irreplaceable as a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece.

What’s worse is that some offsetting projects also cause harm. For example, trees can be planted in the wrong place, such as on peatlands, which have a major role in storing carbon. Some projects use the land of local and indigenous people without their involvement and permission.

Factory emitting smoke amongst clear sky

Why offsetting is a dangerous distraction

One of the great attractions of offsets to polluters is that they're cheaper and easier than investing in cutting emissions or protecting nature. And why invest in research and innovation when you can buy offsets instead? This is why they're such a dangerous distraction. Governments and companies are wasting time and money on flawed offsetting projects rather than investing in the real solutions.

Researchers at Lancaster University have tried to calculate the real-world impact of offsetting. In their worst-case scenario, the promise of offsetting schemes and other carbon-removal approaches could lead to an additional 1.4°C of global heating, which would be catastrophic.

A lone firefighter assessing a forest fire

Dangerous offsetting in practice


Carbon offsetting and nature offsetting are no longer just a distraction – they're a danger. Here are 4 case studies which show just how catastrophic offsetting can be.


What should we do?

Offsets hinder innovation, don’t work, and enable greenwashing. To counter the climate and ecological emergencies, we need to:

  • stop using fossil fuels
  • invest in green transport and buildings
  • accelerate the growth of renewable energy
  • restore nature
  • ban dodgy offsets.

in full for more on offsetting and its dangers