Buying and selling carbon credits is being promoted as a way to pay for the preservation or expansion of forests, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Companies buy credits to “offset” their emissions of greenhouse gases by paying governments or landowners to preserve or restore ecosystems that sequester CO2.
California allows companies here to offset much of their emissions using carbon credits, which come mainly from conservation of forests in the US. They have not (yet) been allowed to buy credits based on conservation projects in the tropics. Buying and selling credits is a money-making industry in itself. Although it has been rocked by recent scandals over phony credits, Governor Newsom is still a defender of the offsetting industry.
These projects don’t actually reduce greenhouse gases: they just claim to balance continued emissions in one place with reductions elsewhere. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that most “reductions” from programs from these programs do not actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere. They create the impression that companies are taking action on climate change, but in reality they have no impact on global warming. Moreover, many of them have displaced Indigenous and other local populations or restricted them from using land they need for survival.
Right now, US climate negotiators at the UN climate conference COP28 in Dubai are pushing to expand the use of offsetting as a global climate solution. One researcher who has studied these programs for years—Sunflower Alliance member Kathleen McAfee, Professor Emeritus, San Francisco State University—just published a brief report, “Carbon Markets Aren’t Climate Finance,” which explains the theory behind international offsetting and why so many climate scientists and grassroots organizations oppose it.
Also take a look at “Carbon Colonialism: Oil-Rich UAE Buys Up Large Swaths of Africa for Carbon Credits to Keep Polluting“ from a recent broadcast of Democracy Now, for a truly grotesque example of the cynical use of carbon markets by fossil fuel interests.