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< Return to NbSI announcements

Oxford principles for net zero aligned carbon offsetting

September 29, 2020
News item image NbS can be used for offsetting, but the principles must be followed to ensure they contribute to effective decarbonisation

Many companies, governments, cities, regions and financial institutions are making net-zero commitments. To achieve this, in most cases, carbon offsetting is necessary. This comes with risks, such as inappropriate carbon accounting, the release of stored carbon at a later date, and negative impacts on people, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Published today, the Oxford Offsetting Principles have been developed by a team of researchers at Oxford University, including Nature-based Solutions Initiative’s Director Nathalie Seddon. These outline how to minimise risks and ensure that offsets really do help us reach net-zero:

  1. Follow existing best practice
    • Prioritise reducing emissions, to minimise the need for offsetting.
    • Use high quality offsets – they should be verifiable, correctly accounted, ensure additionality, have a low risk of re-release of carbon, and follow environmental and social safeguards. In the case of using nature-based solutions as offsets, this currently means following the NbS guidelines, and the IUCN Global Standard.
    • Be transparent – declare current emissions, accounting methods, targets for net zero, types of offsets used.
    • Regularly revise strategy as best practice evolves.
  2. Shift to carbon removal offsetting:
    • Most offsets available currently only reduce emissions, rather than removing CO2 from the air. Switching to 100% carbon removal offsetting immediately may not be feasibly, but the proportion of such offsets should be gradually increased. Ramping up demand for CO2 removal offsets will spur development of this type of offset, increasing supply.
  3. Shift to long-lived storage:
    • To balance sources and sinks of carbon in the long run, we need long-term carbon stores. Nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation (e.g. reforestation and peatland restoration) can provide long-term storage, however, there is a risk of reversal, for example in the case of fire which can reduce the resilience of natural ecosystems.
    • Therefore, use of ‘short-term’ carbon removal strategies such as nature-based solutions are best seen as a way to buy time to scale-up long-term storage.
    • Long-term storage options include injecting CO2 into geological reservoirs or mineralising carbon into stable forms. These technologies are not yet fully developed, therefore we need to increase investment in long-term storage technologies – increasing demand today will send market signals to increase the supply, enabling them to be developed at scale in the coming decades.
  4. Support the development of the market for net-zero aligned offsetting:
    • The market for offsets which meet principles 2 and 3 is young; it can be developed by:
      • Long-term agreements which give offset developers certainty that there will be a suitable market in years to come.
      • Sector-specific alliances so that all members of a sector have an incentive to commit to long-term high quality offsets.
      • Supporting the restoration and protection of ecosystems in their own right, not just as offsets. This will help ensure these ecosystems continue to store carbon in the long term, and provide other services which support resilience to climate change.
      • Using these principles – publicise them, and incorporate them into regulation and standard-setting for offsetting.

For further information, see the full publication, the University of Oxford press release and read coverage in Business Green.