Type ‘carbon offsetting’ into the web, and a multitude of sites will offer to ease your guilt about flying, driving or consumption, usually by planting trees in a distant land, mediated by newly founded companies trading in carbon.
The implication is that for a very modest sum, perhaps £100 per year, you will have done your bit and can carry on as usual. Bundling up and trading sub-prime mortgages was a con perpetrated by ‘market rationalists’ which brought the global economy to its knees. Carbon trading, advocated by similar (often male) logic, delays meaningful action on climate change, and is a threat to life on this planet.
Faced with a rising tide of public demand, businesses and governments have declared that they will achieve net zero emissions by the year 20-something. The problem is that most have not even decided what emissions to measure, and fewer still have a credible plan to reduce them to zero – other than by paying the global south to plant trees, in a trade with uncomfortable parallels to our imperialist past.
At Riverford, we are convinced of the need to progress to net zero faster than the commonly used 2050 date. But we have to get the ‘how’ right as well as the ‘when’, and the ‘how’ cannot mean just offshoring the problem. It has to start with reducing our emissions in every possible area, however unglamorous: indications are that we can reduce our emissions by 40-50 per cent through measures such as solar panels, electric vehicles, better refrigeration, better sourcing and route planning (with some reliance on emerging technologies). We are now working on the other 50-60 per cent.
There isn’t enough land on Earth for tree planting to be every organisation’s solution – and it would be even more wrong to pay the global south to do it for us, even if we trusted the governance and marketplace, which we don’t.
So, we have begun work on answers closer to home, using our natural assets and knowledge. There are promising land-based solutions, using soil, trees and hedges, especially on marginal land. Most require research, development, verification.
In the meanwhile, having researched and interrogated providers, I can assure you that carbon trading is a very poor substitute for taking responsibility for your own (individual, company, or nation’s) impact. If someone tells you that they will reach net zero, I urge you not to be impressed until they have told you how. We haven’t cracked the problem yet, but you’ll be hearing a lot more as our plans develop.