Carbon Offsetting in Transport: a call for evidence

Published: 2 October 2019

Energy Systems Catapult has responded to a call for evidence by the government exploring

  • options to improve the consumer understanding of the carbon emissions from their journeys
  • the role of carbon offsetting in transport
  • whether travel providers should be required to offer voluntary carbon offsets to their customers

Our position

Reaching net zero emissions for transport by 2050 will be challenging, with predicted residual emissions remaining for all ticketed forms of transport (i.e. buses, rail, and aviation). Therefore, we welcome the Department for Transport’s call for evidence on carbon offsetting in transport.

However, while we recognise carbon offsetting will be required to achieve net zero, it is essential that it is not a replacement for rapid decarbonisation across the sector and economy. Where used, offsets should be domestically sourced, truly additional in nature, complement existing/future carbon policies, and meet defined standards for verification. There is a case for consolidating and streamlining existing arrangements for measurement, monitoring, and verification of emissions and related incentives, potentially within a carbon regulatory body.

Key points

  • Carbon offsetting is not a replacement for decarbonisation – It is crucial that carbon offsetting is not used as a replacement for the rapid decarbonisation of the transport sector and investment in zero carbon public transport.
  • Carbon offsets used should be domestically sourced – There is a strong case for using carbon offsetting in transport to stimulate the domestic production and sourcing of carbon offsets, as part of a wider strategy for delivering net zero emissions.
  • Where offsets are required, they must be truly additional – The additionality of carbon offsets used internationally to date has been rightfully scrutinised (e.g. the Clean Development Mechanism), and it is likely that a large majority of projects are not providing real, measurable, and additional emission reductions. Therefore, where offsets are used, they must be truly additional, permanent and, in particular, avoid double counting/selling.
  • Where introduced, the use of carbon offsets must complement existing and future carbon policies – Carbon policy (i.e. pricing, regulation, subsidies, and standards) already exist and, in many cases, results in a positive effective carbon price. However, it varies widely across different sectors and activities. Therefore, the use of carbon offsets must complement these policies appropriately to avoid consumers paying for the carbon externality more than once.
  • Consider the case for creating a ‘Carbon Regulator’ to ensure accurate and consistent measurement, monitoring, and verification of greenhouse gas emissions – Offsets will be sourced from sectors outside of transport (e.g. carbon sequestration from newly planted trees). Therefore, it is crucial that the measurement, monitoring, and verification of emissions are consolidated and streamlined across all sectors and related carbon policies.