As the global community debates the viability of approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation, carbon offsetting — the process of purchasing carbon credits on the international or domestic market to “offset” carbon emissions — is quickly becoming an avenue of choice. Following the adoption of the Paris Agreement at the Twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and looking forward to the potential outcomes of COP22 in Marrakesh, carbon offsetting is gaining increased emphasis, in particular in the context of ongoing discussions at the International Civil Aviation Organization relating to growing aviation-based carbon emissions. This policy brief explores the intersection of the Paris Agreement and carbon offsetting, and summarizes the legal and functional considerations. Carbon offsetting is explained, with particular emphasis on outlining the legal framework under the UNFCCC, including the Clean Development Mechanism and the Paris Agreement of 2015, followed by a brief summary of project types, criteria and standards used to determine the quality of carbon offsets. As offsetting continues to grow in popularity and application, increased scrutiny must be placed on the quality of offset credits as carbon credits are inherently unequal.
Markus Gehring is a CIGI senior fellow focusing on international economic law, trade and climate change, as well as trade, investment and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He is also the Arthur Watts Senior Research Fellow in Public International Law with the British Institute of International and Comparative Law and a fellow of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge.
Freedom-Kai Phillips is a CIGI fellow who contributes to research on climate change, clean technology and sustainable development.