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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

Confused About Carbon Offsets? New Guidance Issued

December 18, 2008

Many institutions are developing climate action plans to assess, mitigate, and reverse their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). To alleviate some of the confusion around purchasing offsets, the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment recently released "Investing in Carbon Offsets: Guidelines for ACUCC Institutions" and a companion "Voluntary Carbon Offsets Protocol."

For institutions trying to achieve carbon neutrality, there is clarity needed around several questions:

  • Should offsets be incorporated into Climate Action Plans?
  • When and how should they be included?
  • What steps can be taken to ensure that investments in offsets are legitimate, credible, and effective?

This new resource provides guidelines for institutions as they engage in voluntary carbon offset markets.

Offsets are a potentially effective mechanism for complementing internal reduction activities, but they are not intended to replace them. Institutions should first:

  • avoid their own emissions through smart planning and conservation;
  • reduce their own emissions through efficiency and other measures; and
  • replace their own emissions-intensive activities with cleaner alternatives.

Emissions reductions should be: real and tangible; additional; transparent; measurable; permanent; verified; synchronous; registered; and retired. The protocol calls for offsets to represent absolute avoidance of existing GHG emissions, and project that only result in the avoidance of future emissions are not valid.

As carbon markets continue to evolve, the principles and details of the protocol and accompanying guidelines will evolve as well. For more information and resources about carbon neutrality, visit the ACUPCC website.