Knowledge Hub

Carbon: remove it, and know your offsets

Carbon: remove it, and know your offsets – by Francis Wiese, Senior Principal, National Marine Discipline Lead, Stantec USA and Jonathan Riggall, Director, Built Environment, Stantec UK

The Earth continues to record extreme weather events, impacting our communities and infrastructure. We know that climate change is driving this shift in weather. Scientific modeling shows that removing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will keep the planet from warming further.

Global action plans like the Paris Agreement and what is likely to result from COP26 have drawn our attention to advancing efforts to reduce GHG emissions. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from most nations remain focused on transitioning energy and transport away from fossil fuels by investing more heavily in renewables, electrification, and hydrogen. While this transition will significantly contribute to the Paris Agreement targets, there will still be an active need for continued reduction and removal of existing and future GHGs from the atmosphere.

Many nations across the globe can deliver carbon dioxide (CO2) removal and storage projects because of their geophysical and biological positions, which could support scalable and quantifiable carbon capture targets. However, there are discrepancies with individual approaches to such solutions. For example, many countries have NDCs that recognize the impact forestry creation or ecosystem restoration plays specific to biological carbon sequestration, yet this may not be part of their land-use bylaws or alike.

As noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, direct CO2 removal (DCR) projects—in all their guises—are needed to support and achieve targeted reductions in atmospheric CO2 levels. In addition, there remains the challenge of certifying these projects using a consistent, international standard. Further, the market entry point for DCR projects remains high, creating deterrents for smaller businesses and communities. Over the last two decades, cheap carbon offsets have flooded the market, providing little to no effective GHG removal, resulting in little benefit in reducing the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere and thus mitigating the effects associated with a rapidly warming world. A transparent system for quantifying CO2 removal—through a carbon offset banding system (COBS)—would provide buyers with a clear indication of the benefit of their impact. COBS would also assist governments and businesses as they report on their publicly stated GHG reduction commitments.