The difference between carbon removal and carbon credits explained

The difference between carbon removal and carbon credits explained

Published on Apr 26, 2020 by Fabienne Muff

Probably you have heard of carbon credits, but do you know what exactly they are and how they work?

Purchasing carbon credits will support vulnerable communities and help them reduce their emissions. However, your emissions will still be in the atmosphere until they are removed.

Carbon Credits explained

Carbon credits are verified emission reductions 1, where one carbon credit represents 1 ton of CO₂ emissions prevented. By financially supporting selected projects with the goal to reduce emissions caused by communities around the world, carbon credits can be acquired. Example projects are: Utsil Naj – healthy homes for Mexico; more efficient cooking and heating in China; safe water access in Rwanda or solar cooking for refugee families in Chad 2. Each project works towards a different selection of the sustainability development goals 3, but they all include number 13 – Climate Action. Due to the varied nature of each project, they will differ in price per carbon credit.

Projects are carefully selected by the Gold Standard 4 to qualify for the carbon credit system. As well as meeting the criteria for climate impact, sustainable development benefits must also be created for the affected communities. In combination this system helps to prevent parts of global emissions.

Unfortunately, the emissions produced by individuals and businesses who offset with carbon credits are still in the atmosphere and not removed - carbon credits prevent potential future emissions from happening and do not remove historic emissions.

How does carbon removal work then?

Today, April 25th 2020, the global CO₂ level in the atmosphere is 415.46 ppm (parts per million) 5 - 30% higher than it should be! Put simply, we are in crisis. We are no longer in a situation where reducing our emissions through preventing parts is enough. We must additionally start removing the excess CO₂ and clean the atmosphere back to healthier levels.

Carbon dioxide removal is the act of taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it permanently and sustainably. Scientists work hard to improve existing processes and find new carbon removal methods. Currently known techniques include:

  • Planting trees: Trees naturally sequester carbon dioxide to convert into what they are made of – biomass.
  • Direct air capture and storage: Chemical processes are used to separate CO₂ from ambient air. The separated gas is injected into underground geological formations and prevented from escaping with physical and geochemical trapping (turning the gas into stone).
  • Enhanced weathering: Geoengineering approaches that use the dissolution of natural or artificially created minerals to remove CO₂ are referred to as enhanced weathering.
  • Blue carbon: Like trees, the world’s ocean ecosystems – mangroves, salt marshes, seagrasses and algae – are sequestering carbon dioxide through plant growth.
  • Carbon farming: Agricultural methods aimed at sequestering atmospheric carbon into the soil, crop roots, wood and leaves are summarized under carbon farming.
  • Ocean fertilisation: Here purposeful introduction of nutrients to the upper ocean increase marine food production and remove carbon dioxide.

Find out more about carbon removal methods here:

Carbon removal is real compensation; what was emitted by the person or business purchasing carbon removal, is taken out again.

This comes at a cost. It is far cheaper to not emit (prevent) emissions than take them out again. An example to understand this is following: Not burning a piece of wood is easier than burning it, catching the resulting CO₂ and storing it permanently and sustainably.

Closing remark

Action is needed and both carbon credits and carbon removal will benefit us all. Carbon credits help limit future emissions however it is not possible to rely solely on them. Carbon removal is the only way to bring our atmospheric levels back to normal and undo the damage already done.

Personally, I support the philosophy to start with yourself if you seek change. Step by step I am reducing my personal footprint where I can. However, reaching 0 is impossible and my historic emissions were bothering me - I started looking for ways to undo those remaining and past emissions.

As I was not happy with the carbon credit system, I built Carbon Removed 6 to enable everybody to remove their carbon emissions.

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