Offset Schmoffset?


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Sydney recently hosted the Carbon Solutions conference, which brought together industry, business and government players.

The big message was that a carbon market is one complex beast.

One interesting points that came out of the talks was the future of voluntary offsets - that is, carbon offsets that anyone can buy, as opposed to those that are wrapped up in an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

It seems the government has been so focussed on creating an ETS that it hasn't had time yet to contemplate what would happen to the offsets available to the average person.

Presently, it's tough enough wade through the mire of carbon offsets available, given that there's no regulation.

If you want to offset your flight from Brisbane to Sydney, say, you need to tread carefully to know that you really are buying offsets that will take the equivalent of carbon out of the air that you add to it by flying.

As a buyer, you want to make sure that the offsets you buy will not be sold again to someone else, that the carbon is offset now (as opposed to years later when trees grow up), and that your offset credit hasn't just moved the problem from one forest to the other.

Websites like Carbon Offset Guide and Carbon Offset Watch are helpful, but you might not need to worry so much about offsets if you try and reduce your carbon footprint in the first place, says RMIT's global sustainability director Caroline Bayliss.

This will be a whole lot more important once the ETS is implemented in 2010.

The carbon offsets available now will end up in the ETS for big businesses to purchase. So where does that leave the average consumer?

Some industries, such as forestry, might choose to opt out of the ETS, so the rest of us can buy offsets from them, Bayliss says. And there's also going to be the smaller providers - your local organisation which regenerates land, for example.

But, argues Bayliss, an easy solution is to have a separate voluntary system so average consumers know the offsets they're buying are above and beyond the ETS and that they're quality credits.

"The government see [the carbon solution] as a silver bullet. I see it as a silver buckshot," she says.