Following COP28, Judith Lachnitt, international advocacy officer for Climate and Food Sovereignty at Secours catholique – Caritas France, explains to Techniques de l’Ingénieur the limits of carbon offsetting.
At the end of October, Secours catholique, CCFD-Terre solidaire and the diocesan justice and peace commission (CDJP) published the report “ Carbon offsetting at the cost of human rights “. Through the study of TotalEnergies’ BaCaSi tree planting project in Congo-Brazzaville, this report examines the impacts of carbon offsetting on the rights of local populations. Beyond this example, Judith Lachnitt, international advocacy officer for Climate and food sovereignty at Secours catholique – Caritas France, explains to us the limits of carbon offsetting.
Engineering techniques: Carbon offsetting is a mechanism that shows worrying limits. Tree plantations victims of fires, phantom credits, overestimation of carbon capture… What are the current limits of the system?
Judith Lachnitt : The voluntary carbon offset market is quite criticized. There have been several scandals, notably concerning phantom carbon credits and attacks on indigenous peoples. Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement will create a global carbon market overseen by a United Nations entity. In this market, countries, companies or even individuals will be able to buy credits. Through a ricochet effect, it is expected to influence the framework of the voluntary carbon market. But the regulatory framework is still under negotiation and COP28 did not result in any developments on this point.
We recently carried out an investigation into a TotalEnergies project in Congo-Brazzaville. The company says it implements the best social and environmental standards. But by going into the field, we see that there are owners expropriated of their land, farmers who have lost access to land for their food resources, and indigenous populations who no longer have access to forest. Other attacks to the rights of indigenous peoples have been documented.
We see certain limits, but are you against the very principle of compensation?
Carbon offsetting is a subject that is very controversial due to the very nature of the mechanism. This allows companies or states to offset their emissions by financing energy projects. greenhouse gas reduction or carbon sequestration. It is in a way a right to pollute.
Of course, not all projects are equal. Those most criticized are conservation projects that grant credits based on avoided emissions. For example, by fighting against poaching or deforestation. It is very difficult to assess the interest of such projects compared to the status quo.
Innovative sources of financing are needed for adaptation and loss and damage. Why not tax polluting companies for example, but carbon credits do not seem to us to be the right solution as they are deployed today. The risk is to have projects which do not really reduce emissions or which have impacts on populations.
Supporters of carbon offsetting say that it remains essential today, to finance ecological initiatives that would not be possible without it. You don’t agree with this?
It’s wrong. First there is a mathematical problem. A Oxfam study showed that to eliminate carbon emissions worldwide to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 from land use alone, at least 1.6 billion hectares of forest would need to be planted, i.e. equivalent to five times the area of India or more than the entire arable land on the planet.
In addition, large-scale tree planting projects must be developed using an integral approach so that they have an interesting impact in terms of biodiversity, because there is more than just carbon interest. Often, these are fast-growing monoculture projects – acacias or eucalyptus – which can be very water intensive. Finally, there is an increasingly high fire risk in forests. With global warming, forests are also less able to store carbon than before.
However, carbon sinks must be protected. If there were to be afforestation or afforestation projects deployed to revalorize certain carbon sinks, they should be done on the basis of contribution and not compensation. Because when it comes to compensation, businesses discard their obligations to reduce emissions at source. First you have to reduce. And if companies want to have a positive impact on carbon sinks and reforest, they should contribute, but they should not make false claims about neutrality in 2050 thanks to this support.