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Do Offsets Really Help Reduce Emissions?

Publication Date: 
October 14, 2009
NPR - Morning Edition
Christopher Joyce

Professor Michael Wara, an expert in energy law and regulation, talks to Christopher Joyce on Morning Edition about the effectiveness of carbon offsets:

The Climate bills working their way through Congress are the biggest effort ever to limit greenhouse gases for the U.S. One huge concession to industry is a system of offsets, by which companies that need to lower their carbon "footprint" can pay to reduce carbon emissions somewhere else. But offsets are seen by critics as a dodge for companies that don't want to clean up at home.

Joyce: ...offsets make some people suspicious. They ask how many of these projects really deliver the emission reductions they promise.

Prof. Wara: The honest answer is we don't know.

Prof. Wara: They've proven to be very difficult to administer effectively in a way that ensures that they lead to real reductions in emission.


Trouble is, says Wara, China probably would have built most of those wind farms, anyway, without the offset money.

Prof. Wara: China's building a lot of wind farms. All of the wind farms that are being built claim credit as offset projects. And so the question is: Would none of those have been built if the offset system didn't exist? I think the real answer is that that can't be right.