Le Dong Hai Nguyen

M.S. Candidate in Foreign Service

California’s carbon-offset disaster reveals why COP26 was a big disappointment

Le Dong Hai Nguyen | November 27, 2021

As world leaders gathered in Glasgow last week for the 26th UN climate conference (COP26), one issue had dominated the negotiation table: Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which aims to set a global framework for carbon offset trading. The basic idea behind this is carbon emitters can “offset” their pollution by buying “credits” from projects that claim to reduce carbon emission by planting forests or investing in renewable energy elsewhere. That way, without actually cutting emissions, a polluting company could still proudly call itself “carbon neutral” by buying a number of offset credits supposedly equivalent to its carbon emission.

Yet, the climate summit’s focus on carbon offsetting has led to massive protests from environmental activists, including Greta Thunberg, who denounced it as nothing more than “greenwashing.” While I am no fan of sensational buzzwords in climate change discourse, I agree with Thunberg here.

The idea of carbon offsetting sounds good on paper—after all, a ton of carbon is a ton of carbon, regardless of where and what that came from. However, its disastrous track record here in the Golden State has set a worrying example of how this will play out as COP26 opened the door to carbon trading on a global scale.