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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 July 2007, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
MPs support carbon offset schemes
A tree (Image: BBC)
The MPs' report voiced concern over some forestry-based schemes
People should be encouraged and offered help to use schemes that offset their carbon emissions, MPs have said.

The environmental audit committee acknowledged that some schemes were "less than robust", but the benefits of cutting emissions were worth pursuing.

Recently, critics said some projects were failing to deliver on promises.

The MPs did, however, express disappointment at the "unsatisfactory" efforts made by airlines to help passengers offset emissions.

The Commons committee's chairman, Conservative MP Tim Yeo, said suspicion over the effectiveness of offsetting schemes threatened to undermine any potential environmental gains.

"A lack of regulation and transparency in the market is allowing some schemes to be promoted which do not achieve acceptable outcomes," he observed.

"This is a pity in view of the contribution offsetting can make to tackling climate change."

Carbon concerns

Growing awareness of the impact of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2) from human activity, has lead to a proliferation in the number of projects offering to offset emissions.

A shop using a solar powered lamp (Image: Selco India)
Some organisation invest in clean energy rather than planting trees

The idea behind the scheme is that for each tonne of CO2 emitted, an equivalent tonne is theoretically removed elsewhere, for example by using energy efficient light bulbs.

Planting trees was one of the earliest forms of offsetting, but has been criticised for its short term benefits. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is released both when trees die and when they are planted, which critics say is often not taken into account.

The MPs' report, The Voluntary Carbon Offset Market, highlighted a forestry-based scheme sponsored by the music group Coldplay and its fans.

It said 40% of the plantation died because of a lack of water, reducing the scheme's capacity to sequester CO2.

'Matter of priority'

Recognising the growing concerns about whether the amount of CO2 actually being sequestered matched the claims being made by operators, the UK government recently said it was going to introduce a code of practice by the end of the year.

Announcing the details of the code, Climate Change Minister Joan Ruddock said: "People need to be sure that when they buy an offsetting product the emissions reductions are actually taking place.

"An overwhelming majority of respondents to the consultation are in favour of a voluntary code for offsetting products to deal with the risk that without recognised standards consumer confidence could be damaged and the potential impact of offsetting reduced."

Defra's CO2 calculator (Image: Defra)
The government's CO2 calculator works out people's carbon footprints

The minister added that schemes meeting the code's requirements would be allowed to display a quality mark.

Commercial airlines have recently been targeted by environmental groups because the number of flights, and CO2 emissions, are set to increase sharply over the next decade.

The MPs' report said the aviation industry had a "diverse and generally unsatisfactory attitude towards offsetting".

It went on to say that the reason why airlines, as a group, did not have a consistent view about offsetting and did not take part in the government's consultation was because it would draw attention to the "malign effects of air travel on the environment".

"The industry must engage with the government and accept that it needs to do more now to mitigate emissions from its planes and to encourage uptake of offsets amongst its customers as a matter of priority," the report urged.

Examples of carbon offsetting schemes

Quick guide: Carbon offsetting
18 Jan 07 |  Business
Carbon offsets 'harm environment'
20 Feb 07 |  UK Politics
UK to tackle bogus carbon schemes
18 Jan 07 |  Business

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