Emissions avoidance and carbon removal – what's the difference?
Carbon offsetting projects fall into two categories, whether the offset has been generated by emissions avoidance (also known as emissions reduction) or by carbon removal. What's the difference? And which should you prioritise when purchasing carbon offset credits as a business?
Emissions avoidance or emissions reduction projects are when future emissions are avoided or reduced through an activity. The most common types of carbon offset projects are:
Carbon removal projects – also known as Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) or carbon drawdown projects – physically remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. This happens in nature and can also be achieved by technological solutions.
New and innovative ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere are being worked on all the time, but currently some of the most common types of carbon removal projects are :
As well as differentiating by carbon removal and emissions avoidance, whether carbon is stored by a project is also important. There are three kinds of storage within carbon offset projects:
This diagram from the Oxford Principles for Offsetting shows these different types of carbon offsets projects:
Both carbon removal and emissions avoidance projects are needed to address climate change: we need to drastically cut current carbon emissions and to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere.
Whatever you decide to do in your business offsetting, your focus should always be on how you can best support high impact and high-quality projects – ensuring you have the positive climate impact you set out to, and avoid being perceived as greenwashing.
Permanent carbon removal projects are generally seen to be the highest impact form of carbon offset project. However, these projects also tend to be significantly more expensive because they’re in the early stages of developing and staging (e.g. Direct Air Capture technology). In comparison, projects like forest conservation are much more affordable and are already well-established, so supporting them will enable immediate impact.
Because of this, we often recommend that businesses build a simple portfolio supporting different project types – which we can help you with. In this way you can balance having immediate impact with funding future high-impact removals, as well as balancing out cost. The Oxford Principles for Offsetting outline a suggestion of how to build a high impact portfolio, as well as how you might want to change that portfolio over time to maintain impact.
As an alternative, you might want to consider switching how you think about climate impact in your business, moving from a model of compensating for your own carbon emissions to thinking about how you can contribute a percentage of revenue to the highest impact carbon removal projects to help them scale up and have the impact they have the potential to.
For a deeper dive on this, head over to our blog on contributing to carbon removal projects vs compensating via carbon offsetting.