Carbon removal vs emissions avoidance – 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. But what's the difference between these two methods? And should you prioritise one of them when purchasing carbon offset credits as a business?
Emissions avoidance or emissions reduction projects are when an activity or project results in future greenhouse gas emissions being avoided or reduced.
The most common types of emissions avoidance carbon offset projects are:
Carbon removal projects – also referred to 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:
Learn more about these carbon project types and more in our article on the different types of carbon offset project.
Both carbon removal and emissions avoidance projects are needed to address climate change – we need to drastically reduce our current carbon emissions and to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere to meet climate targets.
As carbon offset project categories, they fulfil different functions and have different pros and cons:
Emissions avoidance projects are typically well-established methods which are now relatively easy to implement – think of renewable energy projects where the technology needed is now affordable and widely available, for instance, or forestry projects where less technology and development time is needed. This means that for emissions avoidance projects:
Carbon removal projects, on the other hand, are often in the early stages of developing brand new methods for removing carbon emissions from the atmosphere, meaning:
So, both emissions avoidance and carbon removal projects are super important in tackling the climate crisis.
If you have the budget, we'd recommend prioritising buying carbon removal credits – simply because so much investment is needed in carbon removal methods to help them develop and scale to the capacity we need. Read more about this argument in our article: every company should be buying carbon removal today – here's why.
But, given carbon removal is so much more expensive today, many companies feel they can't afford to do this.
We have two suggestions:
1. Contribute instead of compensate. Buying carbon removal is a hugely impactful climate action in itself, completely aside from the need to compensate for your company's own carbon footprint. So instead of buying carbon credits to neutralise your carbon footprint, you could set aside a dedicated budget for buying carbon removal from high potential projects – contributing to their development and scale up.
2. Create a carbon offsetting portfolio which includes a mix of emissions avoidance and carbon removal projects. A portfolio approach to carbon offsetting helps to balance the pros and cons of emissions avoidance and carbon removal projects – impact, cost, timing etc. Aligning your offsetting portfolio with the best practice approach of the Oxford Offsetting Principles will help to maximise the impact of your portfolio over time, and you can do this through the Lune dashboard with our Oxford Offsetting Principles aligned pre-made portfolio.
Lune will offer trusted, high-quality carbon projects to Visa’s global network of merchants, banks, and partners – working together with a goal to scale climate action.
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Legislation requiring companies to report on sustainability – their environmental impact and the risks and opportunities facing the business – is upcoming across the globe, from the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive to the US proposed SEC climate disclosure rule.