Tabitha Whiting
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The Oxford Offsetting Principles: how to to maximise carbon offsetting impact
Want to make sure your business carbon offsetting is maximising on impact? Then you need to know about The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting – a framework for credible, impactful offsetting.April 25, 2022

We need carbon offsetting.

There’s no two ways about it. It’s a powerful tool to reduce emissions and remove existing carbon from the atmosphere.

But offsetting must be approached right – purchasing credible, high impact offsets and avoiding greenwashing. This is where the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting – known as the Oxford Offsetting Principles for short – come in.

The Oxford Offsetting Principles provide a framework for approaching business offsetting in the right way and supporting the growth of the carbon market: balancing immediate action with long-term impact whilst keeping costs feasible and taking into account how purchases should change over time to maintain the maximum possible impact.

“We wrote the principles because there is a real gap in governance to ensure that offsetting strategies actually help get us to net zero... a few principles from scientists to point conscious emitters in the right direction.”
Kaya Axelsson
Kaya AxelssonPolicy Engagement Fellow at Oxford Net Zero

What are the Oxford Offsetting Principles?

There are four Oxford Offsetting Principles:

Principle 1: Cut emissions, use high–quality offsets, and regularly revise strategy as best practice evolves

The first priority should be reducing your own emissions. High-quality offsets can then be purchased to address the remaining, unavoidable emissions – using the other 3 Principles to ensure they are always high impact.

Principle 2: Shift to carbon removal offsetting

There are two types of carbon offsets: emissions avoidance and carbon removal. Today most available offsets are emissions avoidance, but we need to see investment and scaling in carbon removal offsets to take carbon out of the atmosphere and reach net zero. Carbon offset buyers should increase the portion of offsets that come from carbon removals and aim to reach 100% carbon removal by 2050.

“Most offsets are reductions, which are necessary but won’t get us to and keep us at net zero. We need removals to counteract ongoing emissions.”
Dr Fredi Otto
Dr Fredi OttoCo-author of the Oxford Offsetting Principles
Principle 3: Shift to long-lived storage

We also need solutions that store carbon permanently with low risk of reversal, known as long-lived storage e.g. mineralisation which stores carbon in a stable, solid form. Again, to reach net zero we need investment in this now to improve and scale up the technologies that enable long-lived storage. So buyers should also aim to increase the portion of long-lived offsets and aim to reach 100% by 2050.

“Offsetting schemes need to recognise that the only way to compensate for pulling carbon out of rocks is to put it back. We need eventually to move to 100% long-lived storage of carbon if we are to continue using fossil fuels in the transition to a net zero world.”
Professor Myles Allen
Professor Myles AllenCo-author of the Oxford Offsetting Principles

This diagram (Oxford Offsetting Principles, p.7) shows the types of carbon offsets: carbon removal or emissions reduction, and no storage, short-lived storage, or long-lived storage.

Diagram from the Oxford Offsetting Principles – a taxonomy of carbon offsets
Principle 4: Support the development of net zero aligned offsetting

The market for high-quality carbon offsets is in the early stages of development. It needs early adopters to both provide funding to project developers through the purchase of credits, and by spreading the word about high impact offsetting so that others follow suit.

“Countries, cities and companies should definitely prioritise shrinking own carbon footprint, as these Principles make clear. But financing further efforts elsewhere, done well, can help too. The Oxford Offsetting Principles set out a direction of travel to make offsets part of the solution to end global warming.”
Dr Stephen Smith
Dr Stephen SmithCo-author of the Oxford Offsetting Principles
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Aligning your offset purchases with the Oxford Offsetting Principles – a portfolio approach

As you can see, the long-term aim is to shift purchases away from emissions reduction towards carbon removal and away from no or short-lived storage towards long-lived storage. But the authors also acknowledge that this currently isn't feasible for most buyers, due to availability and cost. 

Plus, although this long-lived removal will be the most impactful in the long-run, it’s still years out in terms of having the technology, construction etc in place. So, for instance, if you buy offset credits in Direct Air Capture now, the carbon won’t actually be removed and stored until 2024-27, because the facilities are still being set up. So there’s also the need to balance future permanent carbon removal with immediate action on climate now, which is where it can be beneficial to also support emissions avoidance projects that are already up and running now.

The authors of the Oxford Offsetting Principles suggest the best action now is to build a portfolio of different offset projects with a combination of offsets (emissions avoidance and carbon removal, short-lived and long-lived storage), and shift this combination towards those higher impact offsets as time goes on and the market develops.

This is the example given for building a portfolio which becomes 100% carbon removal with long-lived storage by 2050 to align with net zero goals (Oxford Offsetting Principles, p. 9):

Diagram from the Oxford Offsetting Principles showing how to shift spend on offsets over time – towards carbon removal with long-lived storage

For instance, in the short-term you build an offsetting portfolio supporting project types as follows:

  • 50% wind turbine farms (Oxford Offsetting Principles Type 1/2)
  • 40% reforestation (Oxford Offsetting Principles Type 4)
  • 5% concrete mineralisation (Oxford Offsetting Principles Type 3)
  • 5% enhanced weathering (Oxford Offsetting Principles Type 5)

Over time, as the price of higher impact offsets come down, you would then shift more spend into the concrete mineralisation and enhanced weathering to maximise your impact.


How Lune’s customer Moomin puts the Oxford Offsetting Principles to practice

Finnish art and licensing business firm Moomin, for instance, wanted to ensure their offsets were high-impact and even better value for money.

They didn’t have the internal expertise in offsetting to know how to best approach this. Discovering the Oxford Offsetting Principles offered them a framework to effectively support net zero goals.

Moomin takes a contribution-led approach to carbon offsetting, setting a monetary budget of 100,000€ per year and buying carbon credits with it, regardless of how many tonnes it buys. And by working with Lune as a trusted partner for carbon offsetting they could use a pre-built Oxford Offsetting Principles portfolio to do just this.


Via Lune's dashboard or API you can select a portfolio that aligns with the Oxford Offsetting Principles with just one click. In this way you maximise climate impact today (principles 1, 2, & 3) and support the development of the market for cutting-edge innovation (principles 4).

Plus, by working with us you access messaging frameworks, templates, and best practices to communicate your actions – so you’ll also be spreading the word with customers, employees, stakeholders, and others in your industry (principle 4). It’s win-win!

“In parallel to our longer term emissions reduction efforts, we wanted to contribute to a best-in-class carbon project portfolio and support climate action globally. Lune makes it easy for us to align with the Oxford Offsetting Principles to do so!”
Roleff Kråkström
Roleff KråkströmCEO at Moomin
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