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.
There are four Oxford Offsetting Principles:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
For instance, in the short-term you build an offsetting portfolio supporting project types as follows:
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.
This approach is great for business offsetting, enabling you to balance cost with maximising climate impact by combining purchases of lower cost but lower impact offset credits with higher cost but higher impact ones.
Global design firm IDEO, 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 affordably support net zero goals.
And by working with Lune as a trusted partner for carbon offsetting they could easily build a portfolio to do just this – take a look at IDEO's offsetting report so far.
Via our API or dashboard you can build a portfolio that aligns with the Oxford Offsetting Principles with just one click, by choosing a bundle of high-quality carbon offsets that we've ready-made using the approach of the Principles outlined above. In this way you maximise climate impact (principles 1, 2, & 3) and support the development of the market for high-quality carbon offsetting (principle 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!