To limit global warming to 1.5°C the carbon budget we have left to use is around 420 gigatons.

At current pace we're going this means we have a window of just over 8 years left until this carbon budget is used up. Going beyond this temperature increase would likely cause an immense rise in unpredictable risks.

While alarming, there is a glimmer of positivity under these figures: companies and individuals are taking heed of the urgent situation and changing, sometimes radically, how they operate and act. However debate rages on the perfect way to take action, but there is no magic bullet to bring emissions levels to zero. We cannot afford to wait for total consensus; we are running out of time.

South Pole invited key sustainability players to the Climate Leaders Forum in Helsinki on November 19th to discuss one disputed form of climate action: carbon offsets. The event - moderated by South Pole's Head of Communications Nadia Kähkönen - approached offsets from different points of views and aimed to increase the understanding among Finnish businesses on the subject.

The event - moderated by South Pole's Head of Communications Nadia Kähkönen

The event - moderated by South Pole's Head of Communications Nadia Kähkönen

Speeches were given by:

  • Krista Mikkonen, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change of Finland
  • Michiel Kernkamp, CEO, Nestlé Nordic
  • Antero Vartia, Founder and CEO, Compensate Foundation
  • Lea Rankinen, Senior Vice President of Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations, S Group

In addition to these, an interactive session with lively discussions was held by thought leader and director of sustainable future at T-Media, Leo Stranius.

The top three takeaways from the event:

1. Finnish businesses worry about the opportunity costs of offsetting

What seems to be feared among Finnish businesses is the opportunity cost of offsetting emissions. There is concern that offsetting emissions could stand in the way of mitigating emissions from own operations. The relatively cheap price of offsets is also seen as a threat against other forms of climate action.

Climate action should be encouraged, not discouraged or judged. Inaction caused by judgement or fear of judgement is a true loss, especially when there is willingness and a budget for action. South Pole's journey to climate leadership focuses on a holistic approach that involves emissions reduction measures throughout a company's operations. Offsetting is brought in to compensate for the remaining emissions that can't be reduced currently. This allows companies to take responsibility for their unavoidable emissions.

For some companies offsets themselves can be the one most significant and impactful climate action they can take right now with the budget they have. Through our experience we have found that even when companies start their climate journey by looking at their footprint and offsetting naturally there is a willingness to reduce their emissions as well.

2. Misperceptions about how offsets work in practice

Even though carbon credits have existed since the Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005, there are still misperceptions about how the market of carbon credits work, what the real impacts are and especially how the emission reductions are verified.

The most important thing is that high-quality carbon credits adhere to a strict set of standards and are verified with third-party internationally recognized verification standards, such as the Gold Standard or Verra's Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). These standards highlight different benefits, while ensuring that the project and its emission reduction impact is real, verified, permanent and of course additional to a business of usual scenario. All South Pole's projects adhere to standards like these. More information on how offsets work can be found here.

3. Climate action is needed now!

Many businesses see carbon offsets as a last resort of action. And, carbon offsetting isn't a perfect system. Still the truth is that in today's society, even after measures to reduce as much as possible, all businesses generate unavoidable emissions. With time running out to keep global heating within safe boundaries, we need to use the tools available to us now. Ambition is ramping up with companies setting climate neutrality targets for 2030 or 2050, but if we are to meet those landmark targets we need to drastically lower global levels of CO2 today through all means possible.

The argument stands: invest in reducing your own emissions first. But at the same time compensating for at least a part of your currently unavoidable emissions. After all, we've all got the same goal, so let's use every tool in the box.

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