Emissions reduction projects reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in one of three ways:
- By capturing and destroying a greenhouse gas that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere. An example of this is a methane gas capture project at a landfill;
- By producing energy using a clean, renewable resource that eliminates the need to produce that same energy from fossil fuels, the burning of which releases greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. An example of this is wind power; or
- By capturing and storing (or “sequestering”) greenhouse gases to prevent their release into the atmosphere. An example of this is a project that promotes the healthy growth and maintenance of forests.
Some projects entail more than one of these activities at the same time. For example, gas capture projects at landfills not only prevent the release of methane gas into the atmosphere, but they also use the captured methane to generate electricity that would otherwise be generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas.
What is a carbon offset, anyway? A carbon offset is a certificate representing the reduction of one metric ton (2,205 lbs) of carbon dioxide emissions, the principal cause of climate change. Although complex in practice, carbon offsets are fairly simple in theory.
If you develop a project that reduces carbon dioxide emissions, every ton of emissions reduced results in the creation of one carbon offset. Project developers can then sell these offsets to finance their projects. There are hundreds of different types of carbon reduction projects. For example, a dairy farm can install an anaerobic digester to captures and destroys methane that would otherwise be released when animal manure decomposes. However, such anaerobic digester projects are typically expensive to install and maintain. In order to finance the construction and operation of a digester project, a dairy farm can sell the emission reductions in the form of carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets are therefore an available tool for individuals and organizations that wish to mitigate the impact of their own carbon footprint.