25. Carbon Clear told us that the number of individuals
who choose to offset is very small: only 1-2% of individual consumers.
In their oral evidence to us, the Co-operative group told us that
growth in the personal sector of this market is "tiny"
and that the market here is worth only £2-£3 million.
The Energy Saving Trust suggested that these people are likely
to be either those already concerned with "green" issues,
or the more affluent.
If the voluntary offset market is going to fulfil its potential
as part of the drive to reduce carbon emissions and raise awareness
about climate change then there needs to be a considerable increase
in the numbers of individuals choosing to participate. In
its oral evidence, Climate Care told us that industry has an important
role to play here with its huge marketing outreach potential.
It went on to suggest that a small incentive from Government to
industry to encourage its customers to offset would be an effective
way to achieve this.
DEFRA told us that a way to achieve this would be to "empower"
people to make informed decisions, making them more responsible
for their actions.
It suggested that when procuring goods and services linked to
offset schemes people could be made automatically choose to offset
unless they choose to opt-out. We urge the Government to explore
measures which would incentivise businesses to encourage their
individual customers to offset. We recommend that Government make
it compulsory, for more carbon-intensive activities, for associated
businesses to offer offset services either themselves or through
a provider. In connection with this it should be mandatory for
individuals to be given a compulsory-choice option for offsetting
when procuring such goods and services.
26. Many of the submissions we received highlighted
a lack of authoritative research concerning the nature of the
link, if any, between an individual's decision to offset and any
consequential behavioural change either more detrimental or beneficial
to the environment. Energy for Sustainable Development (ESD) told
us that it is also difficult to tell whether people who have made
carbon reductions are also the same people who offset.
In its submission, the RSPB raises the problem that offsetting
could be seen as a way for the rich simply to salve their guilty
consciences about emitting carbon.
The Environment Agency took a more optimistic view when it said:
"We are unaware of any evidence that voluntary offsetting
reduces the individual's effort to reduce emissions. It may well
have the opposite effectsensitising and educating the user
about climate change and allowing them to take a positive action."
27. It is often argued that offsetting might be seen
as validating polluting behaviour. The Co-operative Group made
the point that no substantial evidence is offered to support this
thesis. Indeed out
the of the 45 submissions we received, we found little substantial
evidence to support the view that offsetting encourages ethical
carelessness. What we did find, however, was evidence that offsetting
does not necessarily have any effect on further changing carbon
behaviour. The World Development Movement cited the example of
HSBC who in 2005 claimed to be 'carbon neutral' having offset
its emissions but that whilst doing this, its monthly emissions
actually rose from 585,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2004 to
663,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2005.
They also cite a similar example from Barclays Bank: "Whilst
encouraging their customers to offset CO2 emissions,
the latest figures for Barclay's CO2 emissions show
a rise from 200,145 tonnes in 2004 to 207,650 in 2005."
28. There is clearly a need for more research
to be done in understanding what exactly encourages people to
reduce their emissions; on the extent to which the practice of
offsetting has an effect on such behaviour; and on how much it
can play a role in educating people about climate change.
Many of those involved with the voluntary offset market stressed
how useful they would find such research: ESD said: "[
publicly funded research in this area would be invaluable."
We recommend that the Government commission independent research
to evaluate and understand the behaviour of individual consumers
in the voluntary offset market and publish it as soon as possible.
29. The biggest-spending consumers in the voluntary
offset market are businesses. As with individuals, the motivation
for offsetting varies: some companies argue that they recognise
the threat of climate change and try to act responsibly; but also
some of the motivations for offsetting here will be strategicthey
might be to meet Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations,
to generate goodwill, or to attract the growing number of customers
attracted by environmental action. It is important that the Government
seeks to understand better the reasons why businesses use the
voluntary carbon offset market and what motivates them. We recommend
that the Government commission independent research in this area
and publish it as soon as is practicable.
30. One of the ways that companies advertise themselves
as being environmentally responsible to their customers is by
claiming to be 'carbon neutral'.
The voluntary offset market often has a big role to play here
as it is used to offset any remaining carbon emissions that a
company cannot eliminate in its quest for 'neutrality'. One of
the problems is that there is no formal definition or standard
as to what carbon neutrality means. There are no standards as
to how robustly a company claiming to be 'carbon neutral' has
quantified its emissions, whether these are direct emissions only
or whether they include indirect emissions, or how far along its
supply chain it takes responsibility for emissions. Nor does the
term 'carbon neutrality' take any account of whether a company
has made any attempt actually to reduce its emissions, or whether
it simply quantifies its emissions and decides to offset them.
31. Claiming 'carbon neutrality' is clearly a
growing draw for businesses and will consequently change the behaviour
of some companies and bring them into the voluntary carbon offset
market. The Government recognises the need to keep legitimacy
and credibility in the voluntary carbon offset market. It is important
that the term 'carbon neutral' is also seen to be credible. As
with other advertising claims, consumers need assurance that these
claims are genuine and mean something. We recommend that Government
engage in a dialogue with business to develop a consensus definition
of what 'carbon neutral' means. It is essential that standards
should be developed to allow for audit and verification of this
status to bring legitimacy to any claim to be 'carbon neutral'.
16 Ev57 Back
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Consultation
on establishing a voluntary Code of Best Practice for the provision
of carbon offsetting to UK customers, January 2007, p 2 Back
Q 125 Mr Monaghan Back
Q 107 Mike Mason Back
Q 125 Back
Companies announce regularly in the media their intentions to
become 'carbon neutral'. See www.marksandspencer.com Marks &
Spencer launches "Plan A"- £200m 'eco-plan' 15
January 2007 and www.avica.com RAC to go carbon neutral 6 March
2007 for examples. Back