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Carbon off-setting feels the rod


18th January, 2007

The government will announce voluntary standards today to regulate carbon off-setting programmes - the schemes by which environmentally friendly projects such as planting trees are undertaken to 'off-set' the effects of carbon dioxide emissions.

The new proposals will advise that the public should only use off-set schemes which use carbon credits approved under the Kyoto protocol. This will ensure consistency in measuring the impact of off-set projects.

The Environment Minister, Ben Bradshaw, told BBC's Newsnight programme that there was widespread confusion over carbon off-setting schemes, and that guidelines were necessary: "This government will become the first government in the world this Thursday to publish a standard for carbon offsetting, so that people will be able to tell whether the offsetting schemes they are using or thinking of  using really do take that carbon out of the global carbon economy for good, and whether they can trust the schemes they are using."

The proposals have met with a tentative welcome from environmental groups, who have long maintained that the off-set industry should be regulated. But environmentalists were keen to stress that carbon off-setting does not remove carbon from the atmosphere quickly enough to make a like-for-like difference, and that it can encourage consumers to think that they can 'pay their way out of' carbon emissions.

Support for these concerns was given by David Miliband, Secretary of  State for the Environment: "The first step should always be to see how  we can avoid and reduce emissions," he said in a BBC interview.

The Environmental Audit Committee announced last week that it plans to launch an inquiry into carbon off-setting schemes. Yesterday, the committee extended its deadline for submissions by one week in order to see the reaction to the government's proposals today.

Shortly before Christmas carbon off-setting programmes were attacked by scientists at the University of California, whose research showed that planting trees in northern climes could actually increase the effects of global warming. Unlike trees in the tropics, where the evaporation of water from their leaves acts to cool the atmosphere, trees planted further north could have the effect of raising global temperatures as their green foliage traps heat from the sun which would have otherwise been reflected back into space.


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