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Oxford launches revised Offsetting Principles

Feb 27, 2024

As part of their net zero strategies, many companies, organisations, cities, regions and financial institutions are relying on voluntary carbon credits to offset their residual emissions. But evidence continues to cast doubt on the integrity of many carbon credits used for offsetting, and most offsetting that occurs today is still not net zero aligned. 

The Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting (revised 2024) reinforce the core components of the original Principles, calling for a major course-correction in carbon markets and offsetting practices to help achieve a net zero society.

The paper outlines four foundational pillars:

  1. Cut Emissions & Ensure Integrity: Implement best practices to reduce emissions, maintain credit integrity, and adapt strategies as standards evolve.
  2. Transition to Carbon Removal: Shift towards carbon removals to counterbalance residual emissions, aiming for 100% carbon removal credits by 2050.
  3. Ensure Durable Storage: Opt for removals with low risk of reversal, crucial for maintaining a net zero balance over centuries.
  4. Support Innovation: Champion innovative approaches to achieve net zero, catalysing growth in the high-quality removals market.

“The vast majority of current offsetting approaches are not getting us any closer to net zero emissions” says co-author Injy Johnstone, Research Associate at the Oxford Sustainable Finance Group in the Smith School and researcher at Oxford Net Zero. This update clarifies aspects of the core ‘Oxford Offsetting Principles’ and calls for a major course-correction in carbon markets and offsetting practices in line with net zero.

Some of the key highlights and clarifications that inspired the review include:

  • Urgency of Emission Reductions: Our work reinforces the imperative for organisations to prioritise early investment in renewable energy and improved energy efficiency to reduce emissions within their value chains.
  • Closing the Carbon Removal Gap: With the vast majority of credit issuances still focused on emission reductions or avoidance, the Revised Principles emphasises the urgent need to scale up high-quality carbon removal and storage projects to meet future demand.
  • Critical Role of Nature-Based Solutions: Highlighting the significance of nature-based systems, the research underscores the importance of protecting and restoring ecosystems.
  • Defining Terms and Targets: In response to evolving international guidance, the Revised Principles provides clarity on terminology and emphasise the need for additional targets for ecosystem restoration and biodiversity.
  • Clarifying Durability Risks: By recognising the continuum of durability and risks associated with storage methods, the research offers nuanced insights into both the co-benefits and challenges of different carbon removal approaches.
  • Recognising Mitigation Efforts Beyond Organisational Net Zero: Acknowledging diverse motivations for supporting mitigation projects, the Revised Principles advocate for continued investment in projects that contribute to broader societal and environmental goals beyond organisational net zero targets.

Read the Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting (revised 2024).

Image credit: Nuno Rodrigues / Climate Visuals



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