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Banks must be bolder on carbon offsets

The controversy around voluntary carbon markets has deterred banks from getting involved. They need to worry less about reputational risk and more about the planet.

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At the COP26 climate conference, carbon market players and conservationists met to discuss how to improve the quality of carbon offsets. The event made headlines – but not for the reasons its convener, Mark Carney, had presumably hoped.

Greta Thunberg, who attended the meeting, walked out halfway through saying loudly: “Stop greenwashing.”

The Swedish teenage activist echoed the position taken by Greenpeace. In November, the environmental NGO published a blog post titled “Carbon offsets are a scam”.

The language in the post was even more emotive. Offsets are “a book-keeping trick intended to obscure climate-wrecking emissions”, “tree-planting window-dressing”, and “a licence to keep polluting”.

They also, apparently unacceptably, “put a price on nature” and “distort economies and take land and resources away from the local communities that need it [sic] most”.

This approach is backed by other influential environmental groups such as Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which also stresses the supposed dangers carbon credits pose to indigenous peoples and biodiversity.


Many conservationists, however, find this vocal opposition to offsetting deeply frustrating. For them, carbon markets offer a great way – indeed, possibly the only way – to raise desperately needed funding to address the nature crisis, particularly in poorer countries.


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