Why doesn’t UC use carbon offsets? CITRIS affiliate explains

Aerial view of logged trees stacked in rows and green forest on the far left.

Research led by Barbara Haya, an affiliate of CITRIS Climate and the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE), to find trustworthy carbon credits has discovered that almost none of the open market projects meet the University of California’s minimum quality requirements, prompting the university system to rethink its sustainability plan to nearly eliminate all usage of third-party offsets. 

Spearheaded by the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project, which Haya directs, the research found the impact of these projects to be frequently overinflated. Her team instead encourages investments that will cut systemic emissions to attack the root of the problem.

“See it as a donation, as a contribution, but not as a quantified, certified ton of emissions reductions,” says Haya. “We need to move away from the whole idea of offsetting. You can’t fly and drive and burn fossil fuels, and then pay someone else to do something and say you didn’t have an impact.”

UC’s revised carbon neutrality plan focuses almost entirely on directly cutting emissions and now requires that every campus charge itself a $25 fee for every ton of ongoing carbon pollution, with the money being reallocated towards sustainability goals.   

On Nov. 30, Haya’s research team launched a website that delves into their findings, purchasing standards and project examination methods to help other universities and organizations consider carbon offsets more critically before incorporating them into their sustainability plans.

Read more in the MIT Technology Review.