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I met a great journalist last week who has been trying to get under the skin of the offsetting industry, including by visiting some of the projects people are investing in to create the emissions ‘reductions’ that people are buying to compensate for their own ‘unavoidable’* emissions.

I can completely see why the offsetting industry has sprung up and why it is growing at such a fast pace. As awareness of climate change rises it is natural to want to be able to do something about it. But offsetting is fraught with moral hazard. The guys who set up [www.cheatneutral.com](http://www.cheatneutral.com/ “”) have brilliantly highlighted one of the problems – does paying someone not to do something bad, so you can continue, really help things? …continues

Another problem is the difficulties involved in verifying whether what you have paid for is really making a positive difference. When the journalist I met visited tree plantations in India, she found the trees dead and the farmers impoverished because the land they had once used to farm for food was no longer available to them. The communities who had been given foot pumps to retrieve water from wells (avoiding having to many walk miles for it) were pleased, but they would have been more pleased with the less labour intensive diesel powered pump that they were foregoing to create a carbon ‘credit’ for sale to affluent Westerners.

It is a complicated issue but I believe people in the West need to focus on delivering solutions in the West. We are responsible for the historic build up of gases (CO2 persists in the atmoshere for around a hundred years) and we are still emitting way more per person than the vast majority of countries in the world. Currently Europe is considering a target to reduce our emissions by 20% by 2020 – not only is this not enough it is also highly likely that a large part of the effort to meet that target will be made up of emissions reductions imported from other countries – so our actual emissions will remain high.

Sandbag is aiming to provide an alternative form of personal action – one which focuses on the current sources of the problem. Offsetting will obviously still continue to exist and if more stringent verification standards are introduced, and properly enforced, it should be easier to have confidence in what you are buying. But reducing your own emissions and campaigning to make sure others reduce theirs is still the best option in our humble opinion!

* [www.loco2travel.net](http://www.loco2travel.net/ “”) is a great website that offers advice on how to have fun and travel the world without automatically assuming you need a round the world air ticket or countless cheap flights.