Interest in voluntary carbon offsets is increasing. As buyers make their first forays into the market, they should not differentiate between avoidance and removal credits. Removal offsets are generated from activities that pull carbon out of the atmosphere, such as tree growth. Avoidance offsets are from activities that reduce emissions by preventing their released into the atmosphere such as stopping the conversion of grasslands to croplands and limiting timber harvest levels.
Removal and avoidance offsets are often part of the same project type, such as Improved Forest Management (IFM). IFM projects reduce emissions by preventing carbon from being released through large scale harvesting activities and also allow trees to grow longer thereby removing carbon from the atmosphere. By only valuing the removal part of this project type, past climate-positive behavior is not rewarded, market leakage will increase because protecting standing carbon stocks is not valued, and a perverse incentive is created if landowners know they can potentially receive credits for tree growth subsequent to cutting those very same acres.
Relying solely on the removal of carbon doesn’t address the initial problem of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Both project types are essential to begin to achieve a neutral carbon balance. We need to continue support for removal offset projects while protecting existing carbon sinks through avoided emission carbon offset projects. To help companies achieve their climate neutrality goals, it will be imperative to make sure all carbon offset types are valued.