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Who doesn’t want to jump onto the carbon offset bandwagon when you see Coldplay advocating it? I mean come on, that’s a cool bunch of guys, and if they are doing it, it must be the right thing to do. As interest in environmental issues has grown, so has the alluring, politically correct, celebrity-sanctioned model of carbon off-setting.

Carbon offsetting is still a relatively unknown concept in Saudi Arabia but a few foreign carbon offset companies have stated to speed up their marketing efforts in the Kingdom. While I am all for conserving the ecosphere, I think it makes sense to question the relevance and feasibility of offsets in the kingdom. Many experts now believe that the offset model comes with its own set of challenges and it will be interesting to see how these manifest in the Saudi context. Here are my arguments for why I think it won’t work:

1. Trees can be Troublesome:
Forestation makes up about 20 percent of the carbon offset market. Based on the idea that trees absorb carbon, companies wishing to offset their emissions sponsor the planting of trees designed to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

While this seems great in theory there are multiple problems with this. Firstly “Carbon emissions from burned oil, gas or coal cannot be considered as equal to the same amount of biological carbon in a tree,” according to scientists at the Forests and the European Union Resource Network.

Secondly, it may take years before a tree is able to fully offset the estimated emissions and companies mistakenly offset immediate emissions with reductions that would occur only during the 100-year life span of a tree.

Lastly and most importantly, as we saw in the case of the “Cold Play Forest”, Trees are not the most reliable carbon offset investments. Ten thousand trees were planted in India to offset the Band’s emissions during their second album and according to this detailed article in telegraph, 40% of those trees died within 4 years.

2. Shift of Responsibility: 
There have been concerns internationally that the carbon offset model triggers the natural human desire to compensate and consumers may see it as an excuse to indulge in pollution and overly consumptive behaviours.

Saudi society is well known for its excessively lavish lifestyle and if the carbon offset model becomes the norm or the “IN” thing there is a risk that it may lead to people using it as an excuse to pollute.

3. Redistribution not Reduction:
Last but not the least, the main reason I think an offset model cannot work for Saudi Arabia is because it does not address the real issue of carbon emissions in the first place. Consumers and companies in Saudi Arabia need to discover their environmental stance before they rethink it.

In a country where the utilities are dirt cheap and the fuel costs less than a can of soda, the real problem is to wake people from their stupor. To make them realize that the resources are not unlimited and that the time is running out.

The danger of carbon offset model is that it is the easy way out. As Kevin Anderson, a scientist with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research puts it, “Offsetting is a dangerous delaying technique because it helps us avoid tackling the task [of dealing with climate change]… It helps us sleep well at night when we shouldn’t sleep well at night.”

I think more than the star-crusted, latest new fad of buying carbon credits, what Saudi Arabia needs is a new model of carbon offset; a model where companies can offset their emissions by investing in their own renewable resources and energy-efficient products. A lot of local companies are already shifting to green products but what is needed is to link it with their emissions through their own customized carbon offset model.

Image of Saudi Arabia magnified from Shutterstock


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