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The Science Based Targets initiative and carbon offsetting: striking the right balance

As the CEO of DGB, I am deeply committed to preserving our natural environment and driving sustainability through impactful projects. Our mission is to restore nature and improve biodiversity, ensuring a thriving ecosystem for future generations. Given the complexity and urgency of environmental challenges, it is essential that we approach solutions with both ambition and pragmatism. This brings us to the current debate surrounding the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the use of carbon offsets.

The Science Based Targets initiative and carbon offsetting_Close-up of tree seedlings in a nursery_visual 1Close-up of tree seedlings in a nursery. Hongera Reforestation Project, DGB.

The role of SBTi in environmental action

The SBTi has been a critical force in guiding companies to set and achieve scientifically rigorous emission reduction targets. The initiative has helped over 8,000 companies commit to ambitious environmental goals, fostering a culture of accountability and transparency. However, the recent proposal by SBTi’s Board of Trustees to allow the use of carbon offsets, specifically Environmental Attribute Certificates (EACs), for Scope 3 emissions has sparked significant debate. 

Read more: Era of revolution: groundbreaking carbon market development

Carbon offsetting: a tool, not a panacea

Carbon offsets, also referred to as carbon units or credits, when properly regulated and implemented, can be a valuable tool in the broader strategy to restore nature. Offsets—or carbon compensation—provide a mechanism for companies to invest in projects that reduce or sequester carbon emissions elsewhere, effectively compensating for their own emissions that are difficult to eliminate in the short term. 

The Science Based Targets initiative and carbon offsetting_Graph showing compensation and reduction_visual 2Graph showing compensation with carbon units.

This approach can drive immediate environmental action, finance critical conservation projects, and bridge the gap while companies develop and deploy long-term decarbonisation technologies.

Read more: 100 Reasons carbon credits are the best thing that ever happened to improve conditions on our planet

The argument for including offsets

In practical terms, the inclusion of offsets allows companies to maintain their environmental commitments even when faced with technological or economic barriers to immediate emission reductions. For example, in the case of Acme Co, a US company producing widgets and gadgets for wind farms, the technology to decarbonise gadgets may not be available until 2030. By allowing the use of high-quality carbon offsets, Acme Co can continue to meet its environmental targets, remain competitive, and support the global transition to a low-carbon economy.

The Science Based Targets initiative and carbon offsetting_ Close-up of a Bulindi chimpanzee in its natural habitat_visual 3Close-up of a Bulindi chimpanzee in its natural habitat. Bulindi Chimpanzee Habitat Restoration Project, DGB. 

Offsets also present an opportunity to mobilise significant finance for conservation projects, particularly in developing regions. As highlighted by the West African countries’ recent call to SBTi, offset revenues are crucial for supporting local communities, conserving biodiversity, and fostering sustainable development.

Read more: West African countries push for carbon offset inclusion in environmental strategies

NGOs like the UK-based Fauna & Flora and USA-based WCS, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the American Forest Foundation. have also joined the dialogue, supporting the use of additional offsetting if specific criteria are met. They argue that businesses must use all available tools to accelerate climate progress. The NGOs highlight that high-quality nature-based offsets can provide significant co-benefits to biodiversity and sustainable development, especially in low-income nations.

Investing in nature for a sustainable future

To truly achieve a sustainable future, we must prioritise investments in nature-based solutions. At DGB Group, we pledge to allocate a significant portion of our resources to high-quality projects that not only sequester carbon but also restore ecosystems, enhance biodiversity, and support local communities. By channelling investments into reforestation, land restoration, and other conservation initiatives, we can create thriving habitats for wildlife, improve soil and water quality, and support local communities’ livelihoods. These efforts will ensure that our actions have a lasting, positive impact on the environment, helping to build resilience against future ecological challenges.

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We also commit to maintaining the highest standards of transparency and integrity in all our nature-based offset projects. DGB works closely with leading verification bodies—like Verra and the Gold Standard—to ensure that every project we support meets rigorous criteria for additionality, permanence, and verifiability. 

The Science Based Targets initiative and carbon offsetting_DGB team members during a project validation in Kenya_visual 4DGB team members during a project validation in Kenya. Hongera Reforestation Project, DGB. 

By setting and adhering to these standards, we aim to provide our partners and stakeholders with confidence that their investments are making a real, measurable difference. This commitment will help build trust in the efficacy of carbon offsets and demonstrate that, with the right approach, they can be a powerful tool in the fight to restore and protect our natural world.

The risks of over-reliance on offsets

It is essential to acknowledge the risks and limitations of offsets. Critics argue that relying too heavily on offsets can delay the necessary systemic changes within companies and perpetuate a ‘business-as-usual’ approach. This concern is echoed by various stakeholders who caution against the illusion that offsets alone can solve environmental challenges.

Moreover, the integrity and quality of offset projects are paramount. Offsets must be real, additional, verifiable, and permanent. The risk of low-quality offsets undermining environmental goals is significant, and robust standards and verification processes are crucial to ensuring that offset projects deliver genuine benefits for nature.

Read more: The importance of carbon offsetting in achieving net zero

A balanced approach

At DGB, we believe in a balanced approach. Carbon offsets should complement, not replace, direct emission reductions. Companies should prioritise reducing their own emissions and use offsets as a supplementary measure for past emissions and emissions that are currently unavoidable. This approach aligns with the principles of the mitigation hierarchy: avoid, reduce, then offset.

Take your first step towards sustainability: measure your carbon footprint

SBTi’s proposal to include offsets for Scope 3 emissions, if accompanied by stringent guardrails and quality standards, can enhance the initiative’s impact. It can enable companies to maintain their environmental commitments while supporting critical conservation projects globally. 

The SBTi has a unique opportunity to refine its standards and leverage offsets in a way that accelerates environmental action without compromising integrity. By doing so, we can drive meaningful progress towards a sustainable, nature-positive future.

The Science Based Targets initiative and carbon offsetting_Dron picture of a tree nursery_visual 5Drone picture of a tree nursery. Hongera Reforestation Project, DGB. 

Inaction is not an option if we are to combat the pressing issue of environmental degradation. Carbon offsets provide a crucial tool in our arsenal, but they must be part of a broader, holistic approach. By integrating sustainable practices and enhancing restoration efforts, we can address the root causes of environmental harm. Combining these efforts with the strategic use of carbon offsets allows us to take immediate, impactful action while working towards long-term solutions. It is through this multifaceted strategy that we can ensure a healthier, more sustainable future for our planet.

At DGB, we are committed to supporting these efforts through our nature-based solutions, which sequester carbon in addition to providing many environmental and socio-economic benefits. Our projects generate high-quality verified carbon offsets/units that help companies achieve their sustainability targets. Together, with a balanced and rigorous approach, we can make a significant impact on global environmental challenges.

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