This February 12, Bernard Looney, the boss of BP, announces a shift of unprecedented scale in its sector. In front of the press, the oil giant declares to commit to the “Carbon neutrality” by 2050, via a reduction in its CO emissions2. The rest, those that cannot be eliminated, explains Bernard Looney, will be “Compensated”.
The idea of “Carbon offset” appeared in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. For a company, this mechanism consists in financing, apart from its main activity, ie actions to reduce CO emissions2 – via renewable energy or energy efficiency projects – either carbon capture (sequestration) actions – tree planting, forest protection and agroforestry, in order to create or preserve natural carbon sinks . In exchange, the company obtains “carbon credits”, allowing it to display a smaller environmental footprint.
Orange, Danone, Total, EasyJet, Shell, BNP, Air France … More and more groups are embarking on compensation, under increasing pressure from regulations but also from consumers, employees and young recruits.
Fabrice Le Saché, founder of the Aera firm which sells carbon credits to companies, observes this growing enthusiasm on the front line. “In 2018, we sold credits equivalent to 400,000 tonnes of CO2 avoided, double in 2019 and we expect 1.4 million in 2020. ”
To find actions to avoid CO emissions2, this firm specializing in Africa works directly with local partners – NGOs, associations, and even businesses – who carry out projects in the field (renewable energy, waste treatment sites, etc.). “We have them certified so that they get carbon credits, that we buy them before reselling them to companies, most often from Europe, North America …”, specifies Fabrice Le Saché.
EcoAct, a specialist in compensation projects, develops both local partnerships and its own actions. Its subsidiary in Kenya has therefore set up, in cooperation with the Livelihoods fund, a project to distribute improved stoves to reduce the consumption of firewood and CO emissions2 that go with it.
The resale of credits is done on a voluntary and therefore unregulated market. “It lacks transparency, regrets Christophe Schmeitzky, partner at EY, whether it’s volumes traded or prices. ” Or even the margins of intermediaries. Transparency on these subjects, highlighted by EcoAct and Aera, is a way of recognizing the seriousness of intermediaries – consulting firms, brokers, or digital platforms. EcoAct and Aera also emphasize complying with recognized international standards, to ensure that the funded project has seen the light of day, under the conditions and with the promised environmental impacts … “In thirty years, several solid standards have emerged, confirms the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe), such as the clean development mechanism (CDM) defined by the United Nations, or the Gold Standard and Verified Cabon Standard, developed by NGOs based on UN criteria. “
Globally, most of the compensation is currently made up, worldwide, for plantation, agroforestry or forest conservation projects. It is linked, according to experts, to the strong emotional power of the tree on the collective imagination.
However, “There are few certified forest projects: they are more expensive and more complicated to certify”, summarizes Gérald Maradan, CEO of EcoAct. Planting a tree, caring for it for years … makes the outcome of the project more uncertain than simply financing a solar installation. And all the more so that trees will be more and more sensitive to climate change and therefore to fires, with their share of CO emissions.2, in reverse of the desired effect.
Because the demand for forestry projects exceeds the certified supply, there are drifts. NGOs denounce the existence of “ industrial plantations “Carried out without worrying about the choice of species, biodiversity, or the risk of competition from the use of land with agriculture …
“As for technological innovations to capture CO2 as of its emission, on which the oil tankers bet in particular, they are far from being at the point and at the height of the stake, warns Clément Sénéchal at Greenpeace. For many companies, the compensation is greenwashing, a way to avoid questioning their business model. “
Laure Mandaron, CSR director at La Poste, describes another approach. “From 2011-2012, we started by putting everything in place to reduce emissions directly linked to our activities – training our agents in eco-driving to limit fuel consumption, electrification of vehicles, optimization of loadings… Despite all our efforts we still emit 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year, and it is to compensate for all of these “incompressible emissions” that we have been supporting for the past eight years, internationally, forest preservation and renewable energy production projects, helped by EcoAct. We have even decided to overcompensate and we are funding the first projects in France, validated by the “low carbon” label created under the aegis of the Ministry of Transition. “
To start by reducing its emissions to the maximum, it is one of the principles which guarantee the sincerity of a carbon offset, according to the Ademe which specifies that it “We also have to make sure that the project could not have seen the light of day without this funding”.
Good compensation practices
• In a guide from November 2019, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe) identifies good practices to guarantee the seriousness of a compensation action.
• Publish a report on its emissions, reductions and compensations initiated, to demonstrate that compensation remains a last resort.
• Choose labeled projects and favor projects with a “sustainable development” approach (with benefits for the local population, biodiversity, conservation of resources, etc.)
• Define the right combination of projects supported on national and international soil.
• Communicate in a responsible, sincere and reliable manner (ISO 14021 standard).