I've noticed that carbon offsets are usually sold by the tonne of CO2 equivalent, without any information about when that offsetting will occur. Given the urgency of the climate crisis (between 1.5º and 5.0º C of warming by 2100) it seems important to know when the offsetting will occur.

And when offsetting projects focus on gases like methane, where most of the Global Warming Potential (GWP) occurs in the first couple decades, it seems that timeliness of offsets is even more important.

Is there some kind of standard that defines when carbon offsets need to be realized?

  • Short answer: no. Schemes range from direct carbon capture and storage (DCCS) which obviously happens immediately, right through to avoided emissions that will be ongoing forever (ex, invading a country and killing all the inhabitants (although I don't think this is a commercial carbon offset scheme (yet))). Methan is even more problematic because in most cases unemissions are sold based on a 100 year life when 10-15 years is much more important. Mostly this is done to allow a market to be created trading fungible tokens "one tonne of carbon dioxide not emitted".
    – Móż
    Aug 23, 2021 at 0:14
  • Alternatively: the benefit is immediate. Whoever sold you the offset gets your money immediately so from a market/economic point of view the benefit is transferred at the time of sale. There is a lot of handwaving in the economics desicipline to avoid this problem, but as yet no solution has been found (AFAIK). Bankruptcy, insurance and discount rates are easy ways to start thinking about that problem. (viz, the cliche of "what is the replacement cost of planet earth? How long would it take to build or acquire that replacement? And how much to house people in the meantime?")
    – Móż
    Aug 23, 2021 at 0:18

2 Answers 2


I am highly skeptical of carbon offsets.

They remind me of the cynic's definition of "foreign aid," which is "The transfer of wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries."

I was part of a Permaculture co-op. I am convinced we were a net carbon sink. We made alternative fuel. We planted lots of trees. Our agriculture was almost completely based on manual labour, not mechanization (the only exception was hay.)

Do you know how hard it is for a small (~$150,000 gross revenue) co-op to get carbon credits? I spent way too much time pursuing this, through elected officials and government agencies, to non-governmental organizations, and I even tried direct appeals to CO2 producers. No one wanted to so much as discuss it with us!

In our case, the benefits would have been immediate. You give us money, we'd use it to plant trees! We produced several hundred Paulownia tomentosa seedlings each year — it is the fastest growing tree in the world, and sequesters carbon at a furious rate! Plus, it's drop-dead gorgeous!

Paulownia tomentosa

So, at present, it seems that "carbon credit" are basically a way for corporations to enrich themselves. And what do they do with that money? They spend it — which inevitably puts more carbon in the atmosphere!

So, to more directly answer your question rather than simply rant, I think the so-called "benefits" of carbon offsets are simply a way of legitimizing carbon emissions, while letting those who don't like carbon emissions to somehow feel good about them.

For carbon offsets to really work would require a fixed number of offsets that steadily decline over time. If carbon emitters — down to you, gentle reader, as you drive to work — had a fixed amount of carbon they could emit, then "buying" offsets would still result in declining emissions over time.

But the current state of carbon offsets doesn't work like that. There is no cap. Governments have swallowed the Adam Smith Kool Aid, and allow any amount of carbon to be emitted, hoping that higher costs will eventually throttle it.

In reality (as we are now seeing in mid-2022), higher carbon costs simply results in general inflation, as fossil sunlight is the master resource by which modern civilization exists.

I don't see people driving less; they're just bitching more! And lobbying their bosses for higher pay to cover the higher cost of commuting, on, and on, and on… until something snaps.

  • 1
    Do you have anything to back this up? We don't as such ban personal expertise, but we expect it to be backed with verifiable facts, citations from credible sources. Please edit to include those in your answer. You would do well also to ensure that you address the point that the question is seeking to challenge, and not get too distracted by your (perhaps justifiable) annoyance that they (offsets) don't seem to achieve what they're meant to. Jul 12 at 5:56
  • I could sprinkle the posting with "†" markings, referring to "† Personal email correspondence," if that would help! Very little of dealing with bureaucracy can be "documented" in the sense you seem to desire. Also, this was not some research paper, with grant funding — we were running a farm and trying to make a living at the same time! Trying to get carbon offset funding came out of my personal sleep time, after working the farm for sixteen hours. Jul 13 at 2:59

I've noticed that carbon offsets are usually sold by the tonne of CO2 equivalent, without any information about when that offsetting will occur

Of course they don't tell you when that offsetting will occur.

Carbon offsets are a major con. If you for example pay to reforest some land, if you do so by purchasing the land to be reforested and reforest it yourself (or pay someone to plant the forest), you as the landowner will get to decide how the forest will be used in the future.

If you on the other hand are foolish enough to pay for these ridiculous "carbon offsets", most likely they plant the forest somewhere and then the landowner who was paid to reforest the land can 10 years later chop it down, and if the landowner doesn't chop it own immediately, it would probably have been reforested anyway without the "carbon offsets".

Also you'll find that these "carbon offsets" are often multiply counted, so the same CO2 reduction is sold to three or more different buyers of "carbon offsets" who fail to realize they essentially bought the same offset.

The only ways to possibly cause environmental benefits are:

  1. Buy carbon permits but don't emit the carbon. (However, if enough many people will do this then the policymakers will take a note of this and increase the number of carbon permits available, so this is not a foolproof way.)
  2. Reduce your carbon dioxide emissions for example by becoming vegan, or buying an electric car, or starting bicycling, or switching to geothermal heat pumps, or living in a house built from wood as opposed to concrete. (However, if you do this in an area where carbon permits are used, one person reducing carbon emissions causes the carbon permit price to decrease, causing other people to emit more carbon dioxide, so this is not a foolproof way. However it's very good risk management to reduce your emissions intensity to a minimum.)
  3. Store the carbon in the form of biochar or forest stock or lumber or buildings made from wood in a land owned by you. (However, if enough many people start doing this then the policymakers will take a note of this and increase the number of carbon permits available, so this is not a foolproof way.)
  4. Vote! By voting someone who prefers large CO2 reductions very soon, it's more likely such reductions will happen very soon.

Note "carbon offsets" are not on this list.

Is there some kind of standard that defines when carbon offsets need to be realized?

Such a standard would be contrary to the interests of these conmen who sell these carbon offsets. Thus, no such standard is there, and no such standard will be there.

  • 2
    Do you have any sources to back this up, just curious? It'd be incredibly sad if this were true, especially considering so many places offer such options (e.g. Stripe during checkout). Aug 24, 2021 at 16:12
  • All of this applies to any product really. When I buy a house it's in the interest of the seller to sell the same house multiple times. Selling it only once would be contrary to their interests.
    – user253751
    Aug 25, 2021 at 18:06

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