ADE Green: Reflections on the Carbon Offsetting Panel

Our Climate Change Specialist, Richard Phillips, summarises the key learnings from his panel on the alternatives to carbon offsetting at ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) Green.

Is carbon offsetting a good idea?

This was the question put to me ahead of ADE Green – a leading conference on sustainability in the music industry, taking place during the world’s largest electronic music festival – Amsterdam Dance Event.

Speaking as part of a panel that also featured John Fernandes of MIT, Sven Jense of the Climate Cleanup Foundation, and Claire O’Neill of A Greener Future, I addressed the sector on the fallibility of seeking to ‘balance’ your carbon emissions through offsets.

The drawbacks are copious – from the ethical questions and unequal power dynamics of paying someone else to balance the emissions you continue to produce, to the technical challenges of offsets failing to deliver what they promise.

An investigation led by the Guardian found that 90% of rainforest offsets by the leading provider are worthless. In simple terms, trees take a long-time to grow to absorb carbon, they can burn down releasing any carbon that does get absorbed, and can cause additional environmental issues, such as monoculture, and human rights issues. In many instances offsets do not even provide any carbon capture that wouldn’t have happened anyway as they protect existing forests, rather than planting new ones.

The focus instead, should be on immediate, drastic emissions reductions across the sector. This being the only way to achieve the targets set by climate science to keep warming to a ‘safer’ level – namely by halving our emissions by 2030.

While offsetting is not the answer to achieving those targets, the idea of pricing carbon and compensating for our impacts is a good one. But better choices can be made to invest in higher impact initiatives, even if they are not always quantifiable in pure carbon terms.

A number of alternatives exist, including support for Climate Justice organisations – helping local and global organisations to compensate those already experiencing climate impacts, facilitating adaptation projects and amplifying their voices to make the call for greater equality. Support for environmental legal action is also a critical tool for action, helping to bring powers to account on climate action.

The panel came to 10 key principles to be followed before paying for any offsets. An artist, Herman Weeda of Sketchy Business, illustrated the conversation live, producing a visual account of the principles, as shown below.

A holistic approach

So, no. Carbon offsets are not a particularly good idea if we are serious about tackling our ever-growing emissions. We must instead start with urgent action to significantly reduce emissions now and use our money to support alternative and higher impact projects.

This mix of projects makes it a complex environment for music professionals to navigate – more complex than offsets ostensibly deliver. However, this nuanced and holistic approach is the most impactful.

Fortunately, there are organisations, such as EarthPercent and Murmur, who exist to raise and distribute money from the music industry into these impactful initiatives.

If you would like to find out more, you can read Julie’s Bicycle’s report on offsetting and carbon pricing.

Our work in the music sector is made possible through EarthPercent, Universal Music, Festival Republic and impactful partnership projects. We are part of industry collaborations and networks including Vision: 2025, Powerful Thinking, Live GREEN, IMPALA.

If you would like to support our work or collaborate on a project, please get in touch with info@juliesbicycle.com.