Carbon Offset Market—Buyers and Sellers Beware
A few weeks ago, as I was completing my travel arrangements on a national airline's Web site, I was given the option to pay a few extra dollars to "offset" the carbon dioxide emissions attributable to my flight. As an attorney practicing in the area of air quality and climate change, I was intrigued by this latest manifestation of the growth and proliferation of the carbon offset market. But at the same time, my attorney-wired brain began to pose a number of questions about what exactly I would be purchasing and whether I could be confident that my payment did, in fact, go toward offsetting the carbon footprint left by my plane ride.
Apparently, I'm not the only person asking these questions. The Federal Trade Commission held a hearing on carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates, or RECs, as part of a broader review of its enforcement policies concerning "green marketing" claims. In addition, recent news articles have reported that offset providers are beginning to receive increased scrutiny from regulators and purchasers. This article will briefly describe the characteristics of the carbon offset market, some of the key issues surrounding carbon offsets and some of the existing legal constructs that could shape the carbon offset market as it continues to mature.