All About Carbon Credits

What are carbon credits? 

Carbon credits are permits that allow the owner to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. Carbon credits are also a way to offset carbon emissions by financing initiatives aimed at reducing or removing carbon from the atmosphere. It is designed to mitigate the impact of emissions from businesses and contribute to the fight against climate change.

Carbon credit schemes can provide funding for clean energy and sustainable development projects in developing countries and can promote the development of new technologies for reducing carbon emissions. 

carbon credits explained

Why do businesses use carbon credits? 

There are several reasons why businesses use carbon credits: 

  • Compliance: Some businesses are required by law or regulation to offset a certain portion of their carbon emissions. For example, many countries have mandatory cap-and-trade systems that require companies to purchase carbon credits to offset a portion of their emissions. 
  • Reputation: Businesses may choose to offset their emissions voluntarily to improve their reputation and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. Carbon credits can help companies to reduce their environmental impact and to market themselves as environmentally responsible. 
  • Cost savings: Carbon credits can be a cost-effective way for businesses to offset their emissions, as they can purchase credits at a lower cost than investing in their own emissions reduction technologies. 
  • Supporting sustainable development: Carbon credits can also provide funding for clean energy and sustainable development projects globally.  
  • Innovation: Carbon credit schemes can also promote the development of new technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This could have a positive impact on the environment and benefit the companies in the long run. 

Overall, using carbon credits is a way for businesses to offset their own emissions and to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint. It also allows them to comply with regulations and support sustainable development projects, which can have a positive impact on their reputation and bottom line. 

what are carbon credits

What is the difference between carbon credits and carbon offsets? 

Carbon credits and carbon offsets are related but distinct concepts used to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Carbon credits are a form of permit or certificate that represents the right to emit one metric ton of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. These credits can be traded between companies to offset their own emissions. For example, a company that exceeds its emissions limit can purchase carbon credits from a company that has reduced its emissions below its limit. 

Carbon offset, on the other hand, is a strategy that enables individuals or companies to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by funding projects that reduce or remove carbon from the atmosphere. These projects can include renewable energy generation, reforestation, or carbon capture and storage. Carbon offsetting can be done by purchasing carbon credits, but also through other means, such as investing in sustainable development projects, clean energy, or carbon sequestration projects. 

In summary, carbon credits represent the right to emit a certain amount of carbon and can be traded, while carbon offsets are investments in projects that reduce or remove carbon from the atmosphere. Both are used to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, but they represent different ways of achieving this goal. 

How do carbon markets work? 

Carbon markets are a mechanism that allows companies, governments, and other entities to buy and sell carbon credits or offsets to manage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These markets provide a financial incentive for companies to reduce their emissions by allowing them to sell any unused emissions allowances. It also enables companies to purchase additional emissions allowances or carbon credits from other companies if they are unable to reduce their emissions sufficiently on their own. 

There are two primary types of carbon markets: voluntary and compliance. 

Voluntary carbon markets 

Voluntary carbon markets are markets that are not established by governments or regulated by law, but are created by companies, organizations, or individuals who voluntarily choose to participate in them. These markets are typically used by companies that want to offset their emissions in order to improve their reputation or to meet internal sustainability goals. They are usually not regulated, and the quality and effectiveness of the carbon offset projects can vary. 

Compliance carbon markets 

Compliance carbon markets, on the other hand, are established by governments to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These markets typically operate under a cap-and-trade system, where a government establishes a limit, or cap, on the total amount of emissions that can be released by a group of companies, and then allows companies to buy and sell permits, or credits, that allow them to emit a certain amount of carbon. The most well-known compliance carbon markets are the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the United States. 

net zero and greenwashing

What kind of carbon offsetting is purchased with carbon credits? 

Carbon credits are used to purchase carbon offsetting in the form of verified emission reduction (VER) projects. These projects can include: 

  1. Renewable energy projects, such as wind or solar power, which reduce the need for fossil fuels and lower emissions. 
  1. Energy efficiency projects, such as upgrading equipment or facilities to make them more energy-efficient and reducing emissions. 
  1. Reforestation and afforestation projects, which help to absorb carbon from the atmosphere by planting trees. 
  1. Agricultural projects, such as changing farming methods, which can reduce methane emissions from livestock. 
  1. Industrial projects, such as capturing methane from landfills and using it as a source of energy. 
  1. Destruction of greenhouse gases such as HFCs, sulphur hexafluoride, and N2O. 

Emissions trading systems 

Emissions trading or carbon trading systems are market-based concepts that provide incentives for organisations to control their polluting activities. Ther are two approaches to this concept: the emissions trading systems (ETS) and the cap-and-trade system.  

The main difference between the two systems is in the way they are implemented and administered. Here are examples of international emissions trading markets: 


The European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is a mandatory system that applies to all member states of the European Union and covers around 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in the EU, as well as airlines flying in and out of the EU. The EU ETS sets a cap on total emissions and then allocates a certain number of permits to each company, which they can then buy and sell on the open market. 


The United Kingdom operates a UK Emissions Trading System (UK ETS) as part of its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.  

The UK ETS covers large industrial facilities such as power plants and factories, as well as aviation. Under the system, these facilities are given a certain amount of carbon allowances, which represent the right to emit a specific amount of carbon dioxide. If a facility emits more than its allotted carbon allowances, it must purchase additional allowances from other companies or from the government. On the other hand, if a facility emits less than its allotted allowances, it can sell its surplus allowances to other companies. The goal of the UK ETS is to provide a financial incentive for companies to reduce their carbon emissions and invest in clean energy. The UK ETS is linked with the EU ETS, allowing companies to buy and sell carbon allowances on a pan-European level. 

Cap and Trade Program 

The cap-and-trade system in the United States is voluntary and is currently used by several states, such as California and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) of the Northeastern states. These systems set a cap on emissions, then auction off the permits to emit to companies, and the revenues generated from the auction are used to support clean energy and other environmental programs. 

Risks related to carbon credits 

Carbon credits have been widely used as a mechanism to offset carbon emissions and fight against climate change, but they also have some drawbacks. Some of the main drawbacks of carbon credits include: 

  • Additionality: Additionality refers to the concept of whether the carbon credits represent emissions reductions that would not have occurred without the carbon credit project. Some carbon credit projects may not be additional, meaning that the emissions reductions would have occurred regardless of the project, thus the carbon credits do not represent real emissions reductions. 
  • Leakage: Leakage occurs when a carbon credit project reduces emissions in one area, but the emissions are displaced or “leak” to another area. This can happen when a carbon credit project reduces emissions in one location, but the emissions are simply shifted to another location, rather than being reduced. 
  • Monitoring and verification: The monitoring and verification process of carbon credits can be complex and costly, which can make it difficult to ensure that the carbon credits represent real emissions reductions. 
  • Lack of transparency: Carbon credit markets can be opaque and lack transparency, which can make it difficult for buyers to understand the quality and effectiveness of the carbon credits they are purchasing. 
  • Lack of standardisation: There is a lack of standardization in the carbon credit market, which can make it difficult for buyers to understand and compare the different types of carbon credits available. 
  • Greenwashing: Carbon offsetting may be seen as a way for companies to continue with their emissions-intensive activities without acting on reducing their footprint. Ensuring transparency and accountability is pivotal for avoiding greenwashing. 

Our stance on carbon credits and carbon offsetting 

Carbon credits and carbon offsetting cannot be absolute replacements for tangible efforts towards sustainability and minimising the environmental impact of a business operation. They must be viewed as the absolute last method of eliminating GHG emissions from business activities, after disclosing with transparency and confidence that such efforts are pursued. 

“When a company really works on the decarbonisation of its operations and does everything possible to reach net zero, there might be gaps that even though the improvements for the transitions will be very difficult to turn completely neutral,” says Fabiola Useche, Sustainability Consultant with ClearVUE.Business. “Carbon offsetting comes as last resort to reach net zero. When companies track, communicate, and disclose their strategies – including transparent offsetting justification and results – they can confidently move forward with their sustainability efforts without the risk of greenwashing.”   

In situations where total elimination of carbon emissions from a business operation is impossible, businesses should seek assistance in identifying accredited and recognised carbon offsetting schemes so that you can complete your journey to net zero emissions. 

“Transparency is key,” adds Mark Cilia, Sustainability Consultant for ClearVUE.Business. “If the company clearly indicates it is continuously doing all within its capabilities to reduce its GHG emissions and describes how it did so, then carbon credits and carbon offsets can be effective tools.” 

The most credible and productive way for a business to reduce its carbon footprint is by having all its carbon data at hand and reducing energy consumption and linked carbon emissions in their business. Partnering with expert sustainability consultants and utilising industry-leading energy and carbon management technology put business on a clear and achievable path to net zero.  

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