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Carbon offset is the act of paying someone else for reducing (“offsetting”) their greenhouse gas emissions, when an individual or organization is unable or unwilling to reduce their own emissions.

Carbon offsets are not a green light for business as usual, or a license to pollute. They are a measure that can lessen the impact of our current way of life on the environment, but do not take away from the urgency of developing long-term, sustainable solutions to the global climate crisis.

A “carbon offset” occurs when an individual or organization emits a given amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) but invests in measures that will pull the equivalent volume of GHG out of the atmosphere or prevent other emissions from taking place at all. It means less carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than would otherwise occur. Carbon offsets are typically measured in tons of CO2-equivalents (or ‘CO2e’) and are bought and sold through a number of international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms.

It’s important to ensure that any offset provider is reputable and meets a high standard of accountability.

Many types of activities can generate carbon offsets. Renewable energy such as wind farms, or installations of solar, small hydro, geothermal, and biomass energy can all create carbon offsets by displacing fossil fuels. Other types of offsets available for sale on the market include those resulting from energy efficiency projects, methane capture from landfills or livestock, destruction of potent greenhouse gases such as halocarbons, and carbon sequestration projects (such as reforestation) that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Adapted from: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/Climate_Change/What_You_Can_Do/carbon_offsets.asp