What Carbon Offsets Are

GHG offsets or carbon offsets are the reduction or sequestration of carbon dioxide or other GHG emissions outside of Duke's immediate GHG footprint. In order to ensure that the offsets purchased or developed by the DCOI truly represent actual sequestration or emissions reductions that can be counted toward Duke's neutrality goal, the DCOI requires that all offsets be real, measurable, verifiable, and additional.

Real means that a project can demonstrate that emissions reduction or sequestration has taken place.

Measurable means that the project can quantify the GHG benefits of emissions reductions or sequestration.

Verifiable means that the emissions reduction or sequestration claims made by the project can be confirmed by a third party.

Additional means that the project results in emission reductions or sequestration are in addition to what would have happened without the offset project. In other words, the emission reductions or sequestration are above and beyond a business-as-usual scenario.

Some offsets projects-especially projects involving sequestration of carbon in trees or the soil-must also address the issues of leakage and permanence. Leakage refers to instances in which GHG emissions that are reduced by some offset projects are merely displaced to other locations. For example if land is taken out of agricultural production to plant trees as part of an offsets project, this may induce other forestland elsewhere to be cleared for agriculture, reducing or negating any overall GHG benefits. Permanence refers to the susceptibility of sequestration projects (i.e., projects that lock carbon away) to a catastrophic loss of stored carbon through fire, drought, pest infestation, or other event.

In order to address these issues, the projects developed by the DCOI and the projects from which the DCOI purchases offsets are carefully evaluated to ensure that they adhere to peer-reviewed protocols or methodologies, with specific rules concerning additionality, carbon quantification, verification, permanence, and accounting for leakage. For new project types that do not yet have an established protocol, the DCOI works with experts at the University to develop its own standards.

Lastly, Duke University has placed additional requirements on the projects developed by the DCOI. These requirements relate to the proximity and nexus to Duke, North Carolina and the Southeast; the opportunities the projects provide for research; and the environmental, economic, and social co-benefits achieved by the projects.

For more resources regarding carbon offsets click here.