Greenhouse gas emissions reduction is of prime importance. But what if the reduction is impossible?

Let's assume that there exists a food transportation company that negatively impacts the climate. Its activity results in numerous kilometres driven yearly and many litres of fuel burned. On top of that, it is expanding its operations continuously, delivering food to a growing number of stores and employing new drivers.

3 min read


Szymon Bujalski

Freelance journalist writing about the environment and climate change. He runs the popular Dziennikarz dla klimatu (Journalist for climate) profiles on Facebook and Instagram.

Systemic changes are the most important. The key is to accelerate the development of innovation and the implementation of new technologies. Such a development requires suitable policies from governments and businesses.

However, the company has no intention to harm the climate. Understanding its environmental impact, it introduced a policy that reduced fuel waste, invested in solar photovoltaics on its buildings and opted for other, more minor changes. Yet still, the company faces the most critical problem, i.e., it uses trucks powered by fossil fuels. Green trucks are costly, meaning it will take years until the company can afford to replace its fleet with low-emission vehicles and power them exclusively with clean energy sources.

Greenhouse gas emissions reduction – so, now what?

Systemic changes are the most important. The key is to accelerate the development of innovation and the implementation of new technologies. Such a development requires suitable policies from governments and businesses. People must take care of the climate comprehensively, facilitating everyone’s activities towards it. A change, however, even in such a situation, takes time – the time companies do not have as their activities are ongoing, causing emissions here and now. Moreover, some companies are not big enough to financially support the development of new technologies immediately and do only as much as possible on their own.

Offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from the activities of a company, an individual, or a country can change that. Offsetting means purchasing so-called carbon credits that help implement projects aimed at climate protection. One carbon credit corresponds to one ton of CO₂ absorbed or one ton of CO₂ avoided.

In other words, if the beforementioned transportation company can’t transition to low-emission trucks today, they can buy carbon credits from another company. If we agree that transporting food generates 1,000 tons of CO₂ in a year, then by purchasing 1,000 carbon credits, this company will offset its negative climate impact.

While in theory, everything seems simple, in practice, this theory doesn’t always work. Why?

Problems with offsetting

The idea behind carbon credits is to support green activities that would not have been undertaken without the money obtained that way. In the beginning, it helped, for example, with developing renewable energy sources and introducing windmills and photovoltaic panels on a broader scale. Today, however, these technologies are much cheaper than at the beginning of the century and have become profitable. Thus, if someone invests in RES, it is often not because they get money from carbon credits to do so but because it is a good business. In other words, the carbon credit doesn’t change anything: more wind or photovoltaic farms would have been built anyway. Therefore, offsetting has not taken place.

The same applies to utilizing nature for offsetting. Frequently, it happens that companies pay the owner of some land to preserve the trees that grow there. But there are examples indicating that cutting down trees was never even planned because the area in question was, for instance, under official protection anyway.

One other consideration is the cost of such a carbon credit. In most cases, offsetting a ton of CO₂ emissions ranges from $1-5. Thus, these are “junk” carbon credits that in no way offset the social cost of emitting a ton of carbon dioxide.

That’s not the end of the problems. Many companies offset their emissions not because they cannot reduce them but because they do not want to. Various companies, such as oil companies and airlines, prefer to hide behind carbon credits instead of accelerating the transition to clean energy sources or alternative fuels. Quite the opposite, some major corporations actually want to increase greenhouse gas emissions because, as they explain, they will offset this by planting millions of trees.

Let’s call a spade a spade – this is a distortion of reality and greenwashing in its pure form. It undermines the importance and goal of offsetting emissions, which to some extent, is a necessary step in humanity’s pursuit of climate neutrality.

We founded TerGo to change that and revolutionize the world of carbon credits so that they stop being part of the problem and actually become part of the solution.