Most people want to do good and reduce their own carbon emissions when it comes to the climate emergency. Purchasing carbon credit offsets is therefore being aggressively marketed as a practical way for well-meaning individuals to do this. Investment managers, in particular, have recently been marketing sustainable and green portfolios to pension funds and conscious individual investors saving for retirement. At the same time, the push to divert billions of dollars into carbon credit markets has accompanied increased scrutiny and criticism.
Evidence is growing that carbon markets are poorly regulated, extremely inefficient, and very difficult for even the most sophisticated consumers to understand. In addition, it seems these credits are not exactly helping Indigenous communities by saving sacred rainforests or helping to plant millions of trees. So how do carbon credits work and where does the money actually go?
To answer this question, Desné Masie and Angus Chapman trace the path of a single carbon credit. They show the journey of a credit from a climate-conscious British pensioner selecting a green portfolio, through the City of London, to the UN in Switzerland, and finally to a rainforest in the Global South. On the way, they unravel the opaque mechanisms of carbon trading—the interests, institutions and transactions involved, and the impact it has on people on the ground. They explain how carbon trading works, step by well-intentioned step, to help consumers judge for themselves if it can really turn the climate crisis around.