Achieving carbon-neutral development through offsetting

4 April 2019

Local carbon offsetting projects (e.g. energy efficiency programmes and renewable energy installations) funded by developers are a viable way for new developments to achieve carbon neutrality.

This is the conclusion of a report by CSE written for the four West of England authorities – Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset.

The report was commissioned in response to an earlier study for the West of England Joint Spatial Plan by Currie & Brown in which the authors persuasively argued that zero carbon development – which the Plan aspires to – cannot be achieved on-site through specifications to the building fabric and the incorporation of renewable energy. Instead, they said, for  developments to be carbon neutral, some off-site carbon abatement is required through a carbon offset scheme.

Dan Stone was lead author on CSE's report. "Our research sets out how a carbon offset regime could operate," he said. "It looks at the risks and benefits of using carbon offsetting, the price that developers should be charged per tonne of carbon to achieve carbon abatement offsite, the type of measures that might be eligible, and how a carbon offset fund might be managed."

Carbon offsets operate within a council's planning policy and require a reduction in carbon emissions beyond that specified by Building Regulations. The offset payments fund carbon saving projects elsewhere – e.g. a programme of insulation to existing council buildings – to make up for the carbon savings not achieved within developments. Carbon offsets are collected through “Section 106” legal agreements attached to planning consents, and off-site carbon abatement is assumed to take place over a 30-year period.

Dan continued. "Our report concludes that carbon offsetting is possible within current planning legislation and guidance. It has been used successfully elsewhere and can enable innovation, and it appears feasible given the institutional capacities of the West of England authorities. The primary risk is in setting the carbon price too low or high. Getting this wrong can have unintended outcomes for example downgrading the carbon savings achieved on site through building design, dampening delivery or increasing housing costs. 

"Overall however, we consider that the advantages of having a carbon offset policy to achieve off-site carbon abatement substantially outweigh the disadvantages; it has the potential to increase overall carbon savings beyond what would be achieved without it."

Photo: (Mick Baker)rooster

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