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Earlier this week, Bloomberg wrote that the EU carbon offset market “is heading for its worst start to a year since 2016 as a rapid expansion in renewables lowers the need for fossil fuels”:

“The recent plunge in carbon prices is linked to a number of factors, including above-average renewables generation and a protracted industrial slowdown… Europe has installed a soaring number of solar panels in recent years as consumers turn to the cheap and quick-to-install electricity source to limit exposure to high power prices.

‘The level of fossil power generation has been lower than expected especially because we had quite a good renewables year,’ said Marcus Ferdinand, chief of analytics at Oslo-based Veyt…

‘The two big things out of last year are the massive switch to increasing renewable generation and also the lack of any real rebound in industrial emissions,’ said Tim Atkinson, director of sales and structuring at CFP Energy.”

This is good news for actual emissions reductions progress, but not so good news for the hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at carbon offset projects in recent years. Two years ago, I warned:

“If a practical transition structure gets legs, offsets may be less valuable than anticipated – and sooner. Potential buyers could achieve their own physical emissions reductions rather than purchasing offsets – especially those that are more controversial approaches like nature-based offsets. It is possible the hundreds of millions in capital being put toward offset mechanisms right now are more at risk than is apparent. Moody’s issued a new report indicating that indeed some sectors have made low carbon achievements more quickly than expected, and others are poised to do so – posing a threat of more rapid reduced demand and value of offsets – especially those of low and questionable quality. If technology rapidly develops that reduces the need to purchase offsets, supply of offsets will exceed demand (and value will decline accordingly) sooner than expected.”

Carbon offsets can’t hide from good ol’ market dynamics. This is good news for companies that would otherwise buy credits/offsets in that real emissions reductions and avoidance are possible and cost effective (perhaps especially so for Scope 2) while avoiding risks associated with offsets. Yet the price drop could also trigger a buying spree. Offset project investors have a lot to consider.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile