Climate change experts such as a 2008 report by the Global Carbon Project
, suggest that carbon offsetting can contribute towards climate change mitigation. However these experts are taking a pragmatic approach to mitigation in the hope that this will result in some emissions reductions that may lessen the impacts and may put us on the way slowly towards a zero carbon world.
We are on the very brink of planetary catastrophe - it is far too late for slow improvement.
This approach is the personal voluntary one of small incremental steps towards less emissions. It is too late for this approach and for 25 years the growing environmental organizations and governments have been promoting and educating this personal lifestyle change approach. It has made no difference. Emissions are higher and increasing faster than ever.
To meet the scientific zero carbon requirements we must make radical revolutionary changes in national economies through radical revolutionary political changes. Leading institutions and organizations must lobby for these true zero carbon changes.
The way these terms are being used is very misleading. The only real carbon neutral or net zero is scientific virtual zero + negative carbon.
These terms are both used to mean the same thing.
It is impossible to get anywhere near zero carbon with this approach.
Carbon neutral or net zero carbon emissions is being understood to refer to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 'balancing' a certain measured amount of carbon released with an amount of carbon offsets. This assumes that land use change can be designed to take CO2 out of the carbon cycle. Buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference is even treated as a way to carbon neutral.
This is dangerously misleading. There is no such thing as offsetting carbon emissions over the long term. Radical emergency climate change mitigation now is essential when we look at the fact that today's emissions cause more global warming that will last thousands of years.
The terrestrial carbon cycle recycles land based carbon. While tree planting is highly desirable for environmental benefits it cannot remove carbon from the carbon cycle. The young trees will take up CO2 by photosynthesis from the air as they grow, and will return it to the atmosphere as they shed leaves, decay and die in decades or centuries. Also tree planting itself disturbs the forest floor releasing large amounts of CO2. Our tree planting reforestation practices tends to make artificial forests more vulnerable to spreading forest fires.