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05/12/2015 | Pressemitteilung

Controversial CO2 offsets protect the climate

Voluntary compensation payments for private CO2 emissions contribute to climate protection. This is the conclusion reached by scientists at the Universities of Kassel and Hamburg. They thus refute the widespread theory that this so-called CO2 offsetting is mere indulgence trading for climate sins, which could even have negative effects on the climate.

While saving energy and buying energy-efficient household appliances have long since become commonplace and are hardly questioned, voluntary compensation payments for self-inflictedCO2 emissions- for example to finance reforestation projects - are still not very widespread. Critics feared that suchCO2 offsets would lead to a "trade in indulgences" that could be misused as a justification for more climate-damaging consumption. Scientists at the Universities of Kassel and Hamburg have now found no confirmation of these fears on the basis of new studies. On the contrary: "CO2 offsetting is definitely not a trade in indulgences, but makes it possible to offset emissions that are difficult to avoid, which should lead to more climate protection overall," says the head of the Department of Empirical Economic Research at the University of Kassel, Prof. Andreas Ziegler.

As part of the "VolFair" research project led by Ziegler, two comparative empirical studies were conducted in the United States and Germany. The results showed in both countries that people with a high level of environmental awareness and people who feel good about climate protection measures are more likely to carry out such voluntary compensation measures.

Accordingly, the researchers found a positive correlation between voluntaryCO2 offsets and other climate protection activities: People who have already offsetCO2 emissions caused by them tend to engage in more climate-friendly consumption behavior in other areas as well. However, the research also shows that the possibility of compensation payments can trigger different reactions among certain consumer groups. "Especially when compensation measures are perceived as particularly effective or respondents are already doing a lot for climate protection, there is a tendency to reduce other climate protection activities," explains Andreas Lange, professor of economics at the University of Hamburg.

"Around one-third of Americans and Germans can imagine implementing offset payments in the future," Ziegler adds. However, he says, there is still a great deal of uncertainty and ignorance in both countries about the implementation and actual climate impact of such measures. "While the purchase of an energy-saving product can bring direct financial benefits to the consumer, the effects of offset payments are not immediately visible to the individual," says the Kassel-based economist. To establishCO2 offsets as an additional alternative for climate protection, information about their mechanism and their environmental impact would therefore be useful, he says.

The VolFair project coordinated by the University of Kassel will run until October 2015 and is part of the "Economics of Climate Change" funding priority initiated by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).  In addition to the University of Hamburg, cooperation partners include the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) Karlsruhe, the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) Mannheim and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich.


Links to the studies: 





Prof. Dr. Andreas Ziegler
University of Kassel
Department of Empirical Economic Research
Department of Economics
Phone: 0561/804-3038
E-mail: andreas.ziegler[at]uni-kassel[dot]de


Prof. Dr. Andreas Lange
University of Hamburg
Department of Finance
Department of Economics
Phone: 040/42838-4035
E-Mail: andreas.lange[at]wiso.uni-hamburg[dot]de