Written by Connie Yoon

In an ideal world, the efforts for sustainability exerted by the UC system would bring about immediately impactful results at a sufficient rate to reach Carbon Neutrality by 2025. However, the reality is that 2025 is less than five years away; completely reducing direct carbon emissions to net-zero is a difficult feat. While the UC system is prioritizing direct reductions to achieve its carbon neutrality initiative, it is likely that most campuses will need to buy some offsets at least as a transitional strategy. 

Carbon offsets allow an institution or individual to meet their emissions reduction target by paying for emissions to be reduced elsewhere, leading to a net decrease in carbon emissions. Each offset is a credit that represents one metric ton of CO2—or an equivalent—reduction. Some examples of offset projects include forest conservation, renewable energy, and landfill gas methane capture. Institutions can procure offset credits on a voluntary market, however the quality of offset credits available varies considerably. Sometimes, the projects carried out through offset purchases either do not represent real emissions reductions, or can cause unintended harmful effects in other communities. 

This is why the UC system is working to establish UC specific standards for offsets. This will help ensure that our offset investments result in real emission reductions that meet our climate goals and reflect our commitments to environmental and social justice. 

Our campus is currently seeking stakeholder feedback on draft Systemwide Offset Policy and UC Santa Barbara Sustainability is holding a virtual townhall on Wednesday, November 4th at 10:00 AM to gather feedback from as many stakeholders as possible. Dr. Barbara Haya, a research fellow for the California Institute for Energy and Environment at UC Berkeley, will be presenting at the townhall meeting. Dr. Haya is helping the UC system develop its strategy for procuring carbon offsets for use towards meeting the system’s carbon reduction and neutrality goals. The event will be held at this link: https://ucsb.zoom.us/j/86474438523.

Beyond just ensuring high quality offset investments, the proposed policy and the Carbon Neutrality Initiative aim to promote UC-initiated offset projects. To promote the University missions of teaching, research, and service, UC researchers are working diligently on their own projects for carbon emission reduction at UC campuses. These particular offsets create an opportunity for people to invest in UCSB research. Already, faculty, staff, and researchers have received funding for their offset projects through the Carbon Neutrality Initiative. 

Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellow Simran Kaur is one of the dedicated people working on UC-initiated offset projects. She says:

“My work focuses on developing and implementing local carbon offset projects. I collaborate with faculty/researchers, nonprofits, businesses, and student groups to create projects that will bring our communities closer to carbon neutrality. Two of the projects that I am currently working on focus on producing carbon offsets in the agricultural sector. One project revolves around using the methane produced by pig waste to power heat lamps. I am working with the UCSB chapter of Engineers Without Borders to conduct research and design this project. The other project focuses on integrating trees into grazing land to create what is called a "silvopasture." Silvopastures increase the land's capacity for carbon sequestration and provide a variety of other agricultural and economic co-benefits.”

Pilot projects like Simran’s help unveil insights about developing local carbon offsets while making strides to bring UC Santa Barbara’s community closer to carbon neutrality.

Making changes to old, deep-seeded habits is never an easy task. The UC system is extremely dedicated to actively working to reduce its impact on the planet and breaking out of its past practices. 

To give input on the draft offset policy, email Jewel Persad at jewel.persad@ucsb.edu by November 19, 2020. 

Hear more about the draft policy at UCSB Sustainability’s Virtual Townhall on November 4, 2020 at 10:00 AM through Zoom.