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DECC to close carbon offset accreditation scheme

Louise Bateman
23rd May 2011
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is to end the Government’s carbon offsetting Quality Assurance Scheme (QAS) from next month.
DECC revealed it was closing QAS in a letter to carbon offset retailers on Friday, citing "disappointingly low" take-up of the scheme as the main reason for the closure.

"From 30 June 2011, DECC will no longer fund the operation of the QAS for carbon offsetting," said a DECC spokersperson. "Since it launched, take-up of the QAS has been disappointingly low and DECC has been required to part-fund the scheme over the past year despite it being designed as self-financing. The carbon market has moved on substantially since the introduction of the QAS and we now believe it is for the market to set best practice for carbon offsetting."

Low take-up
The QAS launched in 2009 to give consumers and businesses an easy way to identify quality offsets, based on an accurate emission calculations and internationally approved emissions reductions credits. It has been assessed and approved by international sustainability consultancy, AEA Group. 

However, the scheme, which was under review, has to date only attracted four carbon offset retailers to join it. It has also accredited offsets from handful of businesses, namely airlines British Airways and TAP Portugal and  the International Air Transport Association. Energy company E.ON also uses the scheme.

Despite the low take up, however, those that have signed up to the scheme say it has helped tackle flaws in the carbon offsetting system and, uniquely, is the only third party standard that ensures credits have been 'retired’ or cancelled, rather than just accrediting the offset method used.

Blow to retailers
Carbon Retirement, one of the retailers that has been accredited by QAS, described the announcement as "a real blow".

"The Quality Assurance Scheme is a guiding light for consumers in an incredibly crowded marketplace. With 18 separately run voluntary standards, and the risks in the offset market around lack of transparency and environmental effectiveness, the Quality Assurance Scheme had the potential to cut through the noise,’ said Jane Burston, founder of Carbon Retirement, which offsets by removing pollution allowances from the European Union Emissions Trading System.

Burston blamed poor publicity of the scheme as a reason for the "disappointingly low take up" of QAS. 

"The scheme was designed to be self-sustaining but has had very little public exposure since launch. It’s disappointing that DECC has decided to cancel the scheme, instead of increasing its visibility and making the high-quality offsets it represents more accessible." 

Limited resources

While the official version for the closure of the QAS, is low take-up of the scheme, it appears to have partly been precipitated by general cutbacks in DECC’s delivery programme. In its letter to companies accredited by the scheme on Friday, DECC cited the need "to align limited resources with departmental priorities" as one reason for the closure. Last week, DECC also announced it would be ending core funding to the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust from next April, because of the "need to further prioritise public expenditure".

Despite an ongoing review into QAS, Burston told GreenWise the news of its closure was unexpected. "We knew the quality assurance scheme was under a general review but we thought it was about what kind of offsets would be covered, so it has come at huge surprise," she said.

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DECC to close carbon offset accreditation scheme
The Government is closing its carbon offsetting Quality Assurance Scheme
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