Notes on "A Tale of Three Offset Programs: UN’s, CA’s, UC’s" By Dr. Barbara Haya

By Jasmine Pineda and Victoria Osio |
Riverside, Ca –

 Jasmine, I, and several of the Office of Sustainability's staff were in the audience of our guest speaker's lecture, here're our notes on the slides and points discussed on the third floor of the H.U.B by Dr. Barbara Haya. The Purpose of her lecture: to bring greater understanding to carbon offsets and a call for ideas! 

   Barbara Haya Ph.D is a research fellow for the California Institute for Energy and Environment at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Haya’s job is helping the University of California come up with strategy for offsetting carbon. 

Problems: UC created second generation offset program, designing third generation to tackle the first two.

UN’s offset program:

  • Industrialized countries have caps, non industrialized countries do not have caps. This means industrialized countries can create emissions in developing countries without being held accountable.
  • Industrialized countries: carbon credits/permits to emit, projects did not reduce emissions.
  • UN didn’t know which projects needed offsetting programs and which didn’t.

This was proved by providing financial analysis.

California drew from the voluntary market, defined categories of projects, and determined that any project is allowed to generate credits.

  • Categories for credits: US Forest protocol (80%), ozone depleting protocol (13%), urban forest protocol, livestock protocol, mine methane capture protocol, rice cultivation protocol (0 credits)
  • CA’s offset program is large: allows any emitter to purchase these programs, “business-as-usual scenario”, 621 million tons of reductions by 2025 and 134 million tons by 2030.
  • 621 MT-reductions needed statewide/maximum offsets use equals 22% of total state-wide reductions.
  • 236 MT -C&T program to achieve (38%) maximum offsets use equals 57% of total reduction expected from C&T program.

Challenges to developing offset protocols:

  • Additionality: (crediting reductions that happened that weren't caused by the program) (ex: livestock protocol) livestock digester construction in the US, over crediting is one of the issues.
  • Perverse incentives: (creating incentives that increase emissions) mine methane capture protocol: covers methane capture from three types of mines (active underground, abandoned underground, and ____). Increase profits to coal mines. Weaken government regulation: incentivizing methane capture or requiring it.
  • If they require it, it cannot be additional. We would be weakening regulation.
  • Leakage: (displacing rather than reducing emissions).
  • California can reduce over crediting risk by: performing additionally assessments, monitoring perverse incentives and excluding project types at high risk, updating leakage accounting methods, applying ARB’s conservativeness principle.
  • Uncertainty is inherit to offsets because offsets pay for reductions instead of charge for emissions. Offsets are more akin to paying into an incentive program than a form of carbon pricing. We’re allowing them to pay into a program with a hard to measure consequence.

UC’s offset program: we’re creating future climate litigation technology. How can we align our offset program with the strengths of the university? UC’s carbon neutrality initiative: 2025 net zero emission in scope 1 (buildings and fleet) and scope 2 (electricity).

  • 2050 or sooner: carbon neutral from scope 3 (commuting and business air travel.
  • 2020: reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels in scopes 1,2, and 3 matching the state’s target.
  • Investing in energy efficiency, 100% renewable by 2025, natural gas infrastructure challenge.
  • Help figure out offset strategy, how can we align our research and education? 

UC’s approach

  • Voluntary market offsets (research on outcomes of several project types, create methods for due diligence assessment of individual offset projects, compile set of well-vetted projects and  project types).
  • UC-initiated offset projects (release RFI UC-wide), build portfolio of potential UC-initiated offset projects, awards up to $70,000
  • Develop a menu of options and make tradeoffs explicit to campus decision-makers
  • Working with representative from other campuses to overlook projects
  • Offset evaluation criteria list: low cost, high quality, aligned with UC’s mission (education, research, public service (social justice, health, advance scalable climate solutions, benefit or resonate with UC community and communities surrounding the campuses, low risk of harm))

RFI website:


1. We are limited on what we can do in terms of off-sets, why cant we do more offsets?

Answer: "Offsets are limited to a certain number of emissions, currently can only account for 8% of our emission, dropped to 4%, and then rose to 6%. It’s a fifth of the total reductions we need to make in California, biggest part of our global warming law, 4% was estimated and then doubled after negotiations." 

2. Additionality: tough problem to solve, biggest problem is that offsets are going to large corporations with the means to do something anyway.

Brian: calculates carbon footprint to then donate to poorer families to help with reducing their carbon footprint ($120 a ton), do it because it is painful.

Answer: "collecting money and investing into programs that go to disadvantaged communities, allow prices to rise in the cap and trade program and then take the funds and apply them to programs." 

Transportation is largest contributor to emissions, prices can have an effect

3.  The idea of 4% to 8% is to reduce as much carbon as we can at UCR and then operate, let’s say in the next 4 years we reduce emissions to 22%, is the offset 22% or 8%?

Answer: We took on a commitment of being in a voluntary market, we do not have any limit.

4. Are we going to have an Initiative where individuals can offset their own emissions through the UC system?

Answer: If we get enough projects, maybe we can use them to expand a program where individuals can focus on their own offsets.

Flights: charging a certain amount for flights which is then directed into different projects.

5. We voluntary want to go to 0 emissions, California only wants to reduce emissions by 6%?

California: across all of the emitters, we are committed to reducing our emission to 621 MT by 2025, and 134 MT by 2030.

Answer: California programs covered by cap and trade can only by 6%-*% reduce their emissions by carbon offsets …

Combatting perverse incentives: be aware of coal mine methane, roll back protocol, being careful about project types, be aware of how they can happen.