Counterbalancing environmental impacts

Counterbalancing environmental impacts

to Journal

Vital intern
on 25.05.22

As a result of prolonged increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases emissions (GHGs) connected to human activities such as deforestation, pollution, habitat degradation especially in coastal areas, initiatives to counterbalance this are becoming increasingly urgent and, in some cases, required.

Global net anthropogenic GHG emissions 1990-2019. Original Graph from IPCC AR6 WGIII

In order to outweigh environmental losses, the most favoured approach is the conservation and restoration of habitat biodiversity—the extent in which an ecosystem spans as well as the richness and abundance of species present in that space—also considering the relative value the ecosystem provides for the local community (i.e. fishing, water quality, eco-tourism…) or for alleviating global environmental change. Relevant examples of neutralising negative impact are wetland restoration, reforestation projects, local efforts towards species conservation, citizen participation projects in the form of micro-actions. The current challenge regarding counterbalancing efforts is the difficulty of maintaining rigorous metrics and indicators for clearly tracking a tangible reversal of environmental conditions. Certainly, we are witnessing global efforts to standardise methodologies to upscale restoration and conservation projects across their taxonomy.

Offsetting the carbon tonnage produced by productive activities through restoration efforts for wetlands, considering their measurable carbon storage capacity, is an example of a relevant counterbalancing option for businesses that want or need to be less impactful. Also, there has been a shift in mindset of investing in offsetting initiatives locally, rather than cheaper investments halfway across the world, far from the carbon emission source.

More and more the paradigm on re-establishing the beauty and health of our planet focuses less on merely diverting ownership of the solution internationally, but requires people and entities to become primary stakeholders and stewards in their own local environment first.

Also, there has been a shift in mindset of investing in offsetting initiatives locally

Offsetting measures can be looked at from two distinct perspectives: emission reduction and CO₂ removal efforts.

Reduction refers to the limiting emissions that are being added to the GHG concentrations through economic and policy regulations, advancements in technology, increases in efficiency and other factors. Removal on the other hand is much more focused on retrieval from the atmosphere and semi-permanent storage of GHGs. While carbon removal is greatly preferred for long term reversal of atmospheric carbon concentrations and thus for mitigating the current climate emergency, GHGs emissions reduction is still acutely necessary on a planetary scale to reach the current 2050 objective of net zero emissions.

Basically, entities that find ways to reduce or avoid the amount of their business-as-usual emissions, whether by increased efficiency or alternative production methods, need to offset less carbon. 

A 2022 research published in Science demonstrates that wetlands restoration activities, as in the case for the Vital project in the Venice lagoon aimed to recover the saltmarshes ecological functioning, are a fundamental approach to mitigate climate change at both short and long time scales. As a strategy to enable the return of ecosystem services, ecological restoration - even considering the major difficulty to achieve successful restoration - is the most urgent approach to transform carbon sources into carbon sinks, counterbalancing and offsetting negative environmental externalities linked to the current global economic system.

There is the need to foster overlap between ecosystem restoration, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction agendas to develop strategies at the national level able to reverse the so-called “The Great Acceleration” trend.