Your Questions Answered

Your Questions Answered

What are carbon offsets?

A carbon offset is a mechanism for organisations and individuals to use to compensate for their unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions by subsidising the reduction activities of others. The key criterion for an offset is that this greenhouse gas reduction is additional to "business-as-usual" activity.

What is a voluntary carbon offset?


There are two types of carbon offset markets:

1. The regulated compliance market, which is linked to the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol and to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. These accredited carbon offsets can be traded and used to offset legally binding targets.

2. The voluntary carbon offset market, which is not bound by regulation and allows individuals and organizations to participate voluntarily in offsetting their emissions. PopOffsets is currently a voluntary offset scheme, but we are working to receive accreditation.

Are there any standards for voluntary offset schemes?

There are many standards now operating in the voluntary offset market that have different criteria, although most are based on the Kyoto Protocol. With no common standard for comparison it is difficult to assess their efficiency and efficacy.

As an individual, should I offset my emissions with PopOffsets or should I concentrate on reducing my own emissions?

It's not "either-or" — we encourage you to do both. Offsetting should be considered complementary to reducing your emissions by adopting a greener lifestyle. Offsetting provides a way to balance those emissions that you cannot eliminate.

Man riding a bicycle

There are many websites that provide tips on reducing your emissions — just search for "reduce my carbon footprint". Most ignore the solution of having a small family.

Is PopOffsets failing to address our need to reduce overconsumption? Does PopOffsets just give people a licence to carry on driving gas-guzzlers and not bother to insulate their homes and businesses?

Offsetting is not a valid alternative to reducing one's carbon emissions, which should always be the priority. Offsetting sits alongside reducing one's emissions as a contribution to limiting climate change. Slowing population growth is only one of a number of things that we must do. Others include improving resource and energy use efficiency, and reducing waste, inequality and personal consumption.

Since most greenhouse gas emissions are in rich countries, the populations of which are fairly stable, isn't reducing per-person emissions far more important than family planning?

We do need to reduce per capita consumption in wealthier communities. Slowing population growth is not an alternative — the two are complementary. People in wealthier communities should have smaller families and reduce consumption. We can help people in poorer communities, who have a right to improved living standards (that will inevitably lead to increased greenhouse gases), to avoid unplanned pregnancies and thus reduce future sustainability-related problems.

Isn't this the rich dictating to the poor i.e. developed nations wanting to hold back the progress of developing nations?

No. We believe that inequality should be reduced, poverty should be alleviated and developing nations should be supported in their development. However, many developing nations are held back by high population growth and the effects of climate change. By helping people to avoid unplanned pregnancies in both developed and developing countries, we are making it easier for developing countries to progress.

I do not believe that we have the right to control other people's lives — what is PopOffsets' ethical standpoint on this? After all, don't people in poor situations where child mortality is high need large families to compensate?

Woman visiting a gynecologist

We do not have the right to control others’ lives. We seek to allow people to decide for themselves how many children to have.

Some poorer people desire large families. However, as population numbers increase and the availability of fertile land and potable water decreases, this is becoming less true. Instead, increasingly people would rather have fewer children.

I support family planning, education and women's empowerment, but not abortion. Can I specify how money I donate is used?

The PopOffsets project does not direct funding towards abortion services. We direct funding towards contraceptive services and supplies; sex and relationships education; and family planning advice.

Can you know for sure that this is actually reducing carbon emissions? Isn't it all just guesswork?

An absent human being — an avoided birth — cannot produce carbon dioxode — nor can nonexistent descendants. The simplicity of this logic takes away all guesswork. However, more work on quantifying emission reductions is needed, as per-capita emissions vary widely across communities and change over time.


The increase in greenhouse gas emissions, like most other environmental impacts, is directly linked to the growth of industrial society, consumerism and population. This is the classic "I=PAT" function (Impact = Population x Affluence (Consumption) x Technology).

The logic is simple: a human population no longer growing and making better use of the Earth's resources through "greener" technologies and lifestyles is the only path to a healthy, sustainable planet.

What's the anticipated lifespan of the project? Is there an optimum population?

The project will grow as more and more people recognize that tackling population growth is key to addressing emissions. Our collective footprint currently is 30 per cent greater than is sustainable.

Assuming the global biocapacity and average footprint remain stable, the world population needs to contract to about 5.5 billion. In other words, humanity is already overshooting the total population for whom the Earth can provide.

Developed countries can reduce consumption and wasted energy and resources, lessen meat consumption and adopt "greener" technologies. However, developing countries' footprints will increase as their economies grow.


For a modest world footprint of 3.3 global hectares per capita — an increase in the average footprint, which of course is essential if poor countries are to develop — the sustainable population is 3.6 billion, and if we allow a 20 per cent margin for biodiversity and loss of biocapacity then the sustainable population is three billion!

How are the funds distributed? Where does my money go?

A committee assesses applications and approves funding. Many organizations already provide contraceptives — improving distribution and encouraging use are examples of how your money might be spent. This helps to meet the needs of the 225 million women who wish to delay or avoid pregnancy and are not using modern contraception.

Why should my company use PopOffsets rather than some other scheme?

Many companies choose to offset their carbon emissions to meet corporate social responsibilities. We recognize that convincing companies to use PopOffsets carbon offsets requires the organizations to be objective, visionary and innovative — not least because of the many taboos surrounding the issue of population growth. Conventionally, the business world is based upon the principle of growth through greater sales to more and more people. We believe that more forward-looking companies — organizations that can look beyond simple economics to the biology and beauty of a finite Earth — will choose PopOffsets.

Since the world's poor emit so much less greenhouse gas than the developed world, isn't family planning too late and almost irrelevant?


We must not expect poor people to remain poor. They have every right to improve their standard of living. This will result in greater greenhouse gas emissions.

Deforestation, which greatly contributes to global warming, largely results from population pressure — this includes poor people who must clear forests for agriculture.

The United Nations projects a 40 per cent increase in human numbers by 2085 — this is something that we can influence.

Isn't this just blaming the victims for climate change?

No. The priority remains for rich individuals to reduce their emissions. However, the poor rightly aspire to improve their living standards. All population growth increases total emissions, especially as developing countries industrialise.

Family planning in developing countries will help them increase their standard of living; the lack of family planning is likely to leave them poor. There are more people living in poverty now than the total number of people on Earth only 60 years ago. We want children everywhere to grow up healthy and happy — not starving and illiterate as so many are now.