De-risking Net-Zero through Offset Insurance: A Proposal

Authors: Injy Johnstone (University of Oxford)
Presenter: Injy Johnstone (University of Oxford)
Abstract: Trust in offsets–and the entities that depend on them to make Net-Zero claims– is at an all-time low. Many offsets currently available on the voluntary carbon market have limited monitoring, reporting and verification procedures and, consequently, low to no environmental integrity. Yet few companies can afford to invest wholly in permanent removal-based offsets, despite this being best practice. To combat these issues, this paper proposes a novel ‘Offset Insurance Product’ (OIP). An OIP provides a stop-gap measure for Net-Zero claims, with a claim only being necessary should offsets not have covered residual emissions the year in question. In this situation, insurance is a useful tool given that permanent removal options cost significantly more but are the only way to verify that emissions removals (and consequent greenhouse gas effect) are neutralised in the near term. When insurers calculate the premium to be charged for an OIP, they factor in a company’s track record delivery on their Net-Zero plans, including the types of offsets they use to remove unavoidable emissions and the extent to which they build a buffer in the form of additional removals to make up for any risk of non-permanence. An OIP could reshape the risks and incentives actors face in the offsetting sector, enhancing the due diligence performed on offsetting projects and attracting more investment in removal based offsets in tandem. As re/insurers face significant losses caused and aggravated by climate change, they have a rational incentive to address it. The opportunity for value creation through an OIP has the potential to increase incentivisation even further. Governments, too, are pressed for ways to stimulate the alignment of financial flows with the Paris Agreement and achieve Net-Zero. As a result, an OIP stands to be a win on multiple fronts: insurers get to lessen their Scope 3 emissions and create stability for the permanent removals industry, companies are incentivised to reduce emissions, select high-quality credits and where they fail despite their best efforts, they have a safeguard against legal risks; developers of permanent removals get a degree of certainty in the near term supply, enabling them to scale operations; and finally regulators and the general public can have added surety on the feasibility of the ‘Net’ in Net-Zero. In these ways, OIP offers an example of the innovation needed for the industry to respond to both the environmental threat and economic opportunity climate change presents.
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