Understanding carbon offset technologies

Heather Lovell, Diana Liverman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


In this article we unpack the 'black box' of carbon offsetting through a critical examination of the technologies and techniques that create carbon credits. Drawing on empirical research of compliance (Clean Development Mechanism) and voluntary carbon offset markets, we highlight the diversity of technologies, techniques and devices involved in carbon offsetting, ranging from refrigerant plants to systems of calculation and audit. We suggest that polarised debates for and against offsetting do not adequately reflect the considerable variations between types of offset project and governance practices in the compliance and voluntary offset markets. Using conceptual insights from governmentality theory and science and technology studies we assess the tensions in making standard, fungible carbon credits. In conclusion, we suggest attention to the technologies and materiality of carbon offsetting allows a fresh perspective on somewhat entrenched debates about the advantages and disadvantages of offsetting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-273
Number of pages19
JournalNew Political Economy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Carbon offsetting
  • Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
  • Climate change
  • Governmentality
  • Offset technologies
  • Science and technology studies (STS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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