Project Details

Palo Alto purchases Carbon offset from Sister City of Oaxaca

Short Description and Goal

City of Palo Alto entered into an agreement to purchase carbon offsets from a forestry project within its sister city, Oaxaca, Mexico, to offset carbon dioxide emissions associated with natural gas use in the Palo Alto community. The agreement is part of the City’s Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Plan with goals to reduce overall community greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in an effort to combat climate change.

Detailed Description

Integrative Organization of Oaxaca Indigenous and Agricultural Communities (ICICO), NGO established in 2012 with the objective to commercialize ecosystem services on behalf of 12 indigenous and agricultural communities near Oaxaca, Mexico, one of Palo Alto’s sister cities. Since then it manages a forestry project that has produced high-quality carbon offsets.

Beforehand, The Palo Alto city council was buying offsets around the United States. In December 2016, Council adopted Resolution 9649 approving a Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Plan to achieve carbon neutrality for the gas supply portfolio by 2018 using high-quality carbon offsets. Forestry projects are one of 6 project types approved for use by the City’s program (Staff Report 7533Thanks to the “Neighbours Abroad” organization, they found out about the ICICO project. Overwhelming similarities in the US and Mexican carbon offset legislation laid the deal’s foundation.

ICICO develops projects in High Biological Value Zones. Local flora and fauna are listed in the Mexican Endangered Species List and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The environmental projects have made local residents more aware of the health benefits of a well-maintained ecosystem and have provided opportunities for all community members to become involved, including women and youth. Revenue from the sale of carbon offsets through ICICO’s program has funded fire protection, tree care, freshwater spring recharge, and transportation and equipment for local schools.

Palo Alto’s purchase of 17,000 tons CO2e at $8 per ton CO2e, or in an amount equal to $136,000 investment is supporting conservation and restoration activities within 5,900 acres of native forest. The carbon offsets contemplated in the proposed agreement are from a forestry project in San Juan Lachao, Oaxaca.

Details of the purchase can be found in the city council resolution

Neighbors Abroad of Palo Alto show how sister cities can engage around sustainability. Carbon offsite purchase marked a sustainability agreement between a ‘developed’ region and a ‘developing’ region, changing the perception of sustainability as only a first-world issue.”

Neighbors Abroad believe that partnership with their sister city on this carbon offsets project provided mutual benefits for climate protection and economic vitality. This is an excellent example of how environmental, social, and economic issues can positively intersect when twinning/sister cities collaborate with one another.”

While proponents view high-quality offsets as a way to support carbon-fighting projects, critics say they are merely a license to pollute. When you buy an offset, you are paying someone to cut her emissions so you don’t have to. But it’s different with Palo Alto.

Palo Alto’s municipally-owned utility has been providing 100 percent carbon neutral electricity since 2013, which has been a major stride in reducing GHG from energy use. The other major sources of GHG come from natural gas use, vehicular transportation and buildings. In order to tackle the energy factor, the City adopted a Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Plan in 2016. Unlike electricity, which can be generated from carbon free resources, natural gas is a fossil fuel, and the City purchases offsets as a short-term strategy to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use. Palo Alto is also continuing to pursue a longer-term goal of reducing natural gas emissions through energy efficiency and electrification of natural gas appliances in buildings.

For more details on Neighbors Abroad of Palo Alto involvement in the project check press release.

Learn more about the carbon offsets:

Resources This Project Needed



Check legislation for Carbon offset emissions in your country and the country of your twinning city.

Initiated by

  • Neighbors Abroad
  • Palo Alto City Council
  • Integrative Organization of Oaxaca Indigenous and Agricultural Communities

Initiators are

• Public institution

Funded by

• Foundations

Project Website(s)

Project Topics

Environment, Climate & Energy, Sustainable development

Level / Project Complexity /


Participating Cities

  • Palo Alto
  • Oaxaca

Sizes of Participating Cities

• 20.000 - 100.000
• 500.000 - 1,5 Mio

Participating Countries

  • USA
  • Mexico

Project Region(s)

• Latin America & the Caribbean
• North America

Media Credits

Cover picture from Flicker by Nick Humphries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.