Sunday, March 28, 2010

What are the alternatives to carbon offset / carbon neutralise emissions?

In our last blog “What’s in a carbon offset” we looked at the value of neutralising carbon emissions. We concluded that more and more people are using carbon offsetting, believeing that it will reduce carbon emissions. But the question still remains, does a carbon offset really help to reduce carbon emissions. The fact is, the degree of success depends on the type of credit used. Let’s look at the types of credits available.

Basically there are three types of carbon credits used to offset carbon emissions. For the sake of this blog I am going to refer to them as Tree Credits, Renewable Energy Credits and Carbon Emissions Credits. Though technically speaking when most people think of offsets they are referring to Tree Credits and Renewable Energy Credits. Carbon Emissions Credits offer a powerful and effective alternative because they can be used to actually reduce carbon emissions. But more about that soon, for the moment let’s look at the three options:

Tree Carbon Offsets1. Tree Credits. These credits are generally made from growing forests or stopping forests being cut down. The trees sequester (suck) the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Now, while we love trees and always need more of them there are issues with using them as carbon credits. The band Cold Play found this out recently when their efforts to neutralise their concerts backfired. Their credits were based on mangrove plantations. The mangroves died.

The issues also include the centuries-long management processes required to ensure the trees live healthily. As a purchaser it is difficult to police how the money spent and whether the trees actually survive long enough to suck up the carbon dioxide you paid for. But most of all, it is reactive. It deals with the carbon emissions after they have occurred rather than stopping them from ever occurring.

The reality is we already emit more carbon dioxide that we can plant trees!

2. Renewable Energy Credits. These credits are created from projects to produce renewable energy or trap greenhouse gases. The carbon credits represent the emissions that would have been caused had the renewable project not occured. Ie if the hydro dam was not built a coal fired power station would have been. The money from the carbon credits is used to fund the project. The idea is that carbon emissions have been avoided and therefore can be made into credits and used to offset emissions somewhere else in the world.

This is a noble cause as a large number of these projects occur in developing countries. The poor living standard and fast paced growth in these countries requires enormous amounts of energy. Renewable Energy offset projects help fund this low carbon growth. That’s why they are an appealing option because you are helping to fund a project that reduces emissions, gives power to communities and creates employment.

Renewable Energy and Greenhouse Gas Trapping Offets
However, there are risks with creating carbon credits from these projects. Mostly the question of additionality; would the project have occured without the carbon credits? If so the carbon credits have no value as offsets because they have not actually reduced carbon dioxide. International Rivers has been reporting on this for years. There is also the question of the impact on the environment on the value of the credits. Ie. If a hydro dam is built what is the impact on the people, the forests that were in the valley (a carbon sink) and the downstream community reliant on the water?

3. Carbon Emissions Credits. These credits are created by schemes to limit the amount of carbon emissions from industry. These schemes, often referred to as cap and trade or emissions trading, provide a limited pool of carbon credits, credits that industry requires in order to legally emit carbon dioxide. The credits are regulated by the government. In a well designed scheme like the European Emissions Trading Scheme, emitters are heavily penalised if they do not have sufficient credits. The idea is that each year fewer and fewer credits are issued so that the emissions reduction targets are met.

While these carbon emissions credits are required by the regulated industries they can also be used voluntary, providing an alternative to the classic carbon offset of Trees and Renewable Energy above.
Carbon Emission Credits - a better carbon offset
The advantage of voluntarily cancelling carbon emission credits is that it reduces the credits available to emitters. This encourages emitters to be innovative and to develop low-carbon solutions.

Think about it this way, cancelling carbon emissions credits is proactive emission reduction, because the right to emit carbon is cancelled before it is used. Using these credits voluntarily also provides certainty and security because the transaction is transparent and can withstand the scrutiny of market regulators.

As Paul Gilding, ex CEO of Greenpeace, said in his recent article “How to carbon offset your family holiday”, retiring carbon emissions credits may not be the most exciting form of reducing emissions but it is the most pure.

More and more individuals and businesses are using carbon credits to neutralise their carbon emissions. There are several carbon credits to choose from. The characteristics of these carbon credits can be represented by a spectrum of quality.

Hopefully as people become acutely aware of the issues surrounding damaging climate change, and as they become more educated about the different types of carbon credit, more people will choose to use the most pure form of reducing carbon emissions by cancelling carbon emission credits.

What’s in a carbon offset?

Carbon offsetting is seen to provide a way to help reduce global carbon emissions. Yet, does it really?

If you have been following the world’s leading scientists any time over the past twenty years you would have heard that we urgently need to reduce global carbon emissions to avoid the consequences of severe climate change.

If done correctly a carbon offset does reduce carbon emissions. It allows you to act on your concern for the rising levels of man made carbon dioxide and empowers you to help stop damaging climate change.

The number of people using carbon offsetting is growing rapidly, with 87% more carbon offsetting in 2008 than in 2007. But what’s in a carbon offset? Does it really help to reduce carbon emissions? What are the alternatives?

Everyday, more people and businesses are becoming aware of the impact of their everyday activities on the environment. When we use electricity or transport we are producing carbon dioxide somewhere! Reducing our energy demands helps reduce the amount of carbon emissions for which we are responsible. For instance we can do simple things like turn off unused lights, use less heating and cooling, and drive less. Reducing our demand on energy has a double win; not only does it help reduce carbon emissions but it also saves you money through reducing your bills.

However, is a reduction in energy demand enough? The risk is that the energy you save may be used somewhere else. That’s where carbon offsetting comes into the equation.

Captain Carbon Neutral - Helping Reduce Global Carbon Emissions and Stop Climate Change
To voluntarily carbon offset is to go the extra mile. After reducing our energy demands it is possible to cancel out (carbon neutralise) the emissions that are unavoidable. Many businesses are seeing the benefits of leading the way to cancel carbon emissions. Some businesses have committed to cancelling all of the carbon emissions for which they are responsible and becoming carbon neutral, such as AGL, ANZ, Dell, Goldman Sachs JBWere, Hydro Tasmania, ING, KPMG, Melbourne Water, NAB, and News Limited.

Now, the question remains; does carbon offsetting really help to reduce carbon emission? The answer depends on the type of credit used to ‘offset’.

In our next blog we will look at “What are the alternatives to carbon offset emissions”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is this why people do so little for climate change?

For a long time I have tried to figure out the reason why people do so little to reduce carbon emissions and help stop damaging climate change. Sure it seems a lot of the answers are found on sites like how to talk to a climate sceptic, Climate Myth Busters, or Global Warming FAQ. But there was something more that eluded me, until now…

The enlightening moment came during a recent email conversation.

It all started with my request to make a sustainability event carbon neutral. I sent an email to the person in charge of sustainability outlining how it was necessary to 'walk the talk' and account for the carbon footprint of the event. The names of the event and person are withheld to protect their privacy.

Here is their response:


Thank you for your emails. In response:

1. [The] event - I believe the majority of our carbon footprint for this event will come from electricity. We also actively encourage participants to walk/ride/public transport to the event. As [we] already purchases 25% GreenPower for our high profile facilities... I don't think we'll need to spend more to further 'neutralise' the event.”

Can you see the answer? Do you start to see why people do so little?

I responded as nicely as possible, trying to mask my frustration!

“Hi xxx

Okay. But you see how hard my job is?

You can tell people that human carbon emissions cause damaging climate change.

You can tell them we have already emitted so much carbon dioxide that there will be unavoidable consequences.

You can tell them it is urgent that we do everything we can to reduce emissions to minimise the consequences.

And yet people, included those who work in the area such as you, believe that doing a little bit is enough. They don’t think that it is important enough to do everything they can.”

Is this why poeple do so little for climate change? Do most people believe a little bit is enough? Do most people think it is not important we do everything we can?