Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Carbon Clear's View on Radiative Forcing

At Carbon Clear we pride ourselves on work that is backed by sound science and ethics. This is true for everything we do, including our carbon calculations. Effective immediately, we have changed the way we account for the carbon footprint of airplane flights.

There has been a great deal of controversy about the global warming impact of high altitude airplane flights. Most scientists recognise that emissions from burning jet fuel at altitude leads to a greater warming effect than if that fuel were consumed at ground level, but the exact amount o that impact depends on a number of complicated assumptions. This has led to different carbon calculators using multiplication factors ranging from 1.0 to 4.0 to account for this increased warming. Defra, the UK's main environment agency, uses a factor of 1.0 on its online carbon calculator, and the European Environment Agency looks set to follow suit.

Until recently, Carbon Clear has followed Defra's example with an emissions factor of 1.0 - a litre of fuel was assumed to have the same warming impact wherever it is consumed. However, after consulting a range of expert stakeholders, we now base our aircraft emissions factors on work commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC entitled "Aviation and the Global Atmosphere". The IPCC's work represents the consensus opinion of climate scientists from around the world.

While the IPCC report notes that it is prudent to provide a range rather than a single number, the most likely estimates centre around a Radiative Forcing Impact (RFI) from high altitude flights that is approximately 2.7 times the global warming impact of ground transport. This means that we need nearly three times as much carbon reducing activity to compensate for the effects of customer flights. We will monitor the RFI debate and encourage a policy and scientific consensus so that we can continue to provide the best possible advice to our customers.

Every individual and company has a role to play in tackling climate change. At Carbon Clear we're committed to helping you control your carbon impact.

(Carbon Clear website)

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Emissions Trading - Going Global

The original version of this article appeared in the June 2008 (No. 60) issue of The Environmentalist.

Greenhouse gas emissions impose a serious cost. For over a century, the main cost of releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) from factories and vehicles has been borne by the environment, in the form of gradually rising global temperatures and the cumulative impacts of climate change. The 2006 Stern Report suggests that climate change, left unchecked, could cost as much as 5% of GDP.

However, the main emitters – operators of vehicles, factories, and power plants –have rarely had to bear the full environmental cost of their actions. Without clear price signals, polluters have had little incentive to reduce their CO2 emissions.

This situation is changing. Since 2005 governments around the world have been phasing in pricing systems that give polluters a financial incentive to reduce their CO2 emissions. The most popular approach, called cap-and-trade, sets a gradually diminishing quota on allowable greenhouse gas emissions, based on historic performance. Firms that emit more CO2 than their allowance must pay a hefty fine or purchase pollution rights from another firm at a mutually agreed price. Firms that emit less than their allowance can sell their excess allocation. In other words, regulators use market mechanisms to find and implement the fastest and most cost-effective emissions reductions, wherever they occur.

The most established CO2 emissions trading system is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) launched in 2005 to help European nations meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. EU-ETS focused initially on those large industrial emitters collectively producing almost half of the EU’s CO2 emissions from about 11,500 sources: iron and steel, certain mineral industries (including the cement industry), energy production (including electric power facilities and refining), and pulp and paper.

The trial phase of the ETS ran from January 2005 until December 2007. The second phase of the scheme, launched in January 2008, reflects the EU’s 8% binding reduction target by 2012, and imposes a lower emissions cap than did the first phase.

There are two main ways the EU scheme can expand: by including additional sectors, and by including additional countries and linking to other cap and trade schemes. The EU system is open to cooperation with compatible systems in other countries. This year, EU ETS will undergo its first enlargement when Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein join.

The European Union is including aviation emissions into the system from 2011 and considering expanding the system to further industrial sectors and other greenhouse gases from 2013. For companies across Europe, the price of carbon is getting higher.

The UK’s Carbon Reduction Commitment
While the EU-ETS is a cap-and-trade system designed to help European countries meet their Kyoto obligations, the UK Government wants to use cap-and-trade to achieve even greater reductions. The proposed Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) is a cap-and-trade system aimed at large, non-energy intensive companies whose emissions may not be covered under the ETS. These companies’ UK energy consumption exceeds 6,000 MWh per year – equivalent to an energy bill of around £500,000.

Participating companies would include supermarket chains, hotels, office buildings, and government departments. These businesses account for nearly 10% of the UK’s annual emissions.

Under the CRC, companies will self-report their direct and indirect energy emissions (see our December 2007 Environmentalist article “Whose footprint is it anyway?” for an overview of emissions categories). Companies covered by the CRC will have to purchase their initial allowances and will eventually be assigned an emissions reduction target. Firms can then trade any allowances surplus to their requirements or purchase extra if there is a shortfall. CRC participants will also be able to buy (but not sell) allowances from the EU-ETS instead of from their counterparts within the CRC.

The Government intends to publish a league table comparing CRC participants’ progress in reducing emissions, and will refund all or part of the allowance fees in proportion to each company’s league rankings. It is expected that the need to purchase credits, the promise of a cash rebate linked to performance, and the threat of being branded a climate change laggard in the league tables will provide incentives for rapid emissions reductions.

The carbon price is influencing behaviour. In recent conversations with large companies, Carbon Clear's advisory team has found that anticipation of the CRC is encouraging more firms in Britain to measure their carbon footprint and identify rapid emissions reduction opportunities.

Cap-and-trade in the USA
In December 2007, the Climate Security Act (S. 2191) was approved by the US Senate Environment Committee- the first global warming bill to make it out of any committee in the US Congress. Sources responsible for eighty-six percent of US emissions would be covered by the Bill, with targets to reduce emissions by 18%-25% by 2020, and by 62% by 2050. The Bill contained provisions for selling, transferring, retiring, and borrowing emissions allowances.

The Senate Bill establishes a Carbon Market Efficiency Board to determine the number of emissions allowances under this cap-and-trade scheme and set up allowance auctions. Unlike the UK's CRC, which rebates the proceeds from the sale of allowances, the Carbon Market Efficiency Board would use auction proceeds to support energy efficiency and other low carbon technology investments.

In addition, while the US cap-and-trade scheme is not part of the Kyoto Protocol, it allows up to 15% of a company’s emissions reduction obligations to be met through the purchase of international credits from other recognized trading systems.

While the Climate Security Act ultimately failed in the face of an election-year economic downturn and spiraling fuel prices in the first half of 2008, it generated considerable political support and provides a template for future legislation.

Preventing “carbon leakage”
Across the industrialised world, cap-and-trade schemes and voluntary carbon-neutrality pledges are helping companies incorporate the price of carbon into their business decsions. But the same does not hold true everywhere. Countries with less stringent requirements may see a net gain in heavy industry, where the cost of carbon can have a major impact on profitability. Where this happens, emisions reductions in industrialised countries may be negated by increases in other parts of the world.

Without a global climate change agreement, “carbon leakage” to rapidly growing developing countries such as India and China is inevitable. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged EU leaders to back measures to prevent industries such as cement and steel from leaving the EU as tighter limits on CO2 emissions are imposed in the Community after 2012. Two options are under consideration for post-2012 Europe:

  1. Granting free emission allowances to industries which are particularly exposed to international competition, or
  2. imposing a "carbon tax" on imports from countries with no CO2 emission constraints of their own.

It remains to be seen whether these proposals survive local lobbying and the give-and-take of international negotiations.

Cross-system linkages?
Cap-and-trade systems are operational or under development in Europe, North America, Australia, and other parts of the world. Linking these various cap-and-trade systems could contribute to a global carbon market.

A larger carbon market with an increased number of participants helps to increase liquidity in the market. There are more actors able to achieve lower-cost emissions reductions and more willing to pay a premium for spare carbon credits. Greater liquidity can lead to an improved allocation of resources and more cost effective and rapid emissions reductions overall.

With a larger carbon market, there is less burden-shifting, that is, a lower likelihood of CO2 emissions leaking to countries that lack a strong regulatory framework.

There are, however, challenges to linking the European and US cap-and-trade systems. In particular, how would Europe react to more flexible standards that could cause the price of carbon in the EU to plummet? How readily would the US give up the flexibility required to achieve cost-effective emissions reductions across a large and diverse economy spanning multiple climactic and time zones? And how will both systems accomodate the need to purchase external carbon credits from developing countries that require financial help achieving reductions?

While challenges abound, a broader carbon market can help to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. Without a clear price for carbon, we risk a major misallocation of our resources and threaten to pass on the costs of climate change to future generations.

Suzy Hodgson, AIEMA, is a principal consultant and Jamal Gore, AIEMA is the managing director at specialist carbon management company, Carbon Clear Limited.

Friday, 19 December 2008

John Holdren to be Obama Science Advisor

The Boston Globe (and lots of other newspapers) reports that Prof. John Holdren has been appointed science advisor to the incoming Obama Administration.

Holdren, a physicist by training, is a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University, director of the Kennedy School's Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy, and director of the Woods Hole Research Center. He is also a past-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

John was the head of the University of California at Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group, back when I was a grad student there. He taught ER100, the very first energy analysis course I ever took (among many others), and I was honoured to have him as a mentor.

John's appointment is good news in the ongoing effort to tackle climate change. He takes a clear-headed, evidence-based view to understanding environmental and energy challenges, and it's encouraging to know that he'll be at the heart of science policy in the new American administration.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Yesterday's Technology

Yesterday's Financal Times included a story about increased pressure to develop and build clean electric vehicles. These cars emit no pollutants from the tailpipe (in fact, there is no tailpipe), and have a potentially important role to play as we transition to a low-carbon future.

Most people think of electric cars as either boring, tiny golf carts or racy space-age vehicles like the Tesla pictured here. But the most interesting point in the FT article was the observation that this technology is nothing new.

The first electric carriage was invented between 1832 and 1839, and electric vehicles were widely used in Europe and the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, they held many land speed records during this period, and the wives of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford drove electric vehicles. Here's a photo of Thomas Edison with an electric car in 1913:

Sixty-seven years later, an electric car built in 1980 could travel up to 70 miles per hour for 70 miles without recharging. A widespread switch to electric vehicles could drastically reduce our dependence on petroleum, and lead to a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And there's no technical reason we can't achieve this goal. As one of the people interviewed in the FT story notes, "They could make these yesterday. They could stamp them out if they had to."

The same goes for many other low-carbon solutions. Reducing emissions is not rocket science. At Carbon Clear we're committed to helping companies identify proven, practical emissions reduction approaches, and then rolling them out in a cost-effective way.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Outsourced Carbon Footprint

The full version of this article appeared in the March 2008 (No. 55) issue of The Environmentalist.

In our last article, we discussed how ISO 14064 provides useful guidance when choosing the boundaries for a corporation’s or organisation’s carbon footprint. In particular, while ISO 14064 only requires that companies include their direct emissions and their emissions from purchased energy, we argued that a more thoroughly prepared footprint will also look at the indirect emissions from the supply chain.

In this article, we explore how supply chain decisions can affect the company carbon footprint. We also look at how outsourcing production to other countries, while justifiable on cost or quality grounds, can have a significant effect on emissions – both negative and positive.

The “Low-Carbon” Service Sector
The UK economy has steadily shifted away from manufacturing and mining to a service economy underpinned by financial and retail-related services. Services, which are responsible for approximately 74% of national output, tend to be less energy intensive than agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

Defra reports that direct UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen 12.6 percent since 1990, largely as a result of more efficient energy use, a switch away from coal-fired electricity, and the shift to a service-based economy.

However, the total volume of manufactured goods consumed in the UK has not decreased. In most cases, manufacturers have shifted to outsourced production. In the process they have transferred their – and the country’s – emissions to the international supply chain. For large retailers, the supply chain may generate thirty times the company's own emissions. A similar effect may hold at the national level.

Outsourced Emissions
There are three ways that including the outsourced supply chain can increase a company’s carbon footprint:

  1. an activity that had been excluded from direct emissions once outsourcing began must now be reincorporated into the emissions total;
  2. transport between the point of manufacture and UK distribution and retail points results in additional emissions that must be included;
  3. many countries that have become a hub for outsourced manufacturing emit more carbon per unit of electricity than the United Kingdom.

The last point bears further exploration. According to the International Energy Agency, the average kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity in the UK resulted in 472 grams of CO2 emissions in 2004. In the United States, one kWh resulted in 576 grams of CO2. However, in China, each kilowatt- hour resulted in 851 grams of CO2 emissions, and in India the figure was 942 grams. All else being equal, then, outsourced manufacturing can lead to a significantly higher corporate carbon footprint.

On the other hand, all else may not be equal. Lower labour costs in developing countries mean that companies may use less energy-intensive manufacturing techniques, leading to a net reduction in CO2 emissions. In the end, every company and production process requires its own analysis to determine how outsourcing affects the carbon impact of the supply chain.

Measuring Embodied Carbon
The British Standards Institute, working in collaboration with the Carbon Trust and other stakeholders, has developed a draft standard for measuring supply chain emissions. The draft standard is PAS 2050 - Specification for the measurement of the embodied greenhouse gas emissions in products and services.

In order to ensure that different products and services are evaluated consistently, PAS 2050 takes a comprehensive approach to measuring emissions, including, in the words of the document author, “all emissions (or portion of emissions) that are released as part of all processes involved in creating modifying, transporting, sorting, disposing of and/or recycling the product.”

This comprehensive approach requires companies to address their supply chains. For example, a producer of chocolate candy bars would have to include emissions from growing cocoa overseas – including irrigation and fertilisers, transporting the raw cocoa beans to the mill, producing the milk, blending the chocolate, producing the packaging, warehousing and distribution. With major retailers like Tesco pledging to include carbon labelling on all their products, we predict that more and more companies will be working with their supply chain to understand their carbon exposure.

Outsourced Emission Reductions
Outsourcing is not merely an added source of greenhouse gas emissions that companies must add to their corporate carbon footprint. Outsourcing is also a widely accepted way for companies to achieve substantial emission reductions.

Under the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), companies that are not able to meet their binding greenhouse gas emission targets must purchase external reductions in the form of carbon credits – typically classified as European Union Allowances (EUAs) or Certified Emission Reductions (CERs).

Companies that have voluntarily committed to reducing their corporate emissions or making a product or service “carbon neutral” have access to a wider range of external reduction options to accompany their internal reduction measures. In addition to CERs and – less commonly in the voluntary market – EUAs, companies may choose balance out their unavoidable emissions with so-called voluntary emission reductions (VERs). A number of standards have been developed to increase transparency in the voluntary market and ensure that outsourced emission reductions are as environmentally effective as internal reductions.

Companies choose to outsource business processes for a wide variety of reasons: proximity to markets, raw material prices, labour costs, a desire to encourage job creation in poorer countries, access to technical expertise, regulatory and tax regimes, and others. In this article, we have argued that carbon impacts should be an important consideration when managers decide whether and how much to outsource.

Because outsourcing can lower as well as increase a company’s carbon footprint, and because the results can be counter-intuitive, managers may need to undertake a detailed analysis of their supply chain when weighing the carbon cost of outsourcing.

Suzy Hodgson, AIEMA, is a principal consultant and Jamal Gore, AIEMA is the managing director at specialist carbon management company, Carbon Clear Limited.

Carbon Clear Among Most Recognised Offset Suppliers

A recent report ranks Carbon Clear as one of the top ten most recognised carbon credit suppliers, in a poll of large and multinational companies.

As the report authors note: "The market is clearly becoming better regulated, at least in part through project developers and carbon retailers' efforts to create best practise procedures and also though the UK governments' long awaited best practise guidelines for carbon offset providers. Demand for different types of offsets shift based on factors ranging from availability to price to public perception, and as a result business customers of the voluntary offset markets play a major role in shaping the future of carbon trading."

The poll, commissioned by credit wholesaler EcoSecurities, not surprisingly ranks that company highest. Still, we're pretty pleased to be in the top ten - our experience, reputation and project quality help us stand out from the crowd.
(Carbon Clear homepage)

Monday, 15 December 2008

Whose Footprint Is It, Anyway?

A longer version of this article first appeared in the December 2007 issue (No. 53) of The Environmentalist.

Public awareness of climate change is at an all-time high, and companies and individuals are under pressure to measure and reduce their carbon footprints. However, we buy goods and services from one supplier and often pass items, whether finished products or waste, on to other people. So how do we know where one footprint ends and another begins? Establishing relevant boundaries around your carbon-emitting activities is a crucial step in calculating your true emissions. Define your activities too narrowly and you offload your rightful carbon responsibilities onto your customers or suppliers. But broaden the boundaries too much and you risk taking responsibility for emissions over which you have little or no control. What is a sensible approach?

A good starting point is the ISO 14064 -1:2006 standard Greenhouse gases- Part I: specification with guidance at the organizational level for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and removals. This standard includes formal definitions to help organisations determine where their responsibility begins and ends. Another carbon management standard, PAS 2050 - Specification for the measurement of the embodied greenhouse gas emissions in products and services- can also help an organisation determine where its boundaries begin and end. But before taking a closer look at boundaries, let’s take a step back and think about the overall purpose of carbon footprinting.

Given the recent hype, one might be forgiven for thinking carbon footprinting is simply more corporate “greenwashing”. In reality, developing a reliable and consistent method for measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions helps companies benchmark their performance and identify opportunities to make real reductions in emissions through changes and improvements in business practices and processes. The Carbon Trust outlines the main benefits of carbon management for companies including cost savings, operational efficiency, mitigation of regulatory impacts, capability building, new business opportunities, and enhanced corporate reputation.

In addition, a consistent approach among companies allows customers and other interested parties to make relevant comparisons and use GHG emissions as selection criteria for procurement and purchasing decisions. It also helps companies to evaluate alternative processes for managing GHG emissions and to address corporate environmental targets.

Describing a “Fit for Purpose” Carbon Footprint Report
A credible carbon footprint report is analogous to a credible corporate financial report in that it should give a fair and accurate view of the organisation’s performance and serve as a useful decision making tool for management and other stakeholders. The following principles reflect the thinking that goes into preparing a “fit for purpose” carbon audit report:

a) Relevance - includes emissions sources appropriate to the needs of the intended user
b) Completeness - includes all relevant GHG emissions and removals
c) Consistency - enables meaningful comparisons in GHG-related information
d) Accuracy - reduce bias and uncertainties as far as is practical
e) Transparency - disclose sufficient and appropriate GHG-related information to allow the intended user to make decisions with confidence

When Carbon Clear conducts a carbon audit, the carbon management team applies a 6-step methodology:

1. Identify management’s motivation for measuring the company carbon footprint, and specify key stakeholders
2. Identify organisational boundaries
3. Determine key activities within those boundaries that drive the company’s carbon emissions
4. Measure those activities and apply relevant emissions coefficients to determine the total footprint
5. Identify top-level and detailed recommendations for cost-effective emissions reductions
6. Ensure that carbon footprint results are reported accurately

Without clearly defined, relevant boundaries for GHG emissions, an organisation cannot begin to take meaningful action to measure or reduce their emissions. For example, an office or service-based organisation, which decides to exclude indirect emissions (associated with services and products in its supply chain) might underestimate its footprint by a large factor. For large retailers, the supply chain may generate thirty times the company's own emissions.

ISO 14064 defines four categories of GHG emissions based on management’s control or influence over business activities. These categories are labelled direct emissions, energy indirect emissions, and other indirect emissions.

Direct GHG emissions, as the name suggests, result from activities undertaken directly by the organisation and its staff. These include the operation of company-owned vehicles and on-site power generation, as well as the management of lands and property owned by the organisation.

Energy indirect GHG emissions are the GHG emissions from the generation of imported electricity, heat or steam. The organisation is the direct end-user of the energy, even though the emissions may have occurred at a power station hundreds of miles away.

Other indirect GHG emissions arise as a consequence of the organisation’s procurement activities and other decisions, but arise from sources that are owned or controlled by another organisation. The category of indirect greenhouse gas emissions is potentially huge, and is the most common source of confusion when the organisation attempts to set boundaries for its carbon footprint.

Boundary setting: the ins and outs
A carbon audit is often the initial step in a company’s emissions reduction programme. However, the carbon audit report is also a communications tool, and company representatives may be tempted to set their emissions boundaries as tight as possible in order to produce a smaller footprint. After all, with major institutions basing procurement decisions in part on the bidders’ relative carbon footprints, no one wants to be the biggest polluter.

We argue that this may be a false saving. Many organisations will use their initial carbon footprint as a baseline against which to measure future performance. Exclude too many activities from the baseline and you may lock out a range of cost-effective emissions reduction options throughout the supply chain.

There is a further reason to consider broadening the boundaries of a corporate carbon audit. Much of the pressure to measure carbon footprints comes from investors, customers, and regulators, and they expect this information to be made publicly available. An unreasonably narrow boundary may attract criticism from outside reviewers concerned about potential corporate “greenwash”. In such a case, it is critical that a company clearly states the assumptions and rationales behind its boundary decisions.

Establishing appropriate boundaries for a corporate carbon audit is critical if the corporate world is to do its part to help reduce the severity of climate change. Going beyond direct emissions to encompass indirect emissions can give a company insight into its key emissions sources, and identify a broader range of carbon reduction options. Even better, establishing these broader boundaries can increase the credibility of the carbon audit report itself, and open up new opportunities for engagement with customers and clients.

Suzy Hodgson, AIEMA, is a principal consultant and Jamal Gore, AIEMA is the managing director at specialist carbon management company, Carbon Clear Limited.

I'm back...

Apologies for the light posting...busy. To make up for it, I'll be supplementing our regular blog posts with some articles that I've written for the IEMA journal The Environmentalist over the past year with colleague Suzy Hodgson.

Monday, 6 October 2008

UK Announces New Department for Energy & Climate Change

Britain's Labour Government on Friday announced the creation of the Department for Energy and Climate Change. The new department, to be headed by Minister Ed Milliband, is the result of a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Many environmental groups have hailed the formation of the new government department, noting that until now one agency had responsibility for sourcing the nation's energy and a separate agency was responsible for dealing with the resultant emissions. The hope is that putting both priorities under one roof will help to align incentives and spur faster action towards a lower-carbon future.

I share their hope, but the simple fact is that climate change is not just an energy issue. Nearly every activity generates greenhouse gas emissions - transport, construction, farming, and the like. One could just as easily argue for a Department for Transport and Climate Change tasked with helping to ensure that the development of the nation's transport infrastructure (third runway at Heathrow, anyone?) was aligned with government greenhouse gas emission targets.

At Carbon Clear, we've found that the most effective approaches to climate change build emissions reduction strategies into every aspect of business or household activity. Our aim is to help companies reduce greenhouse gas emissions wherever it makes sense.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Preparing for the Future

When we discuss the impacts of climate change, most people have visions of melting glaciers, polar bears, and shifting dunes. These are serious problems, to be sure, but they seem for the most part to be something that will happen to someone else, far away.

Few people consider effects that will hit much closer to home. Take weeds, for example.

Lewis Ziska, an ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wanted to understand how weeds are affected by a warmer world. Short on funds to expand his research lab, he hit on an ingenious solution:

"Then it occurred to Ziska that the complaints made by residents of nearby Baltimore about summer in their city — the exhaust-laden air and the way in which buildings and pavement soak up solar energy to create an abnormally warm “heat island” — could be put to good use. When he checked, he found that in fact the temperatures in Baltimore run 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average than those of the surrounding countryside, and the concentration of CO2 in the local atmosphere (440 to 450 p.p.m., or parts per million by volume) is well above the current global average. This, coincidentally, matched almost exactly what the panel on climate change predicted for the planet as a whole 30 to 50 years in the future in its “B2 scenario,” a middle-of-the-road projection that envisions continuing greenhouse gas increases but also some success in abatement programs."

Ziska collected soil with weed seeds from an organic farm and created identical growing beds on the farm, in a nearby suburb with moderately higher temperatures and CO2 levels, and in the high-temperature, high-CO2 heat island. Then he let the weeds grow. The results over the next five growing seasons were breathtaking.

In nearly every case, Ziska found that weeds benefit much more from increased CO2 concentrations than do agricultural crops and domesticated plants. In the high-CO2 plot, the weeds grew much faster and up to twice as large as the weeds on the farm. Many were more resistant to common herbicides. And when trees eventually began growing on the untended plots, the high-CO2 plot was dominated not by oak and maple, but by stubborn invasive species like ailanthus and mulberry.

What's more, the weeds produced more pollen in a high-CO2 environment. When Ziska grew ragweed at the CO2 concentrations predicted for the end of the century, they produced twice as much pollen as they do today, and of a form more likely to cause allergic reactions. Poison ivy grew faster and produced a more intense form of rash-inducing oil. This means that climate change is bad news if you're an allergy sufferer, if you're a farmer, or if you simply enjoy having a weed-free lawn or vegetable plot. The future may look a bit brighter if you manufacture herbicides or produce anti-allergy medications, but it looks there will be more losers than winners. There are, of course, many other implications to the rise of the weeds, which I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.

The growth of weeds in a warmer world is rarely discussed, and yet the potential impacts on people, farmers, corporations, and local ecosystems is huge. And this is only one of many interlocking impacts.

My team at Carbon Clear spends a lot of time helping companies understand how climate change can affect their business over the coming years and decades. We do this in part to help our clients prepare for the future. But we also look at these impacts to help people understand that greenhouse gas emissions can impose a high price - both at home and abroad. Faced with massive global change, early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is often the most sensible investment we can make.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Power of Feedback

About twenty years ago I came across an electrical engineering textbook entitled Feedback Control Systems. It was a highly technical piece about how to design thermostats, automatic doors, alarms and the like. The key to such devices, of course, is that they monitor local conditions and adjust their operation when those conditions change. These feedback systems can be surprisingly simple, but imagine our lives if they didn't work properly. Imagine the waste and frustration if the automatic door at the supermarket had to guess when a trolley was approaching, or if the heating unit in your home couldn't detect the temperature.

One of the things I like about my five year-old hybrid car is that it includes the driver in an energy efficiency feedback system. In everyday terms, there's a simple but informative fuel economy display mounted in the dashboard. This system doesn't take control - the petrol and electric motors will work together and provide a boost if I need to out-accelerate the huge truck bearing down on me. But the feedback is always there, and I can use it to change my behaviour. If I get caught up in the rush-hour road rage, the display shows my fuel economy dropping - 48 mpg, 45 mpg, 43 mpg... And that's my cue to take action. By maintaining a steady speed, coasting on the downhills or slowing down gradually at traffic lights, I can see the numbers go up - 50 mpg, 60 mpg or more. Since my last tank of fuel, I've been averaging 57.2 mpg. Getting regular, visible feedback on my performance gives me a strong incentive to change behaviour and reduce waste.

When Carbon Clear measures your company's carbon footprint, we are helping you design a powerful feedback tool for tracking environmental and financial performance. Our standards-compliant analysis identifies those activities - flights, vehicle fleet, outsourced manufacturing, etc. - that make up the lion's share of your carbon footprint - and are probably costing you money. Of course, knowledge alone is not enough. We help companies take action, developing plans to tackle those emissions sources that will give the fastest or most cost-effective reductions. And we'll help measure progress over time.

Every company has the potential to achieve significant, absolute reductions in their carbon footprint. At Carbon Clear we'll help you get there. Measuring your carbon footprint is the first step.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Will High Oil Prices Save the Planet?

The scientific academies of thirteen countries yesterday issued an unprecedented joint statement urging faster, more decisive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon reduction specialists at Carbon Clear applaud that sentiment, and are committed to helping businesses and individuals, measure, reduce, and offset their carbon emissions. And yet more remains to be done.

Many pundits are hoping that help will come from the rising cost of fuel. With oil prices skyrocketing, firms around the world have a strong incentive to reduce consumption. Emissions reductions are sure to follow - won't they?

At first glance, the signs are encouraging. Fuel purchases in the U.S. are down 7% from a year ago, and consumers can't seem to ditch gas guzzling cars and trucks fast enough. Last week, auto giant General Motors announced that it was closing four truck and SUV production lines and was considering abandoning its signature Hummer SUV brand. Meanwhile, the company has announced the launch of two new small cars, and a new electric-hybrid vehicle called the Volt.

The airlines are economising, too. Northwest Airlines is parking its workhorse DC-10 airplanes, in favour of newer A330 models that are 38% more efficient. Southwest Airlines claims to have saved millions in fuel costs simply by cleaning its engines more frequently, and Delta is flying its planes 20 mph slower to save fuel.

To be sure, high oil prices strengthen the economic case for demand reduction in the form of increased fuel efficiency or fewer journeys. But they also strengthen the economic case for increasing supply - in the form of oil substitutes. While some substitutes, like biofuels, show promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when used correctly, others are the stuff of environmental nightmares.

In the remote regions of Canada's Alberta province lie vast deposits of thick, tarry sand and soil. These tar sands hold the equivalent of 175 billion barrels of oil - nearly as much as Saudi Arabia. The challenge has been getting to it. In order to convert the oil in the tar sands to usable form, the solid granules must be mined, crushed, diluted and cleaned - and then manufactured into synthetic oil in an energy-intensive refining process. According to an estimate reported by the Financial Times, this process means that oil from the tar sands has five times the carbon intensity of conventional fossil fuels. On an individual level, while a round-trip flight from London to New York might normally result in 1.3 tonnes of CO2, a flight fuelled by tar sands-derived kerosene would result in a whopping 6.5 tonnes of CO2. Driving 10,000 miles in a car would result in a 15-tonne carbon footprint. And this says nothing of the vast tracts of forest wilderness that must be cut up to reach these fuel resources.

But the global implications are even more serious. Alberta's 175 billion barrels of oil equivalent, if it were all consumed, would result in the release of about 35 billion tonnes of CO2.

That's 30% more than all the CO2 released from fossil fuels worldwide last year.

Extracting oil from the tar sands is dangerous and expensive work. So long as oil was relatively cheap, the tar sands were safe. But at $120 a barrel, $200 a barrel, or even more, the tar sands begin to look like a viable option. Six million hectares of oil sands - 43% of the total - have already been leased to oil companies for exploration and development. The oil majors are lobbying regulators to include these resources on their balance sheets, signaling their intent to exploit them.

With high oil prices likely here to stay, more energy efficiency measures will be pursued, but the tar sands are more likely to be tapped as well.

And that's bad news for the environment.

A high oil price can be a mixed blessing. We need to bring other tools to bear in the fight against climate change. We'll present some more ideas in subsequent posts.

(Carbon Clear website)

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Carbon Management Providers Unite to Promote Rigorous Standards

Carbon Clear and seven other leading carbon reduction and offset providers yesterday announced the formation of the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA). The organisation has been created to build support for the carefully crafted standards that now exist for the voluntary offset market. In addition, the group will provide a unified voice in promoting credible carbon management strategies, which use a ‘reduce-and-offset’ approach. ICROA intends to be active in policy discussions, push for high standards and advocate greater transparency in the carbon reduction industry.

Jamal Gore, Managing Director, Carbon Clear said: "Carbon Clear is delighted to be a founding member of ICROA. As a company that leads by example, it was important that we lend our expertise to the development of a rigorous Code of Practice that will raise the bar for the entire carbon management industry. We look forward to continuing to help environmentally responsible companies develop a sound carbon management strategy and achieve significant greenhouse gas emission reductions."

Climate change and the greenhouse gases driving it are an international concern so of ICROA’s eight founding members, five have headquarters in the United Kingdom, two in the United States, and one in Australia.

ICROA founding members currently serve thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of individuals and are:

The key elements of the ICROA Code of Best Practice include:

  • Measure carbon footprints according to accepted international standards
  • Set emissions reduction targets based on scientific assessments
  • Assess and implement both internal and external emissions reduction opportunities, the ‘reduce and offset’ approach
  • Use credible offset projects, where offsetting is appropriate to meet emissions reduction targets
  • Be transparent in communicating emissions reductions strategies and practices
  • Use offsets that meet the following principles: real, measurable, permanent, additional, independently verified, and unique
  • Submit annual report demonstrating compliance with the Code

Carbon offsets are designed to complement the measures that individuals and corporations undertake to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and GHG that result from their daily activities and operations. Carbon offsets result from projects that reduce, avoid, or capture the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG. Offsets are measured in metric tons of CO2.

Initially the ICROA Code of Best Practice recognizes three standards for offsets as being of sufficient quality: Voluntary Carbon Standard, Gold Standard, and Clean Development Mechanism/ Joint Implementation. The Climate Group, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing business and government leadership on climate change, is currently responsible for the day-to-day operations of ICROA, under the direction of the organization’s Executive Committee.

Monday, 26 May 2008

We Can Do More

Tackling climate change requires large reductions in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The popular idea is that reducing emissions to the extent required - sixty percent or more - will be so painful and difficult that we need to phase the changes in gradually over the next four or five decades.

But is this true? Do we really have to wait until 2050 to get to a low-carbon economy?

In my last blog post we discussed the idea of "climate wedges" - a range of modest measures that rely on existing technology. Taken together these small "wedges" can cut society's carbon footprint by a massive amount.

It doesn't have to take long. When an avalanche near Juneau, Alaska in April destroyed the city's main electricity transmission lines, the utility switched to expensive backup generators. Residents' utility bills soared 400% and the switch began immediately.

The local library realised there was no need to keep to elevators (lifts) running, and took one out of service. The local hardware store quickly ran out of clothes pins as people abandoned their clothes dryers in favour of line-drying their laundry - even though it rains over 200 days per year. Households replaced every incandescent bulb they could with low-energy compact fluorescents. For show-and-tell, schoolchildren give presentations about how much energy they are saving at home.

The city of Juneau, Alaska cut its electricity consumption by more tha 30% in just a few weeks.

Weeks, not years. With existing technology and no earth-shattering lifestyle changes.

The residents of Juneau are no different from anyone else. If they - and we - can achieve this type of carbon reduction in less than a month, imagine what we can do in forty years.

Friday, 23 May 2008

U.S. Declares Polar Bears an Endangered Species

It's official.

After years of wrangling, the U.S. Department of the Interior has declared polar bears an endangered species. As climate change causes the polar ice to dwindle, the bears' natural habitat has come under increasing pressure and it becomes more difficult for them to hunt for food.

This ruling was not a knee-jerk response to public affection for large, furry mammals. The current Interior Department leadership has not been keen to extend the Endangered Species Act to new contexts, nor to acknowledge the need for immediate action on climate change. As Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne remarked days earlier,
“When the Endangered Species Act was adopted in 1973, I don’t think terms like 'climate change' were part of our vernacular.”

However, when forced by a judge to make an objective assessment of the polar bears' predicament, the choice was clear. Again quoting Kempthorne:

“This has been a difficult decision...But in light of the scientific record and the restraints of the inflexible law that guides me, [it was] the only decision I could make...”

The new ruling by itself won't lead to faster action on greenhouse gas reductions. The Endangered Species Act requires immediate remedial action if, for example, a construction site threatens the habitat of a rare plant or animal. But the link between greenhouse gas emissions and habitat loss are more indirect, and longer term. It is difficult to point to a smokestack or tailpipe and prove that cutting those specific emissions will protect the polar bears' habitat.

Nevertheless, this ruling is important. It is a formal acknowledgement from a particularly sceptical source that climate change is having a real and measurable impact on the world around us.

The debate is over. Now it's time to achieve significant carbon reductions. The Carbon Clear team will help you get started.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Myth of the 'False Solution'

In the old black and white horror movies, a werewolf would terrorise hapless villagers. Impervious to normal weapons, the werewolf would shrug off their attacks until the hero arrived and slew the beast with the only thing that could kill it - a silver bullet.

The old werewolf movies were just harmless entertainment, but real threats stalk the global village - and climate change is right near the top.

Unfortunately, many people are still looking for a silver bullet to make the threat go away, and rejecting any measure that doesn't promise an instant fix:
The critics are right, of course. No single solution available today will solve the problem.

However, it is a mistake to argue that partial solutions are useless. In fact, they're all that we have. A 2004 paper published by Princeton University researchers S. Pacala and R. Socolow introduced the concept of "climate stabilisation wedges". In short, the researchers estimated the worldwide greenhouse gas reduction potential of energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, tree planting, renewables, and other measures. They found that each of these measures could save about a billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050. Here's one illustration of how these figures could stack up:

Taken together, these "climate wedges" could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 200 billion tonnes - enough to stave off the worst climate change impacts.

That's it, problem solved. No technological breakthroughs. No silver bullets. Just lots of partial measures, enacted at the same time. This means support for renewables AND energy efficiency AND tree planting AND carbon capture AND etc., etc.

Climate change isn't a horror movie from the golden age of cinema. Just because a measure isn't "the solution" does not mean we should reject it outright. There is no silver bullet that can solve the problem of climate change. A number of short-sighted actions have combined to cause this problem - deforestation, coal-fired power stations, trains, planes and automobiles. We'll solve it the same way, by working together, on a hundred small solutions.

(Carbon Clear homepage)

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Carbon Clear in Top 30 Global offset providers according to ENDS Report

Carbon Clear has been formally recognised as a global leader in the carbon offset market for the high quality of its offsets and carbon management consultancy. Out of all the organisations ENDS investigated world-wide, only 30 were recognised in its list of Quality Offset Providers, with 140 failing to make the grade.

The top 30 quality providers came from a range of organisation types across the globe but were united in their ability to meet the following criteria:

  • The quality of the offset: all investments should be traceable to specifically named offset projects.
  • Timing of delivery: carbon credits should have already been generated or be guaranteed to be delivered in the short-term.
  • Emissions calculation: emissions savings are calculated and verified by official standards, for example ISO 14064 or from official DEFRA figures.
  • Transparency: quality providers were judged to be transparent with regards to the credit source, quality of the offset, the timeline of its projects and pricing.
  • Engagement and advice: the ENDS Guide also recognised the importance of broader climate change strategies and praised those carbon offset providers that also offer advice and management processes to reduce clients’.
  • Other considerations included the breadth of projects in the organisation’s portfolio, levels of engagement with the projects and overall experience.

The respected environmental publisher created its guide to carbon offsets to provide readers an understanding of the offsetting process and how to identify providers that are committed to offering a quality service and operating responsibly.

Commenting on Carbon Clear’s inclusion, Mark Chadwick, CEO of Carbon Clear said: “I'm delighted that the ENDS Report has recognised Carbon Clear's commitment to high quality projects and advisory services. From the outset we have focused on delivering the highest standards and we're immensely gratified to see this hard work has been acknowledged by an industry leader such as the ENDS Report.”

Even MORE "Buy One Grow One Tree" Goodness from Innocent and Carbon Clear

Following the success of last year’s "Buy One Get One Tree" campaign, innocent is teaming up with Carbon Clear again for its bigger and better Buy One Grow One Tree scheme. Throughout May, for each carton of smoothie sold and registered, innocent will grow a tree in one of Carbon Clear’s projects in India. Each carton has a unique code which when registered on the dedicated website will see a tree planted.

The innocent smoothie drinkers across the UK who participated in the last BoGoT project are responsible for a whopping 164,020 trees now growing in rural India, absorbing carbon dioxide and supporting local communities. The trees planted provide food and medicine, shelter for secondary crops and reduce soil erosion. If that’s not enough of an incentive there’s also a little something extra for those who register lots of trees, like a ‘grow your own’ herb box, an extra night in an organic B & B in the countryside or the chance to win a year’s supply of smoothies thanks to the lovely people at innocent.

This year innocent is also supporting The Tree Council’s Walk in the Woods Month to encourage everyone to visit their local forest or parkland during May. At events across the country kids are being encouraged to complete the innocent tree trail and enjoy the UK’s trees and woodlands. For more information visit:

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Carbon Clear joins the UN’s Climate Neutral Network

At yesterday's Global Business for the Environment (B4E) Summit in Singapore, representatives from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) welcomed Carbon Clear as the first carbon management company to join its Climate Neutral Network (CN Net). Established in February of this year, CN Net’s aim is to inspire leaders in business and government by sharing success stories and best practice in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is now a major global issue and a rapidly growing number of individuals, companies, cities and even countries are pledging to become climate neutral as part of CN Net.

As one of the largest independent carbon management companies, Carbon Clear is fully committed to achieving carbon neutrality and supporting the shift to a low-carbon economy. The company applies the same “measure, reduce, and offset” approach to controlling its own greenhouse gas emissions as it uses when helping clients reduce their carbon footprint. In 2007 Carbon Clear worked with over 70 businesses worldwide to help them plan and implement carbon reduction strategies. Clients who work with Carbon Clear to demonstrate their commitment to environmental responsibility include Eurostar, Innocent Drinks, 3M, Multimap and Computer Cabs.

Mark Chadwick, CEO, Carbon Clear, said: “At Carbon Clear we believe that achieving climate neutrality can be an immensely positive experience. We are passionate about helping others to see sustainable business as both necessary and desirable. It is important that we share best practice and success stories in order to inspire others; through the Climate Neutral Network we can create a community that illustrates how good a sustainable future can be.”

In a statement welcoming Carbon Clear as a new CN Net participant, UNEP said: “We believe that the expertise of pioneering carbon management companies like Carbon Clear will benefit not only CN Net participants but also the broader private sector community, by helping businesses ‘kick their carbon habit’.”

Friday, 18 April 2008

In Memoriam: Energy Expert Alex Farrell

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations | 17 April 2008

– Alexander E. Farrell, an associate professor in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked closely with state government over the past year to chart a course to reduce California's carbon emissions, died earlier this week at his home in San Francisco. He was 46.

Farrell, who joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 2003 and became director of the campus's Transportation Sustainability Research Center in 2006, was recognized internationally as a leading expert on transportation fuels and the role of transportation in climate change. His research interests included biofuels, hybrid electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles, the low-carbon fuel standard and transportation sustainability.

"He was one of the leading lights in the area of low-carbon fuels and energy systems, and his career was on a dramatic rise," said colleague Dan Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group and of public policy who helped recruit Farrell to UC Berkeley and co-authored many papers with him, including a just-released report on plug-in hybrid vehicles. "The trajectory of his career and his contributions were both impressive. Alex was a great mentor to the graduate students in the group as well as to students from across campus working on energy and sustainability."


"Alex was brilliant, energetic, supportive, insightful and caring, and he had a way of challenging his colleagues and students to think more critically even when they thought they already were," said Tim Lipman, a UC Berkeley colleague and the founding research director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center. "His career had reached a point where his loss is an enormous one, not just for the Energy and Resources Group and the transportation center, but also for the global transportation and energy community."

Monday, 7 April 2008

UK Government Considers Mandatory Carbon Footprints for Business

I attended a carbon footprinting discussion at the UK Houses of Parliament last year on behalf of Carbon Clear. At that session, Christian Aid and other organisations were calling for standardised corporate carbon footprinting and a Defra representative mentioned that they were setting aside funding to research the issue.

It was therefore no surprise to read in yesterday's Independent on Sunday newspaper that the UK Government has moved closer to requiring publicly listed companies to disclose their corporate carbon footprints along with the other data included in their annual reports.

There are many reasons why diferent actors would want companies to report this information. First, it makes it easier to benchmark the performance of individual firms. This enables government, shareholders and activists to identify and praise the environmental leaders and criticise the laggards. Such pressure, it is hoped, will pressure companies faster voluntary action to reduce emissions.

The second, and to my mind more important rationale, is that mandatory carbon footprints provides greater access to a very powerful management tool for large and small companies alike. Carbon footprinting provides an opportunity for managers to look at their company from a new perspective. In addition to helping benchmarking against the competition, understanding and tackling your corporate carbon footprint provides five key benefits:

  1. Reducing costs: As a company, your biggest sources of carbon emissions are often items that cost you money: fuel, electricity, raw materials, and waste disposal. Using these resources more efficiently can trim your carbon footprint while helping your bottom line.
  2. Developing new business opportunities: The "green and ethical" consumer market was worth £30 billion in 2006 and continues to grow rapidly. Companies that can respond to this opportunity new lower-carbon products and services stand to gain competitive advantage.
  3. Engaging staff and customers: As I pointed out in an earlier post, employees expect their companies to be good environmental citizens. Developing a carbon footprint reduction strategy is a way to involve a cross section of staff in an exciting new initiative, secure a visible commitment from senior management, and strengthen morale.
  4. Strengthening the brand: A report by the Carbon Trust indicates that climate change has put over £20 billion pounds of brand equity at risk. Communicating your low-carbon credentials in an effective manner can help companies protect and strengthen their brand in a low-carbon economy. For example, Walkers gained a tremendous amount of free publicity when it put carbon footprint labels on its potato chips. More and more companies are joining in.
  5. Increasing peace of mind: Climate change creates winners and losers. Government policies, customer buying behaviour, investment criteria and business costs all change when we shift to a low-carbon economy. Measuring and analysing the corporate carbon footprint is the first step in understanding how climate change affects the company. That knowledge helps managers increase the likelihood that their company is a winner.

It's a shame that the Independent article doesn't mention any of these benefits. The main response they highlight from a business spokesperson is a negative one:

"The CBI said on Friday in response to the news that although it endorsed mandatory reporting and would like to see it implemented by 2013, the definition of carbon emissions was not sufficiently developed for the move to be introduced this year."

In fact, Carbon Clear and major corporations around the world have been using an international standard, ISO 14064-1, to measure carbon footprints for years. That standard was released two years ago and has been used by hundreds of governments, small businesses and multinational corporations. Other listed companies around the world are already reporting their emissions under a variant of this standard for the Carbon Disclosure Project. So the main objection to mandatory reporting - that there's no standard definition - goes away.

We'll keep watching as government policy evolves. After all, at Carbon Clear, we help companies and individuals take action to tackle climate change and gain as much benefit as possible from the shift to a low-carbon economy. The more tools we can give our partners, the better.

(Back to the Carbon Clear website)

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Climate Change: Mitigate, Adapt or Suffer

My former grad school professor, John Holdren, is working with the United Nations Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development. His task is to harness the best scientific minds to recommend options for addressing the threat of climate change.

Late last year, John gave a speech where he summarised the main choices available to us:
  • Mitigation - taking steps to cut our carbon emissions and reverse deforestation;
  • Adaptation - investing in flood protection, shifting agriculture and other measures to adjust to a changing environment; and
  • Suffering the consequence that we cannot otherwise avoid.
As Holdren points out, "We're already doing some mitigation, some adaptation, and some suffering...the question is what the future mix will be." You can see his entire presentation here.

Nicholas Stern has pointed out that mitigation provides the biggest bang for the buck - transitioning to a low-carbon economy would only cost 1-2% of global GDP. The advantage of mitigation is that it can keep us below a climate "tipping point", where we enter a runaway cycle of rising temperatures and emissions. So we can't just adapt our way out of the problem.

However, some adaptation will be inevitable as well - even if we could magically stop all our greenhouse gas emissions today, the temperature would still increase another 0.6 degrees C, thanks to all the extra heat stored in the oceans over the past century.

As a society, we have a choice of how much mitigation, adaption and suffering we will accept. Our job at Carbon Clear is to help companies and individuals make the right choice and take action.

Friday, 1 February 2008

UK CO2 Emissions Down in 2006

The UK Government yesterday released the results from its 2006 national greenhouse gas emissions inventory. The emissions inventory measures both greenhouse gas emissions from energy use, transport, agriculture and other activities, and absorption of CO2 by trees in the forestry sector. At 652 million tonnes CO2 equivalent, the total represents a 0.5% decrease from the 655 million tonnes recorded 2005.

0.5% is quite a bit below the 2-3% target that many experts want included in the national Climate Change Bill. Some sectors of the economy made significant reductions, while others actually saw their emissions increase. Energy emissions have increased 1.5% as rising gas prices stimulated a shift to coal-fired power generation. Other residential emissions have fallen 4%. On the aviation front, emissions from domestic flights have fallen 2.8%, while international aviation emissions rose 1.5%.

Interestingly, the Government also tracked the effect of carbon credits traded on the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). The UK was a net buyer of these credits, purchasing 34 million tonnes of carbon offsets, 4% of total emissions.

A good start, but much more is needed.

Friday, 4 January 2008

What Success Means

Late last night I listened to the news reports from the Iowa Caucuses. Senator John Edwards, a democratic candidate, was making a commitment to the American people to focus on making them successful. Of course, this is par for the course for any candidate for office.

Something he said made me sit up and listen. He defined the promised success in an interesting way. He talked about the many generations of Americans who had improved their country for their children. Implicit in this was the idea of leaving our children better off than us. From my perspective, this is an excellent definition of success.

Unfortunately, to many of us today our definition of success is short-term. Success means a job with higher pay and more status. Success means several expensive holidays to far flung locations. Success means the large and luxurious car. In short, we define our success by the accumulation of consumer goods and by our ability to purchase yet more of them.

In a world that is resource constrained and that is suffering significant environmental damage due to our consumption, there may be a case for a new definition.

Perhaps John Edwards hit the nail on the head. Perhaps we should start to consider the future prosperity of our children when we think about success. For sure, we need to do all we can to maintain a stable environment and ample resources to allow our children and children's children to enjoy a peaceful and long life. Success for them will be impossible without this.

Following on from Jamal's challenge to reduce our carbon footprint, I'd like to issue this challenge; use the beginning of 2008 to re-evaluate your personal definition of success. Look at your decisions with a longer time frame in mind and make choices based on a balance of success now, and success in the future. Many businesses and individuals have already taken this challenge and are finding that change isn't painful, and very often brings huge benefits.

Time to take the challenge?

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Carbon Clear Resolutions

The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reports that only 15% of Britons resolved to reduce their carbon footprint in 2008. That number seems surprisingly low; perhaps many people simply felt this resolution - like most - would be difficult to keep.

One reason that New Year's resolutions are hard to keep is that they are often phrased as overall goals instead of specific, easy to accomplish tasks. I recommend taking a relatively vague resolution like "reduce my carbon footprint", and breaking it up into easy-to-accomplish physical actions.

Defra provides a laundry list of typical lower-carbon measures that can reduce your carbon impact. These include riding your bike to work instead of driving, installing low-energy lightbulbs, and turning the thermostat down by one degree. This list is a good start, but may not be enough to help everyone keep those resolutions.

The problem is that we often face a series of barriers that must be overcome before we can do the thing we want. In other words, that action (ride bike to work), is actually an entire project. In order to ride my bike to work, I may need to:
  1. Take the bike to the local shop for a tune-up;
  2. Buy a rain jacket, waterproof gloves, and a bike light;
  3. Identify a safe cycling route between home and work; and
  4. Find a secure place to lock the bike during the day.
And "ride my bike to work" was not even the main New Year's resolution! No wonder these resolutions are so hard to keep.

In order to make progress on the transition to a low-carbon future, we have to set realistic and creative goals, and then lay out the specific steps to achieve that goal.

So here's a challenge: look at Defra's list of suggestions for a low-carbon New Year's Resolution and break it into manageable chunks. Sketch out the specific, tangible steps that you will need to take in order to make each one happen.

Next, take out a calendar and write each of those steps in for a specific date. Before you know it, you'll be ticking off those steps and making real progress towards keeping your New Year's Resolution.

At Carbon Clear, we're dedicated to helping you control your carbon impact, in 2008 and beyond. Visit our website to learn what else you can do at home and at work.

Happy New Year from Carbon Clear

Welcome to 2008.

For a long time, the climate change debate seems to have been about whether or not there is a problem, and whether humanity has caused it. Thankfully, 2007 saw even steadfast global warming skeptics acknowledge that this debate is over.

Now a new debate is underway.

On the one hand is a faction that claims we have already reached a "tipping point", and that it's too late to prevent serious climate change. Some people making this claim argue that we should shift our focus to adaptating to the impacts of living in a warmer world.

On the other hand are people who say that it's not too late, and who applaud the future-oriented targets of the recent Bali climate negotiations, the UK Climate Change Bill and elsewhere - with targets that reach to 2050 and beyond.

Either way, this debate means not enough effort right now to reduce our carbon impact.

Choosing to tackle climate change isn't an "either-or" decision, it's a matter of degree. We have a lot of choices to make:

  • We have a choice over how much we want to fight global warming;
  • We have a choice over how much energy we use, what type, and at what cost;
  • We have a choice about how we want to work, travel, live and play;
  • We have a choice over what kind of world we want to leave for our children, our friends, and the rest of humanity.
These are not difficult choices. Taking the carbon out of our lives does not have to be painful. On balance, the benefits - of which there are many - far outweigh the costs.

The Carbon Clear team is determined to speed businesses, governments, and individuals on the path to a low-carbon future. Everyone needs to control his or her carbon impact. Carbon Clear is here to help.

(To the Carbon Clear homepage)