Thursday, 26 May 2011

"All the Trees Will be Very Unhappy"

The ongoing effort to protect and revitalise forests is one of the key ways people are coming together to combat climate change.  Deforestation, after all, is responsible for around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, ecologists are hinting that climate change is causing yet another harmful feedback loop that reduces forests' ability to store carbon.

Throughout the tropics, lianas compete with trees for light, water and soil nutrients.  These fast-growing vines use the tree trunks for support and then sprout luxuriant leaves when they reach the tree canopy.  Where lianas are particularly aggressive, trees are weaker and die faster.  In some cases, they become so thick that trees are more easily blown over in heavy wind and rain.  The fallen trees die, but the flexible lianas survive and sprout new shoots.

As ecologist Dr. Stefan Schnitzer notes in the New York Times article, “If you come back in a year, it will have changed,” he said. “There will be a whole lot of vines in there, all rooted, all growing. And all the trees will be very unhappy.”

Faster growing trees are better able to compete with lianas, but these tend to have softer, less dense wood - which stores less carbon.  All told, the growth of lianas can reduce the carbon storage capacity of a forest by as much as 10%, according to the article.

Now for the climate feedback connection: lianas appear better able than trees to adapt to extended dry periods, precisely the conditions expected in much of the tropics as the planet warms. Lianas also appear more effective at utilising extra carbon dioxide to form new growth, so increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations could be enhancing lianas' competitive advantage versus slower-growing trees.  In other words, human activity may be impeding forests' ability to absorb CO2, which makes it harder to reduce CO2 concentrations.

Long-term studies to understand how lianas and trees interact are just beginning, but this is a sobering reminder of the unanticipated effects of global climate change.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

After the DECC Quality Assurance Scheme

As mentioned in earlier posts, the UK Government is ending support for its Quality Assurance Scheme (QAS) for carbon offsets.  So what happens now?

The first point to recognise is that this isn't the end of the world for the voluntary carbon market. Few serious companies participated actively in the scheme, and even those sold relatively few QAS approved carbon offset credits. In terms of quality control and integrity, the QAS was obsolete before it even launched, having been overtaken by the Code of Practice launched in 2008 by the International Carbon Offset and Reduction Alliance (ICROA).  The ICROA Code is followed by some of the largest carbon offset retailers around the world and governs the types of carbon credits sold, the way carbon footprints are calculated, the reduction advice given to customers, and the way members and their customers communicate a company's "carbon neutral" status.  It should be no surprise to learn that Carbon Clear is a founding member and has actively led the evolution of the Code.

Last year the British Standards Institute launched a carbon neutrality specification that mirrors many aspects of the ICROA Code - but not the QAS.

The second point is that the end of the QAS helps unshackle the voluntary carbon offset market.  The original planners of the QAS sent mixed messages, describing the characteristics of a quality carbon credit, and then rejecting VCS and Gold Standard credits even when they were shown to meet those criteria.  What is more, subsequent Government guidance documents all pointed to the QAS as the arbiter of quality, despite rising criticism from indsutry.

VER credits from VCS, Gold Standard and elsewhere offer a number of benefits over the QAS approved varieties.  First, these credits are directly traceable to specific projects that often provide co-benefits unmatched in the compliance credit world.  Voluntary offset customers want credits that help them communicate their environmental and ethical credentials to stakeholders.  It's much easier to accomplish this objective with an improved cookstove project in rural Malawi than a faceless industrial gas destruction project in China, or even more-faceless European allowances from a German steel mill.  What is more, these VER credits are often half the price of compliance credits - and sometimes even less.  One wonders how many customers were discouraged from offsetting by these mixed messages from the QAS.

By announcing that Government would now look to the carbon markets to establish best practice, DECC is removing a barrier to the adoption of carbon credits that meet these and other quality standards. Companies that previously offset through QAS-approved credits will be in a better position to engage with their stakeholders, and DECC is to be applauded for this bold move.

Indeed, I expect the UK voluntary carbon credit market to experience a renaissance as a result of DECC's decision.  As always, Carbon Clear is here to help.

Government Abandons Shunned Carbon Offset Assurance Scheme

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced that it will close its Quality Assurance Scheme for Carbon Offsetting. The move will be welcomed by the vast majority of carbon offset providers and customers who declined to participate in the scheme since its outset.

Despite a consultation exercise in 2007 and 2008 to which many carbon offset market participants responded, the Quality Assurance Scheme refused to include popular carbon offset credits certified by organisations such as the Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard.
Providers of these verified emission reduction (VER) credits argued that DECC’s refusal to approve these credits was confusing and counter-productive, as these credits tend to be most popular with voluntary offset customers and meet all of the conditions laid out by DECC for quality carbon offset credits. What is more, these carbon credit types provide much needed finance for clean energy and forestry projects in the developing world. As a result, members of the industry body ICROA declined to apply for accreditation under the Quality Assurance Scheme. [Carbon Clear is a Founding Member of ICROA.]
Only nine other organisations participated in the scheme, and many of these providers offered VERs alongside the scheme’s approved credits, leaving consumers and businesses confused when comparing different carbon offset schemes. Despite initial projections, the scheme was never able to become self-sustaining, requiring DECC to part-fund the scheme.
In a statement, DECC announced that “the carbon market has moved on substantially since the introduction of the QAS and DECC now believe it is for the market to set best practice for carbon offsetting”. DECC confirmed it will no longer provide financial support for the Quality Assurance Scheme and that it will close on 30 June 2011.
Mark Chadwick, CEO of Carbon Clear says, "Carbon Clear is internationally recognised as a best practice provider of carbon offset credits, and by working with us businesses looking to ensure that their carbon offsets are certified, real and permanent can offset with confidence."

Monday, 23 May 2011


According to this article, the Government's so-called "Quality Assurance Scheme" for carbon offsetting has finally gotten the axe due to lack of interest.

I could have told them back when it was first announced that it was inappropriate and would be a waste of time and money.

Actually, I did.

I'll comment more fully on what this announcement means later today.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

DECC Announces Fourth Carbon Budget

The UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) released the Government's fourth Carbon Budget on Tuesday.  Britain was the first country to enact legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions that extend beyond the 2012 expiry of the Kyoto Protocol.

The 2008 Climate Change Act requires the Government to publish a series of five-year budgets that put the country on a path to achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  The first Carbon Budget (2008-2012) limits greenhouse gas emissions to 3,018 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) - 23% below 1990 levels.  The second Carbon Budget (2013-2017) is geared to achieve a 29% emissions reduction, and the third Carbon Budget (2018-2022) put the Government on track to achieve 35% reduction below 1990 levels.

Under the Fourth Carbon Budget, which covers the period 2023-2027, total UK emissions will be only 1,950 MtCO2 - half of 1990 levels. The Government is now pushing the rest of the EU to adopt a more ambitious 30% emissions reduction target by the year 2020 - up from the current 20%.

Given the difficulty of replacing fossil fuels in the transportation sector (a topic to which we'll return in subsequent blog posts), other sectors will see disproportionate emission reductions.  In particular, GHG emissions from the power sector will have to drop  almost to zero.  All fossil fuel-fired power plants will have to have carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology - or cease operation.  Already, the 750 MW Tilbury power station is in the process of switching to 100% renewable biomass instead of coal.  Their fuel pellets will come from a purpose-built plant in the southeastern United States.  Imports of biomass for heat and power in the UK will likely skyrocket in this low-carbon future.

Similarly, few if any residences will be able to0 use natural gas to provide heat and hot water - renewable energy and efficiency will have to pick up the slack.

Achieving these ambitious reductions will require major structural changes in how we live, work and play.  The UK Government is providing an array of carrots and sticks in the form of the EU-ETS, Carbon Reduction Commitment, feed-in-tariffs and other policies to provide incentives for organisations and individuals to reduce emissions.  At Carbon Clear, we're committed to helping companies identify opportunities that arise from these shifts.  Keep watching this space for more ideas and analysis.

(to the Carbon Clear Homepage)

Monday, 16 May 2011

IEMA Handbook 2nd Edition Published!

The long-awaited second edition of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment's (IEMA) handbook "Environmental Management in Organizations" has been published by Earthscan.  The Handbook, a 560-page tome, is intended to be the reference of choice for IEMA's 14,000+ members, and for others who require an introduction to key environmental management issues.  Carbon Clear is a corporate member of IEMA, and I'm pleased to have been invited to contribute the chapters on Energy and on Climate Change.

The editors, John Brady, Alison Ebbage and Ruth Lunn, wanted to perform a "root and branch" review and update of the handbook to reflect changes in environmental thinking and priorities since the first edition was released back in 2004.  That's no small feat given how much the ground has shifted over the past seven years!  Based on the copy that arrived on my desk the other day, I think they've done an admirable job.

One of the big shifts since 2004 has been the increased worldwide focus on climate change and sustainable energy issues.  In the first edition, these topics were lumped together in a single (well-written) chapter.  This time, the editors decided to create two standalone chapters on these important subjects, and also worked to weave climate change themes throughout other chapters in the Handbook.

I think this was the right choice.  Aside from giving me the opportunity to author two chapters instead of one, providing separate space for each issue acknowledges that while energy and climate change are related, they are not the same thing.  Energy production and consumption are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, but so are agriculture, deforestation, and the production of industrial gases like hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).  Separate chapters allow the editors (and author) freedom to explore the broader implications each has for environmental managers.

With the Handbook's publication, the Carbon Clear Blog will be focusing on some of the issues and themes discussed in the Climate Change and Energy chapters.  Stay tuned!