Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Carbon Expo, the Facilities Show and Sustainability Live!

 Event season is well and truly upon us.  In mid-May the Carbon Clear team hits the road to appear at environmental and business conferences and exhibitions across Europe.  Three major events in three weeks and today is the halfway point.

Last week Shefali Modi, the head of our carbon reduction team, gave a talk at the Facilities Show at NEC Birmingham.  The Facilities Show is the biggest facilities management exhibition in the UK.  For a group of professionals who focus everyday on how businesses respond to climate change, this was a can't-miss opportunity.  Addressing the built environment may be our single greatest lever in our efforts to tackle climate change.  From concrete (carbon emissions from cement kilns) and timber (deforestation), to energy and refrigerant use, to the provision of parking and bike storage areas, the decisions we make about buildings and facilities will drive much of our response to climate change.

Shefali spoke about "Carbon Management in Practice" to a packed house as part of the show's 'Sustainable FM Academy'.  Later she participated in a panel debate called "The Great Energy Discussion".  It's always great to reach out to such an important sector, and we look forward to continuing the many conversations that begun during the event.

This week, a team of our best and brightest are exhibiting at Sustainability Live! (the exclamation point is part of the name, but we'd be excited anyway).  Sustainability Live! is the UK's leading water, energy, environmental, land and sustainable business exhibition and we started going years ago.  For us, this is a great opportunity to meet old and new business contacts, learn about the latest developments from other service and product providers in the industry, and of course get everyone excited about the benefits we provide to companies looking to transform their relationship to carbon.

If you're at Sustainability Live! this week you can find us on stand S15.

Next week, from 30th May - 1st June, I'll be in Koln (aka Cologne), Germany with some of my colleagues to attend Carbon Expo 2012.  Carbon Expo is the big daddy of business-focused climate change conferences.  This year it is taking place just down the road (figuratively speaking) and one week after the policy-focused (and controversy-filled) United Nations Bonn Climate Change Conference. The policy decisions resulting from the Bonn Conference will ultimately affect companies that participate in the EU ETS, the evolution of compliance markets in other countries, and the voluntary carbon market.  As a result, I expect some lively discussions at Koln in the wake of that event!

Carbon Clear is a major sponsor of the 2012 State of the Voluntary Carbon Market report, published annually by Ecosystem Marketplace. "The State of" report is the most widely read voluntary carbon market publication and the 2012 edition will be launched at Carbon Expo on May 31.  We'll be there for the side event marking the launch, and will have copies of this important report available on our stand immediately after the launch.

You can find us at Carbon Expo on stand B057.

If you're attending any of these events, be sure to come over and visit us.  If not, you can always contact our team via the Carbon Clear website.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Raising the Speed Limit - Not the Solution the UK Needs

The UK Government is set to announce a consultation about increasing the highway speed limit to 80 miles per hour.  The idea, first floated last September, is meant to contribute to economic growth by reducing losses associated with time spent behind the wheel.  The main justification given by Government ministers for this proposal is that vehicles are much safer than they used to be, more than offsetting any increased safety risk

This is a very curious argument from a government representative, but it's largely beside the point. Speed limits didn't drop in the U.S. and UK because of safety concerns.  They dropped so that those economies could save fuel, and so that motorists could save money.  While road safety advocates can argue the case for and against a higher motorway speed limit, we'll focus on the carbon impact.

As the graph above indicates, higher speeds generally translate into greater fuel consumption, and thus greater greenhouse gas emissions.  This result should be obvious to anyone who has stuck his or her hand out of the window of a moving car.  40% of a car's fuel is used at highway speeds simply to push air out of the way, and the amount of power required to overcome wind resistance increases along the cube of the velocity.  In other words, driving 14% faster (from 70mph to 80mph) will result in much more than a 14% increase in fuel consumption - the actual figure is closer to 20%.  This is bad news for companies and individuals looking to reduce their carbon footprints.

Airlines around the world have already put the Government's claims to the test.  They have tested their customer base and determined that, within limits, fuel savings trump faster arrival times.  Indeed, commercial airliners have been flying 10 mph slower since 2008 in an effort to save fuel.  In the U.S., JetBlue has added two minutes to each flight, saving over $13 million a year on jet fuel.

Even this superficial analysis shows that cutting carbon and saving money go hand-in-hand.  Money saved on fuel can go into hiring staff, purchasing goods and services, and making productive investments.  Increasing the speed limit seems like a very curious way to help the economy.

Friday, 11 May 2012

UK Public Wants Corporate Climate Disclosure

First the USA, now the UK.  Yesterday the Aldersgate Group reported the results of a poll showing that over three-quarter of the British public supports mandatory carbon reporting by large companies.

These findings come at an interesting time in the debate about support for climate change action.  As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT) levels have been slashed in recent months, resulting in a marked drop in new PV system installations across the UK. Now there is  concern that Government support for the Green Deal, an initiative to finance building efficiency retrofits, is wavering.

Companies, meanwhile, are beginning to demand more from their climate change initiatives.  It is not enough anymore to buy a few credits, declare oneself carbon neutral and post a certificate on the wall.  Company directors now want to understand the business case for tackling climate change, and are under increasing pressure to document the financial return from these measures.

The Aldersgate Group/ Populus poll helps provide this ammunition.

While 77% of the general population believes businesses should face mandatory carbon reporting, the figure jumps to 84% for the desirable 18-44 year-old age group.  It is this age group that comprises the target market for most consumer-facing brands.  This age group also encompasses the bulk of the working age population, and the overwhelming majority of civic activists.

In other words, the overwhelming majority of customers, employees and potential protesters expect companies to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions.  As Carbon Clear reported last summer, most FTSE 100 companies already disclose the basics of their carbon footprint, but the quality and depth of those reports vary widely.  What is more, rates of carbon disclosure and reduction drop off rapidly for companies outside the FTSE 100.

These results are a wake-up call for Britain's corporate sector.  In addition to being customers, employees and protesters, many of the people who responded to the Populus poll are also voters.  It's reasonable, therefore, to expect the debate about corporate climate change reporting to move up the political agenda and perhaps to result in legislation.

Increased climate change reporting is coming. Companies that take action now to understand their carbon footprint and put in place measures to drive carbon reductions will be best suited to thrive in this new world of carbon disclosure.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

40% of English Coastline Faces Erosion Risk

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, wrote a fascinating feature article in the weekend Financial Times about the cost of climate change adaptation.  Noting that 1,800 km of the 4,500 km English coast is at risk of erosion, Thurley concedes that the government simply can't afford to save every home and village and that some "will succumb to natural processes and be swept away."

But not all of them.  In Walberswick, Suffolk, villagers have formed a trust and plan to raise money to invest in sea defences.  In Bawdsey, a charitable trust, local landowners and the council contributed to the development of new houses and used the resulting profits to build a sea barrier to save a historic 19th-century gun platform.  Meanwhile, in Dorset, the Landmark Trust spent £889,000 to move Clavell Tower 25 metres inland.  These are just a few of the inspiring cases of communities coming together in support of climate change adaptation.

To be fair, Dr. Thurley doesn't call it "climate change adaptation".  In fact, he doesn't use phrases like "climate change" or "adaptation" or "global warming" anywhere in his entire 800-word article. This is a surprising omission, when both the UK's Environment Agency and the English Heritage website acknowledge the impact of rising sea levels and more intense storms on the English coast.  While some coastal erosion is due to the fact that England is sinking as Scotland continues its post-Ice Age rebound, climate change deserves much of the blame for what is to come.

And while some degree of warming is now locked in - along with the inevitable impacts, it is still not too late to stave off the worst a changing climate holds in store.  The 2006 Stern Review and a host of other studies show that it is far more cost effective to mitigate climate change - reduce emissions - than it is to simply continue business as usual an then pay to cope with the consequences.

There is a tremendous amount we can accomplish when we have the will.  We can reduce energy consumption, switch to greener sources of energy and less carbon-intensive agricultural practices, and pursue a host of other opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions where we live, work, and play.  As Dr. Thurley notes at the end of his article, "I see these measures as inspirational...This is a the welcome idea that individuals and communities can determine their own destiny."

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Carbon Capture and Storage: What's the Big Deal?

The U.S. Department of Energy has released the North American Carbon Storage Atlas (NACAS).  The atlas is a compendium of geologic sites across Canada, the United States and Mexico where it is theoretically possible to store CO2 produced from stationary sources like power plants, cement factories and the like.

The idea is that this atlas would be used to find and evaluate carbon storage sites close to big greenhouse gas emitters across the continent.  This, in turn, would help to improve the economics of carbon capture and storage (CCS) by reducing the logistics costs associated with transporting millions or billions of tonnes of liquified CO2 long distances.

Carbon capture and storage is one of a number of potential tools we can wield in the fight against climate change.  The technology has many variants, but the basic approach is to use chemical or mechanical systems to capture CO2 from exhaust gase. Another approach is to chemically remove and capture the CO2 from the fuel before it is burned. In either case, the CO2 is then liquified under pressure, transported to a geologic storage site, and injected into underground basins, where it intended to remain for hundreds of years.  After all, CO2 from burning fossil fuels only contributes to global warming if the gas is released to the atmosphere.

NACAS researchers estimate a potential storage capacity of 136 billion tonnes of CO2 in oil and gas fields (where CO2 injection can also release the last remaining oil, which ironically will release more CO2 when burned); 65 billion tonnes in coal fields; and 1.7trillion tonnes in saline reservoirs.

How does that compare to current emissions?  In 2010 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were approximately 6 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent, with 2.25 billion tonnes from electric power plants. So there is enough potential storage in oil, gas and coal fields to storage 88 years of CO2 from power plants, at today's rates of emissions.  If coal consumption increased as a result of population growth, economic activity or the lack of viable alternatives, this storage potential would not go as far.  And while saline reservoirs have the potential to hold several centuries' worth of CO2, appreciable injection rates can only be achieved at present with hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), a process that has caused tremendous concern when used to extract shale gas.

The North American Carbon Storage Atlas therefore serves a useful role in highlighting the theoretical potential of CCS in the fight against climate change.  However, it is still not clear whether CCS can play a practical role.  One rule of thumb is that commercial-scale CCS would consume approximately 20% of a power plant's output, which means that each unit of electricity sold to end users would be that much more expensive.  That figure does not include the cost to transport the liquid CO2 to the injection site and pump it into a storage reservoir 3 kilometers deep.  These cost considerations raise doubts about the potential of CCS at a time when wind and other clean energy technologies are falling rapidly in cost, and with governments unable or unwilling to invest billions in pilot schemes to perfect the technology.

The debate over CCS has now shifted to the U.N. Clean Development Mechanism, where proponents are exploring the use of carbon credits sales to help overcome the financial and technical barriers to implementation. Work continues on this front, with the CDM in its CMP 7 report in Durban agreeing to explore ways to develop acceptable rules governing long-term liability, site safety, permanence of the emission reductions, and a host of other issues.

I generally advocate a team approach to carbon reduction, where we pursue multiple emission reduction measures at the same time.  However, CCS is potentially so big that, despite its challenges it bears watching closely.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

ICROA's Code of Best Practice

Today I'm shepherding our third annual audit of Carbon Clear's compliance with the ICROA Code of Best Practice.

ICROA, or the International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Alliance, is a self-regulatory industry body established in 2008 by Carbon Clear and seven other reputable carbon offset providers in Europe, the United States and Australia.  We came together to promote good practice for offset-inclusive carbon management, and to make sure customers and other stakeholders continue to have confidence in the voluntary carbon market.

It's not easy for a company or non-profit organisation to become an ICROA member.  First there are the membership requirements, which include having an established track record delivering carbon management products and services, a minimum annual turnover (revenue) threshold, and checks on the applicant's  reputation.  Member companies commit to volunteering time and resources to strengthen ICROA and its voluntary carbon market work, which may go beyond their day-to-day commercial activities.

Most importantly, members must comply with ICROA's Code of Best Practice.  It is the Code and annual compliance audit that distinguishes ICROA from other membership and lobbying bodies in the carbon market.  I have chaired ICROA's Policy Working Group from the beginning and have therefore been intimately involved in the development and implementation of the Code of Practice.

In summary, the ICROA Code of Practice requires members to:
  1. Measure organisational or product and service carbon footprints to internationally recognised standards like ISO 14064-1, the WRI GHG Protocol, or PAS 2050.  Where members do not provide this service themselves, they must ensure that their subcontractors follow these standards;
  2. Encourage customers to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and help them identify opportunities to reduce their footprint;
  3. Help customers achieve zero net carbon emissions for all or part of their footprint via the use of carbon offsets from an ICROA-approved carbon credit standard.  Approved standards include American Carbon Registry, CarbonFix, the Verified Carbon Standard, the Climate Action Reserve, the Gold Standard, and of course the Clean Development Mechanism. (The ICROA Policy Working Group takes the lead in evaluating the suitability of carbon credit standards.)  Carbon credits must be shown to be real, measurable, permanent, additional, verifiable, and unique.
  4. Retire carbon offset credits in a traceable independent registry after they have been sold to ensure those offsets are permanently matched against specific customer greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Work with customers to ensure they are communicating their carbon footprint, reduction and offset activities accurately.
  6. Submit to an annual audit and report member compliance (or non-compliance) to the ICROA Secretariat.
The ICROA Code goes far beyond the requirements of the ill-fated Quality Assurance Scheme, which was  announced by DEFRA in the UK in 2007, finally launched by DECC in 2009 and abandoned in 2011.  It much more closely resembles the PAS 2060 "carbon neutrality" specification launched by BSI in 2010, which takes a similar "measure, reduce and offset" approach.

I believe the work of ICROA and its members is to some extent responsible for the rapidly growing maturity of the voluntary carbon market.  We are regularly approached by carbon offset providers who wish to become members, and push them to demonstrate good practice.  Even more interestingly, the carbon credit standards themselves often approach ICROA to be evaluated and added to the approved list.  A final proof point: last year, ICROA merged with the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), in recognition of the growing importance of the voluntary carbon market.

Indeed, I don't think it would be a huge stretch to claim that ICROA and its members have helped to keep the voluntary carbon market buoyant even as the compliance market struggles with depressed prices and reduced demand for credits.  As I noted a few days ago, customers in the voluntary carbon market offset for a variety of reasons, but the environmental integrity of the carbon offset process is key to the buying decision.

No one enjoys an audit, but the knowledge that this annual process helps to strengthen the carbon market and reassures our customers makes the ICROA compliance audit that much more bearable.

I'm on Twitter (Finally)!

After being prodded for the last few months by Clare, James and sundry others on the Carbon Clear team, I have set up my personal Twitter account.  You can follow me at @jgorecarbon, where I'll try to say something interesting now and again about energy, the environment, business, or whatever else comes to mind.

I know some people may find this hard to believe, so here's proof: