Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Chucking out the offsetting cowboys

Carbon offsetting is flavour of the month. As the Low Carbon Kid's always said, it's Catch-23 - having your cake and eating it.



Two reasons it doesn't work:

One: there are lots of scam compnies around, and it's unregulated.



The Government is expected to make an announcement on Thursday (day after tomorrow), setting standards for carbon offsetting schemes in the UK.

57 schemes are expected to fail and only 4 to comply with the new rules when they are announced.

Just goes to show how much green hot air there is around.

Two: It doesn't work anyway



I agree with those like Ed Gillespie who say cash payment to an offset company is actually counter-productive and represents a 'get out of carbon jail free' card.

I fear that carbon offsetting, rather than encourgaing 'carbon literacy' and increasing the transparency of our own personal carbon impacts, instead tends to absolve us of any moral responsibility or accountability to reduce our own carbon from air travel.

The end result being: "I've offset so it's OK to fly".

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Carbon offsets. A grey issue where businesses are saying, ohh this is great, a great way to save the environment and make money...then just making money, and where environmentalists get all het up and anti-capitalist.

A dose of rationality anyone?

Surely the rational response to a flexible system for taking responsibility for your emissions is to make sure the emissions really are offset i.e to regulate not to bitch about people not getting it?

What exactly are we meant to get? If i am volunteering to pay so that clean energy can be subsidised over coal or energy efficient measure can be put in place then what is wrong with that?

Regulations can rule out land use offsets (preferably) or demand insurance to gaurentee permenance. If a good energy efficient project is done to a high standard then the uncertainty should be relatively low...therefore you can buy 50% more offset and know that it is very likely that you are atleast carbon neutral and probably carbon negative!

To describe offseting from a different angle. You could offset your own emissions. Chose your budget, then if you seem to be geting near that limit you spend enough money to ensure you will stay bellow the limit. Perhaps to much driving leads to a few hundered pounds in loft insulation.

Now if you live in a new house then saving might be costly but perhaps your neighbout has a draughty house, wouldnt it make sense to buy them the insulation or draft stripping and save more energy for less cost? Perhaps even CFL's?

Make this bigger, why not go wherever the price of mitigation is cheapest, aslong as the scheme is varifiable and fair to the people affected then why is it wrong?

Is environmentalism about self-flagellation or progress?

Quite frankly, if people varifiably offset there emissions then YES they are not climate criminals by flying! They are not harming the climate so what right do you as a climate activist have to criticise them?

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Rant over, i have never been entirely inline with what you say but i have been at a stage where i wouldn't fly because i was uncertain of the issues. That is over, i`m clear now, there was no reason for this other then social Mores within the environmental movement. I don't have plans to fly anywhere but would feel quite happy to do so aslong as i take my responsibility for the climate seriously and verify a good climate offset project.

David T said...

Succinctly, it's because if you take contraction and convergence seriously and believe the stats on how much we need to reduce total emissions (Aubrey Meyer says by 90% by 2050, not 50%), you need to do the loft insulation, and turn down the thermostat, and cycle, and not fly and stop buying needless stuff. Using words like self-flagellation is cry-baby nonsense. We have to end the "I want it now" culture. You can't have your cake and eat it - not this one - it's too big. That's the logical response to the stats and projections. We have to stop pretending to people. but they won't listen of course until there's a catastrophe, which is what my original Catch-23 blog post says.

Anonymous said...

Succinctly, it's because if you take contraction and convergence seriously

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I DO
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and believe the stats on how much we need to reduce total emissions (Aubrey Meyer says by 90% by 2050, not 50%), you need to do the loft insulation, and turn down the thermostat, and cycle, and not fly and stop buying needless stuff.

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You list each of the things that we can do but don't mention carbon offsets. This is bizarre because if you buy good quality carbon offsets then you could either do all the things that you suggest OR the carbon offset. Taking your arguments gist i think you mean we (humanity) need to use all options. Carbon offsets would be impossible if this was the case globally as offsets could not be 'adittional', this would be great. However, it is not the case.

You could--and seem to be-- arguing not that we take responsibility for our emissions but for the entire mitigation potential that we are capable of? The dichotomy therefore being low impact life plus offsets vs low impact life or offsets which are comparable.

This is not an argument for do no harm but an argument for not standing aside whilst others suffer. This is the nature of your argument, take it on if you like but i don't think that serious change can be made on this basis. This adittional step from ethical (minimum for a livable society) to moral (complex and personal beliefs) is a step to far. Individuals may act morally, but for a society and business adherence to ethical standards is probably as far as it is useful to go.

How many people do you know buying good qaulity carbon offsets for emissions they havent been responsible for?
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Using words like self-flagellation is cry-baby nonsense. We have to end the "I want it now" culture.
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I`m not sure what the I want it now culture is but i do know that travel is great for broadening peoples views and good fun!

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You can't have your cake and eat it - not this one - it's too big. That's the logical response to the stats and projections. We have to stop pretending to people. but they won't listen of course until there's a catastrophe, which is what my original Catch-23 blog post says.

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I think we need to aim for a carbon constrained world where everything is being done and carbon offsets are impossible. I am off to a meeting next month to discuss promoting C&C. In the mean time, i will fail to see a convincing argument for anything other than stringent regulation of carbon offsets. We have so much to ain from this market if done properly, and it has a chance in hell of brining substantial solid returns.

Anonymous said...

This notion that carbon credits provide a some sort of 'get out of gaol free card' is spurious. Carbon credits ascribe a financial burden on polluters and, properly managed, channel funds to project that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The argument that, becuase I offset, I would choose to fly more, or drive a bigger car, is ridiculous. Surely someone who chooses to offset, and thus voluntarily takes on the financial burden of cleaning up their own pollution, is not likely to want to add to that financial burden.

DEFRA in the UK is, as you have pointed out, establishing a code of best practice for carbon offsetters and I think this is a much needed step.

Yes there is a hoard of cowboy operators out there taking people's money and doing diddly-squat in exchange for it, and this is a blight on the entire offset industry. But to damn the whole concept of carbon credits is a mistake.

I agree that carbon credits are not the only solution to the global warming problem. My company has built up a team of incredibly skilled engineers who specialise in performing carbon emissions audits. A major part of those audits is a series of recommendations on how the subject of the audit can reduce their emissions naturally, ie before considering offsets. Many of these recommendations are common sense.

Our approach is measure, reduce, then offset. The carbon credits we retail are forestry credits, generated under a government backed certification scheme using only native hardwood trees newly planted on land that was cleared previous to 1990.

Another key distinction between what we do and what the cowboys do is that we actualy transfer legal title of the carbon credits over to our customers. Less reputable operation don't do this, they simply take your money and promise, often dishonestly, to do some good with that money.

Carbon credits serve to protect people who wish to pay money to clean up after themselves. They certainly do not serve to encourage profligacy as you suggest.

Please see our FAQ on carbon credits for more details.

We have a terribly urgent problem to solve on this planet and it requires a mix of solutions. Above all it requires that people channel money towards the cleaning up of the mess we have created, and continue to create. I challenge you to come up with a better, more direct way of removing carbon from the air that sohpisticated forestry management funded by individual and corporate funds.

Cheers - Dave Sag (CEO of Carbon Planet).

David T said...

As Friend of the Earth's Tony Juniper says, neutralising doesn't affect the fact that you have put the greenhouse gases in the air. They are causing global warming. Even if you are planting trees that take them out, it'll be years before they do so, meanwhile those little ole molecules are doing their warm-up act.

Or, say you invest in renewables,you're creating carbon-fre energy for someone to use, yes, but your GHG molecules are still up in the sky playing bat-and-ball with infra-red radiation.

What we need to do is stop them getting there in the first place, don't you agree?

Anonymous said...

What we need to do is stop them getting there in the first place, don't you agree?
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I believe i have made i quite clear that i do agree that this is preferable and that i support methods other than sequestration for carbon offsets.

But your argument simply dosent hold water. Weather i produce GHG's by buying high energy goods and causing industry to emit co2 OR i fail to fund clean developement elswhere in the world the result is the same.

I agree with Dave on the point from tony juniper being spurious. If you are paying for something you damn well are taking responsibility for it! Currently most people don't and they should--paying the price is not getting away with it. Tony's is such a common fallacy and in the environmental movement you have to ask why? Basically it is anti-capitalist it is anti-cooperative and it is ideological nonsense. I think it is people who should be railing against rampant irrisponsible capitalism (that we all need to fight!) and taking it one step to far.

It's 'Truthiness' it sounds right, its intuative but it just happens to be wrong.

David T said...

Let's say there are N tonnes of GHG in the atmopshere.

Suppose I engage in activity A which produces 10 tonnes of GHG, then there are immediately N+10 tonnes in the atmopshere

If I fund a PV installation which over 10 years allows the generation of electricity which removes the need for more carbon-based investment in generation, then I have still allowed the GHG produced by Activity A to be active for the time it takes for my mitigation to become effective.

If Activity A is flying to, say, Helsinki for a climate conference or for a holiday I'd have been better to have video-conferenced or taken a holiday nearer home, somewhere I can travel by train, and which might be just as much fun.

This is true regardless of any ideological position concerning capitalsm.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

On that point, i agree with you completely.

But this is a technical issue, and not where the argument started off; which is fine i`m all for arguments moving forward!

It would be resolved if people could only sell credits that have been created, but i don't think this is how things are currenly done...good suggestion though...you might like to take that to the gorvornments enquiry that has just started.

In the mean time...

With CFL's the credits would be generated over the lifetime of the bulbs--perhaps 5 years?

This means that 100% of the co2 is in the air for the firt instant, around 80% for one year etc...its a bit of a maths question...integrate under the curve. To answer the question in a fully conservative manner lets just assume that all the carbon is in the air for the whole five years...this is a vast improvement compared to just emitting co2 which typically stays in the atmosphere for 50-200 years.

So this arguent isn't perticularly strong, but should be taken into account.

David T said...

Sorry Calvin, I'm sure we agree on a lot, but I'm really not sure you are getting my point. Nor am I sure your CFL example is analagous to mine.

Using a CFL instead of an incandescent is to do with energy efficiency. To count it additionally as compensating for another load of CO2 emitted by, say, an event which it might be matched with, doesn't alter the fact that 100% of the CO2 from the event remains in the air not just for the 5 years your CFL takes to save the equivalent amount of CO2 from being emitted, but for 100 years or so. We're dealing with the issue of additionality.

The problem may be easier to see in the context of developing countries being given PV panels to compensate for David Miliband flying to Rio, to choose a cheeky example. If the panel provides electricity additional to what is being used already it can hardly be said to count. But if it replaces a diesel generator then it does.

Another way to see the scale of the problem is to look at the International Energy Agency's yearly energy stats and projections. Renewable energy is increasing in deployment by 100s of percentage points a year - yet as a percentage of total energy use in the world it is struggling to keep up, as total energy use is also increasing dramatically.

Neutralising is necessary and important, but only if it provides additional savings to what would happen anyway. If I fly on holiday instead of going to Scotland BECAUSE I now feel less guilty having purchased credits, it's clearly better to take the train to Scotland and let some other more essential activity be neutralised.

Your argument takes care, perhaps, of convergence, but I fail to see what it has to do with contraction.