Biochar Madness?

You might run across the term “biochar”. Inventing a word which is prefaced by “bio” give the word an impression of green, sustainable and environmentally friend, like biofuel and biomass, but these words have been hijacked to create an impression that does not accord with reality. Continue reading

The Clean Development Mechanism seems on its way out

The Clean Development Mechanism was supposed to be one of the climate change weapons devised under the auspices of the United Nations to fight global warming. In essence the developed nations which are heavy emitters of greenhouse gas can buy carbon credits which are issued by undeveloped nations. The undeveloped nations get the right ti use carbon credits based on real measures that they have taken to prevent future emissions as a result of their attempts to change from undeveloped nations into developed ones. The undeveloped nations get UN money to finance these measures.

The Clean Development Mechanism has been heavily criticised (and not just by me). One criticism is that the UN money often goes to finance emission savings which would have happened anyway by companies with enough money and a commercial rationale to carry out the measures. In that sense the CDM has offered in some cases “free money”.

My criticism has been on a different basis. I think that the CDM is artificial and the emissions savings are largely theoretical not actual. It was conceived in the time when complex financial instruments were widely used – derivatives, hedges and hedges within hedges within hedges. This complexity did not in the long run help the world’s economy and the complexity and theory of the CDM will not help climate change; only real measures will do that.

At the height of its fashion the CDM received around 200 approval requests a month, which meant 200 projects seeking funding and claiming a climate change value to their projects. At first the administrators were, in my opinion, not sufficiently robust in rejecting applications which would have gone ahead without UN funding. Where there is a grant there will always be someone seeking to exploit it.

Today, for than five years after the CDM started its theoretical savings of emissions, grant application are down to around 75 a month and it looks as though they will fall further. Part of the reason is the present economic climate. It seems around 60% of people involved in CDM projects polled by Point Carbon give this the reason and there will be a reduction in carbon credits issued together with a corresponding reduction in theoretical emissions saved.

These credits are often financial investments for institutions and emitters of greenhouse gas. The recession is causing them to sell their existing credits (because they are polluting less with less economic activity) and not seek to invest in new credits.

Another reason of the decline seems to be the political uncertainty surrounding how to deal with climate change. The CDM was conceived at Kyoto and a new climate change treaty is due to be negotiated in 2012, so many investors and institutions are adopting a wait and see policy. While there is this political uncertainty at the international level the CDM applications will continue to decline.

Oops, the climate change accord at Bali needs to be changed!

With the hypocrisy of which only thick skinned beasts are capable without understanding the irony you might remember that last December the politicians of the world jetted off to a climate change conference. In order to keep their personal carbon feet as large as possible they went to Bali, in the South Pacific, probably the most inconvenient place they could find in terms of location. Continue reading

Predicting the future climate

Fortune telling is the preserve of entertainers and charlatans but predicting future climate changes is a science, albeit one in its infancy and that is a paradox, considering just how complex this infant is. Nevertheless this infant science is all that our leaders have to guide them in making the decisions that they make today. Those decisions will shape our future in ways far more fundamental than decisions ever made throughout human history. Continue reading

How carbon offsets are making us take our eye off the ball

Carbon offsets, like emission trading schemes, are sold as a way of reducing emissions. Small offsets can be purchased from commercial organisations (like banks and airlines) not known for their embrace of a low carbon green economy) or from businesses created especially to sell carbon offsets. However most offsets are operated by international companies under the various incentive and regulatory requirements of the various carbon trading schemes and the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism, which together provides not only a requirement to reduce greenhouse gas but incentives for businesses so to do.

The underlying thinking behind offsets is that it all right to emit carbon, provided that you offset it in another way. Continue reading

Why I do not buy carbon offsets

I do not buy carbon offsets.

The carbon offset is now big business. Plenty of people are being offered carbon offsets when they book air travel. In a moment of environmental concern many people do sign up. I do not recommend that you do buy a carbon offset . These are my reasons.

  1. We do not really understand how to offset carbon dioxide. You can plant a tree, but it has to be the right tree in the right place, otherwise you may well release as much carbon as you will save by ploughing up the land.
  2. Carbon emissions that you create stay in the atmosphere for one hundred years. What guarantee is there that the projects your carbon offsets invests in will remain for a hundred years? What happens if, for example, that the trees planted are cropped for biomass? Back goes the carbon!
  3. Third world renewable energy projects do not offset carbon. You can invest in a new third world renewable energy project, but that assumes that the third world project would have gone ahead with a fossil fuel alternative, had it not been for your investment, which is not the case.
  4. There are no proper regulations governing the institutions that sell carbon offsets. You could well be buying nothing at all.
  5. The range of prices of so called carbon offsets varies so much and this in itself must cause suspicion.
  6. There is no transparency in the carbon offset business. How much profit do the banks, airlines and carbon offset companies make from your money which you expect to be applied towards doing environmental good? How much is left in the till after all the commissions profits and the rest have been removed?

So, in essence, if you buy a carbon offset you will buy something that may not offset carbon, where there is no regulatory control and where there is no transparency. If carbon offsets were offered for sale by the more dubious type of direct selling businesses, no one would buy them. The fact that they are offered by reputable institutions makes them appear respectable, but I do not think they are.

JP Morgan (Mr Tony Blair’s current employer has recently purchased Climate Care, a business that deals in carbon credits. What environmental credentials does JP Morgan and Mr Blair have? Climate Care state, on their website, that “the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has set rigorous standards for project validation and verification and credible project standards for voluntary emissions reductions have been launched.”

The CDM’s standards do not actually work in the way climate care claim. They finance projects that may have taken place in any event, even without the carbon credits that the CDM brings. In addition the CDM standards do not take into account the complete environmental and ecological effect of the projects from which the credits are derived. The CDM’s standards are not a benchmark of projects that provide genuine carbon emission reductions.

The carbon offset industry is big business. It is based on a fallacy that it reduces emissions. I do not think that it does. What it does is to provide charitable help for many worthy projects.

I do not recommend that you buy carbon offsets. It is far more effective to think about reducing your emissions in the developed world, rather than offsetting emissions in the developing and undeveloped world which run at a fraction of those in the developed world.

Charity is a very good thing but it should not be confused with offsetting carbon dioxide emissions. That is why I do not buy carbon offsets.