Sunday, 22 March 2009

Making Sense of GHG Reduction Targets

Over the past few months, my work at the University of Edinburgh and Carbon KPI has been digging deeper and deeper into the world of business and climate change.

The wheels are turning and progress is starting to be made, especially here in Europe. But many of us continue to ask, is it enough? Can our current work be scaled up to the level required? And how do we make sense of everything going on with limited consistency in reporting and standardization in this area?

Making sense of the climate change and business world really is a complex and confusing process. The landscape is rife with contradiction and debate. For instance, it is no simple measure to compare one company's reduction target against another, or even to compare it against our own government's national targets. All too often, companies themselves aren't certain how to do this; which poses a risk of unintentionally setting a target that is too small.

Recently my work, which is spearheaded by Dr. Craig Mackenzie, involves analyzing similar companies within a sector. We have utilized a number to techniques to enable comparability and this has resulted in some significant findings. In particular, company targets, has brought about some very interesting discoveries.

Dr. Mackenzie's approach has enabled us to compare the quality of one company target against another, even if the companies have differing target years, baseline years for measurement, and are setting targets for specific areas (i.e. an energy efficiency target for UK facilities, versus a total company target).

In the marketing world, this is an important fact to know, especially in order to avoid the risks of greenwashing. A 50% reduction target for 2020 sounds great, but do we really know if that's better or worse than a 20% reduction for 2012? 50% definitely sounds better, but until now, no one has been able to say convincingly which one is better. In fact, there has been uncertainty whether many reductions targets being set were even at the government compliance level or beyond. Obviously setting a target to meet governmental compliance is the 'least you can do' approach and does not deserve to be marketed as a green initiative.

I want to give credit to the Carbon Trust, an independent government funded UK company, which aims to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with organisations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies. The Carbon Trust Standard (CTS) is an initiative that I hope grows exponentially as it sets clearer standards for consistency in reporting and carbon management.(1)

The CTS provides an approach that does much to resolve the 'Absolute' versus 'Intensity' target debate. For a long time, I have been a staunch supporter of only absolute reduction targets. After all, real GHG reductions are what is needed for us to avert the worst impacts of Climate Change.

Intensity targets do have merit, especially for individual companies. Intensity targets can be much more effective for companies to operate against because they stimulate efficiency gains. In contrast, absolute reductions won't necessarily mean things are getting better. For example, a company can realise absolute reductions by selling off a polluting part of their operations, or during an economic downturn when they are simply producing less stuff.

In the ideal world I would imagine companies using intensity targets that are linked to a higher level absolute reduction target for the entire sector.

What the Carbon Trust Standard has managed to do is outline what % intensity target is sufficient enough to be recognised by the Standard (any level of absolute reduction is recognised). This minimum intensity reduction level has been set to ensure that intensity targets achieved at least meet the average GDP growth rate for the UK. This is a great foundation and I'm excited to be a part of expanding the approach from here.

Our work at Carbon KPI is merging the CTS approach to targets with our own and taking it to the next level. We aim ensure companies make and meet targets that are eligible not only to meet the CTS, but also national and international targets as well. We are looking forward to releasing our findings next month and are hopeful that it may influence future responsible business practices.

Note-our first sector specific Carbon Benchmark on the Supermarket industry will be released in April 2009

(1) I am supportive of the Carbon Trust Standard (CTS) rules, but like many things I hope they evolve to become more robust. For instance, the CTS rules currently omit the use of offsets in achieving company reduction targets. I agree that internal reductions need to be done first and foremost, but there is a great deal of debate on this topic, especially if countries are allowed to include offsets as part of their national reduction targets. But this is a topic for another blog..

Monday, 2 February 2009

IPCC Worst Case Scenario Isn't Bad Enough to Meet Our Current Reality

I was amazed to read this WWF report the other day and not have heard any commentary on it earlier. Given that it was published in November, it was likely buried under the news of a new hope in the form of President Obama in the US and a badly disrupted global economy keeping the journalists busy.

Dr. Martin Sommerkorn produced the Global Greenhouse Reality 2008 with some stark evidence.

“Scientific evidence accumulating since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report reveals that global warming is accelerating, at times far beyond projections outlined in earlier studies, including the latest IPCC Report. New modelling studies are providing updated and more detailed indications of the impacts of continued warming.”

“Anthropogenic CO2 emissions from fossil fuel are growing four times faster since 2000 than during the previous decade (1990-99: 0.9 per cent/yr; 2000-2007: 3.5 per cent/yr), and above IPCC’s worst case emission scenario(A1FI – intensive dependency on fossil fuels) that predicts 4°C global warming (2.4-6.4°C) for 2100 (Global Carbon Project, 2008).” (page 13 in the link above has a good chart of this)

Yes, our current reality is ABOVE the worst-case scenario outlined by the IPCC.

Worst cases scenarios are not supposed to be reached or worse, surpassed, they’re a theoretical “what if” area. The IPCC is doing the world a disfavour with watered-down forecasts. While academic reputations may be protected from public ridicule by producing conservative climate reports. Governments and the general public need to hear the whole truth if we are going to be able to respond rationally.

Several new studies continue to make the case that we have the opportunity to avoid the worst consequences of global climatic change. But we need to act sooner than later.

We have a window of opportunity to use this faltering global economy and capitalise on the temporary slowdown in greenhouse gas emissions as industry, development, and consumption levels fall. However, the economic downturn is also affecting clean energy markets and money flows to transition to a low carbon economy, measures including government economic intervention will need to be considered.

Economic intervention is only one of several approaches needed and to get a real handle on the problem. We need to start the conversations about limiting population growth, defining what is responsible consumption, and imbedding an accurate price on externalities such as Carbon emissions.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The Return of the Bicycle

Okay, my title may be a little imperfect as much of the world still loves the bicycle and many western countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have been big bicycle advocates for years.

But on a global scale, bikes have taken a big hit over the past decade as millions of people in developing nations cast them aside for the new found "freedom" of automobiles, and many Americans and Europeans have become too afraid to ride anywhere because of the traffic dangers lurking on their streets.

Urbanisation is bringing us all closer together. Every square metre of city space is now more valuable than ever before as we all try to move about to go about our daily routines. City planners, felling the constraints building around their little models, are seeing the bicycle opportunity with newfound open eyes.

It's taken cities years to realise that urban transport doesn't get any better by simply adding another lane of roadway or multilevel parking lot. In reality, this actually causes traffic congestion to get much worse. Granted, not every city has had their moment of clarity, and leaders in any field are often far ahead of their time.

Cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have become shining lights of what is possible to reduce traffic headaches by embracing the bicycle as a preferred mode of transport. Even in cold, and often wet climates.

People have so many reasons to ride bicycles these days, it's inexpensive, good for your health and the environment, is quiet, can be faster than all other methods of transport in populated areas, and provides you with a new outlook on life as you reconnect with the world around you.

Being able to say "good morning" to fellow commuters as you cycle along has huge positive impacts on ones psyche and the overall mental well-being of the city.

As fuel prices remain high, parking spaces disappear, fees rise, congestion stops automobile movement, and the white knuckled stress of driving from A to B gets to more and more people, the bicycle has come back.

And let's not forget that this return is also a very good strategy to combat climate change.

But not everyone is quite ready to make the change, people are afraid for their safety as they share roads with trucks, cars, and buses, bicycle theft and vandalism are frequent, cycle infrastruture isn't yet established in many cities, many feel that vanity and looking good on a bicycle hasn't been addressed, and the public mentality for bicycling is still immature.

Cities can do a lot to make this mass commuter transition a reality. Planners around the world are evaluating their city traffic flows and creating new spaces for bicycle lanes and new bicycle only zones. New York, the city of cities, is leading the way with manditory bicycle parking and several other initiatives. Cyclists in London are able to write off their work related kilometers as a business expense. And in other western cities, bicycle lane planning and development has hit a level never before seen.

Designers and businesses are also innovating and making cycling safer and more attractive. You only need to spend a couple minutes on the street in Amsterdam to realise that people actually look really good as they cycle by. European cyclist fashion is thriving.

Criminals have a new enemy as an exploding bike lock hits the markets . With more anti-theft inventions to come and municipalities initiating a focus on policing for bicycle crime, this problem would quickly disappear.

Following this trend, ten years from now many cities will have transformed into cleaner, healthier, and better flowing urban systems. The economic, social, and logistical benefits for cycling are clear. With the support of city leaders, planners, and the cycling community, the challenge of addressing people's car oriented mindset can be tackled. Change your life for the better, ride a bike.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Canada Desperately Needs Proportional Representation

Dearest Canadians,
I know many of us are quite saddened by the Canadian Election process which is severely outdated. Here's an interesting piece that I found posted yesterday.

"Was the federal election just a bad dream? After five weeks of fearand loathing, disappointment and disbelief, Canadians woke up to election results that were hardly different than when the election started. Most of the commentary since has been about numbers and pro-Harper media spin. The man who is claiming a new "enhanced" mandate actually received 168,737 fewer votes than last time but garnered anadditional 19 seats. The turnout, at 59 per cent, was the lowest in our history, which means that the Harper Conservatives will govern the country with the support of fewer than 23 per cent of the eligible voters. Democracy in Canada has seldom seemed so corrupted or so unrepresentative."

I encourage you to check out
-SIGN the PETITION for movement to a proportional representation
an affiliate of fairvote, is also worth a look too.

BC will have the next referendum on proportional representation inMay 2009. Three years ago the BC vote gained 58% but missed the 60%mark needed to enact the change into law. We can elect a leading government with 37.6% of the popular vote, but we need to a 60% vote to make the system more democractic.

Motivation is the only way to change this. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell the Tim Horton's teller, whoever they vote for, we can all vote for this.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Oil or Energy?

September 1, 2009
by Maura Dilley and Dermot Hikisch

Did you ever wonder how much renewable energy you could get for the same price as going to war in Iraq? Since the Downing Street memos proved that we went to war to secure energy not to fight terrorism, let’s think of some ways we could get energy without putting lives at risk. Looking at the $570 billion military bill to date, how much renewable energy would the US have right now if we had chosen a wiser investment? Well, a heck of a lot.

In 2003, the United States began the attempt to assume and maintain control of Iraq. Far from the quick ‘mission accomplished’ promised by the Bush administration for $50 billion, investments in the war effort have increased almost every month since the US invasion began. The current tally of American tax money spent by the US military on the Iraq War is over $570 billion with the final bill expected to ring in around 1 trillion dollars. Yet somehow, gas has nearly topped $150 per barrel this year, up from the $40 barrel price of 2003. It seems that despite this massive allocation of funds, Americans have not received a return on investment.

Furthermore, numbers presented thus far only represent direct spending by the US military. As wise investors, American taxpayers should prudently insist on real cost accounting for this war. Real cost accounting books lost investment as well as forfeited social and environmental capital to come out with a number that accurately depicts our risk. Accounting for the economic loss of an increasingly depleted workforce, extensively destroyed infrastructure, and a thoroughly toxic environment, the real costs of the war on Iraq balloons into a sum around 3 trillion dollars.

And what if in this real cost assessment added up not just the money spent on the war abroad but also the lost domestic opportunity costs. Consider legendary oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens: in April he announced plans for a $10 billion dollar wind farm mega-project in Texas. On 2% of the US war budget for Iraq this four-year project will bring on line 2,700 massive wind turbines producing 4,000 megawatts of electricity – enough to power one million homes in the US. If the same project was done with a $570 billion budget (assuming we get no price discounts for bulk purchases) 153,900 wind turbines could be manufactured and installed in the United States. 153,900 wind turbines could have peacefully blown 227,770 megawatts of electricity into the US power grid, enough to power nearly 57 million homes, half of all households in the US.

Wise investors will note that making renewable and responsible energy requires that we find the right energy solution for each region, e.g. wind in the Midwest, solar and geothermal in the Southwest. We use the wind just to exemplify that in the same amount of time that we have been at war, we could have created a renewable energy source equal to 50% of the total electricity demanded by homes in the US. With developing technologies, renewable electricity can be transferred to batteries and fuel cells for use in transportation. For the same price as a war, much of the country could be well on their way running on American made, reliable, clean and sustainable energy. Produced by, gainfully employed green collar American citizens. So the question remains: why do we prefer oil to energy?

Friday, 19 September 2008

"Drill Baby Drill" is a short sighted 4 year bandaid.

During my visit to the US over the past three weeks, the GOP Party line of "Drill Baby Drill" has again and again reached media headlines and put Republican supporters into a frenzy. Yes, there is oil off the US coastlines and in the protected wilderness range of Alaska.

But is the time, money, and known risks to the aquatic, the atmospheric, and the untouched land environments really worth it?

There are many energy alternatives to further oil extraction from high risk ecological zones.

Renewable energy technologies and overall energy conservation measures are but two now cost effective avenues that need to be considered for a large scale implementation.

What will the "drill baby drill" approach give US citizens? At the very best, 4 and a half years of energy supply. Just over one presidential term.

Consider the facts:
The US currently consumes over 20,730,000 barrels of oil per day (7.57 Billion barrels per year)
The Interior Department estimates that there is still 18 Billion barrels of oil offshore and the US Geological Survey estimates 5.7 to 16 Billion barrels is buried in the Alaskan wilderness.

Best case scenario (assuming US oil consumption remains stable): Four years six months.

Worst case scenario (same stable consumption rate): Three years and six weeks.

The United States needs a real solution to energy security issues and "drill baby drill" is not it.

Ethnic Cleansing not US Troop Surge real cause of reduced violence in Iraq

A new study published from the University of California gives evidence of the real reason peace has begun to settle in many parts of Iraq. And much to George Bush and John McCain's dismay, it has nothing to do with the US troop surge in 2007.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Satellite images taken at night show heavily Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad began emptying before a U.S. troop surge in 2007, graphic evidence of ethnic cleansing that preceded a drop in violence, according to a report published on Friday.
The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence.
"By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left," geography professor and study lead John Agnew of the University of California Los Angeles.