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Climate noise, carbon neutral company, and offsets

A couple of interesting climate-related media stories over the weekend and today.

Firstly, the company formerly known as Future Forests, now the Carbon Neutral Company, took a beating from the BBC’s 5 live report on Sunday.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/fivelive/programmes/fivelivereport.shtml

Then, the long awaited Stern report came out on the costs of climate change:

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/sternreview_index.cfm

On the Carbon Neutral Company, the BBC went after them for selling rights to carbon in trees that existed anyway and would probably not be cut down anyhow. The BBC reporter talked of rights being sold for some seventeen pounds per tree when they had been bought for less than a pound. Secondly, they brought in George Monbiot and NGO critics like Greenpeace, to talk about carbon offsetting not really being a solution. While the Carbon Neutral Company chose not to take part and defend itself, the founder of a rival firm, Climate Care, Mike Mason, made an eloquent defence of his firm’s work with Ford’s Land Drover division.

Whether the CCC has been ‘unfairly’ (define that!) marking up the rights to trees (and letting customers think they ‘own’ the trees, when they don’t), the BBC’s evidence of mis-selling was sketchy to say the least. The wider debate about whether offsetting actually does anything was much more interesting.

Mike Mason of Climate Care http://www.climatecare.org (a hybrid, non-profit/for profit company) did well to explain how and why they work with Land Rover on emissions reduction.

In the face of NGO critiscism that carbon emissions have actually gone up at the company (factoring in factory emissions) he said that the intentions were right at the higher levels of the firm, and that management increasingly realises they are operating in an increasingly carbon-constrained environment (sic). This means Premier Automotive’s (umbrella of luxury brands owned by Ford that contains LR) committment to some one billion pounds in carbon cutting technology should be recognisd, he said.

Having worked in the auto industry in the past, I am not surprised to hear it will take some time for Land Rover to adapt, after all, their cars are naturally gas guzzling and re-tooling factories and putting into production new designs takes years. Look at how long it has taken Toyota to gain critical marketing mass on the Prius (it has cost them a fortune so far).

Not that Ford, and others, couldn’t do a lot more of course, but they need to do it without going bust in the meantime.

What was interesting about the discussion on offsetting in the radio programme was the debate about offsetting carbon in developing countries. The G8 offset money spent by the UK government (some 50K) after last year’s G8 summit in South Africa, seems to have been largely spent on red tape, the programme alleged.

If this is true, and it appears that it is, it does raise important, not-yet discussed questions about how to get the balance right between making sure things happen properly on the offset side, and spending money where it can actually have an impact.

Whereas NGOs used to be accused of (and still are) spending too much money on administration, so carbon offsetters look likely to be accused of handing out too much money on monitoring (big 4 accountants were mentioned) and assurance in the future.

On the Stern report, it does seem the government, indeed all parties, have now woken up to the need for beyond-Kyoto action, and all speak of green taxes as a solution.

Sounds sensible, especially if adding on tax in one place means taking it away in another, but the electorate will await real policies, and politicians may have to recognise that it will take a while yet before votes are decided on a green basis.

This will mean real leadership being shown in the meantime. Who has the guts in a 5 year election cycle to make and defend initially-unpopular electorate-leading actions?

Toby Webb, Editor

1 Comment

  1. Future Forests has long been in trouble over the lack of scientific rigour in its programme. Hence the change of name to ‘Carbon Neutral Company’. Other offsetters like Climate Care spend a good deal more money on projects than marketing. The downside of this is their profile is lower and they’re less likely to attract bandwagon celebs like Coldplay. The upside is there is a better chance the carbon footprint will actually be mitigated through credible projects in renewable energy, with less reliance on the discredited tree planting schemes that gave ‘Future Forests’ its original name. The Carbon Neutral Company is more an alternative marketing organisation than an alternative energy hope. Climate Care is the opposite. For some sceptics like George Monbiot carbon offsetting will always be a license to pollute, a conscience saving mechanic for the rich with little impact on global warming. But at least it has put a value on carbon in the consumer’s mind, albeit at a price far too low if even half of the Stern report is true.

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