By guest blogger Liese Coulter, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) , Australia
Looking at the number of people who will amass for the Planet under Pressure Conference, I am inspired by the opportunities to cross pollinate new thinking even while I count the cost in carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
Flying can account for a lot of carbon dioxide and its equivalent added to the air and carbon is news in Australia, where I live. Who would have thought even 5 years ago that so many people would talk about carbon as if it was personally relevant? I hear it mentioned in the grocery store and coffee shops now, part of casual conversations. Next year in Australia, carbon will have a cost to everyone’s wallet not just to the environment.
The year we bought a diesel car I decided to balance out the emissions by paying towards a project that decreased carbon emissions somewhere else. Some people said you couldn’t trust the accounting and that some carbon offset projects were fake or would have happened anyway, so why bother? Being an information hound, I looked into it and ended up buying carbon offsets accredited by a third party that conform to a high standard. I still think my husband drives it too much, so the next year I made him pay for the offset.
Working for the Global Carbon Project in 2008, I researched voluntary carbon offsets to get a clear picture of the pitfalls and the standards that were being developed. They wanted to make their whole operation carbon neutral and figured it would be fairly cheap and simple since they are just a handful of scientists working in offices and using computers. And mostly it was true, except for the carbon costs of meetings and events, because scientists are always conferring at workshops and conferences.
The tricky question turned out to be, ‘Who is responsible for the carbon used to travel to a meeting?’ Is it the people who send out the invitations or the people who come to the party? In the end the clear lines of carbon accounting fell along the same lines as any other accounting. Whoever took responsibility for the cost of travel had the cost of the carbon as well. If I decide to pay for an airfare, then I have a choice and a responsibility to pay the total bill. If someone else agrees to pay for the trip, they owe the whole cost. Following the money might sidestep some finer points around social equality and global ethics but it holds up across a whole range of issues and went into the report. And it has been taken up by some businesses.
We looked at all the meetings they held and excluded travel paid for by other people but kept in carbon emissions from building heating and cooling, catering and local accommodation and ground travel. It turned out that about 90% of their carbon footprint was still air travel. So they found a third party accredited, high standard carbon offset and bought credits that balanced out their emissions.
Now there are many more voluntary carbon offset providers out there and some people are keeping tabs on how they source the projects and who checks their records so we can make informed choices. Some good sources are the Carbon Offset Guide and The David Suzuki Foundation’s How to host a carbon neutral event. The thing about offsets it that the atmosphere is global and a tonne of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) emitted in one place just adds to the total load of greenhouse gases. So an offset anywhere in the world reduces the total load no matter where the project is set up.
As I consider the unavoidable impacts from climate change, I am looking to support projects that build resilience into their planning. We all make choices based on a lot more than addressing climate change so as an information hound, I do like to see if I am supporting well planned forests or wind farms, projects in my country or in developing nations. How I choose an emissions calculator and why there are different totals depending on the methods, is a matter for another day.
Liese Coulter is the Knowledge Communication Manager for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) in Australia.