Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Take this as a no

Watching over the offsetters - Will a voluntary code of conduct make us any more confident when choosing a carbon offset scheme?

Good original post, and some very worthwhile subsequent ones in reply. Hard to add much more of value.

Speaking personally, in answer to your question at the top, even with a voluntary code the answer will still be a resounding 'no'. And such is my faith in officialdom, frankly a mandatory, gov... er... quango (they'll farm it out to create a whole new set of beholden gravy-boaters, plus extra layer of deniability) - endorsed effort wouldn't exactly reassure me much better.

I can't see how they work or even IF they work. There are too many (I'm talking Coffsetters here, not quangos, but similar duplication, cost/benefit concerns apply) and I have no the time to weigh them up. Plus I have no reason to trust most of them, often with good reason, sadly tarring the possible worthy ones with the negative brush.

But as night follows day, I await the next half dozen to soon be announced by either a compliant media, rudderless government or 'buy-off-a-blip' business to help us 'deal' with the consequences of a growing number of us doing stuff and then wanting to do even more.

That is, IF we can afford it.

DEFRA - Benn announces Government offsetting code

Addenda (as promised to reply posters):

These are a couple of press releases that have come in to Junkk.com from the industry by way of response to the above. Hence read them in that light. They are merely what has been supplied and only from those who seem to have us on their mailing lists. As mentioned on the comments section, I don't know enough to offer much beyond how I feel as a consumer:

Carbon Clear response to DEFRA’s draft carbon offset code:

Carbon Clear has always championed transparency & measurable standards within the carbon offset industry. However, even after 12 months of consultation and deliberation we believe the Draft Code of Best Practice for Carbon Offset Providers issued by DEFRA raises as many questions as it answers.

One area of concern is the lack of definition over what a consumer is; the original draft code (Jan 2007) aimed to protect individuals and remove confusion in a fledgling industry, a move which we applaud. The code has now been extended to businesses in a way that we feel is completely inappropriate. We use an array of emissions factors to calculate and reduce a company’s carbon footprint prior to offsetting unavoidable emissions. Under the draft code we would have to pay an additional £2,000 every time we need to use a new emission factor not included in DEFRA’s current list. This cost could discourage many smaller businesses from participating in the carbon market and taking responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, our experience is that bigger businesses and corporates want a mix of compliance-market CERs and beyond-compliance VERs and prefer to perform their own quality checks to find projects that meet their requirements. CER schemes can be slow, bureaucratic, expensive to administer and limited in variety. Existing quality standards like the highly respected Voluntary Gold Standard and Voluntary Carbon Standard address the need for verified reductions and allow more of the money to go towards projects that help poor communities around the world make the transition to a low carbon future. Thus, while we welcome the Government’s embrace of the quality principles we have long supported, we feel there is still a lot of work to be done before this draft code is fit for purpose.

Carbon Clear is the first full-service carbon management firm with ISO 14001 certification to be listed in the United Kingdom Register of Quality Assessed Companies, which includes entries for over 100,000 organisations. The ISO 14001 is a global environmental management standard. The Register includes companies both within and outside the UK.

Carbon Clear is a carbon management company that works with businesses and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. In addition to advising on emission reductions Carbon Clear also invests in projects to cancel out the pollution that is generated by everyday activities such as driving, home and business energy usage, flying and even nappy use. Corporate customers include Eurostar, Innocent Drinks, and 3M.

All of the projects Carbon Clear invests in are selected based on both carbon reduction and a wider social benefit for the communities implementing them. A great deal of care is taken to ensure money is directed to activities that genuinely improve the environment and the lives of real people and all projects must meet the following criteria:
Our projects must make verifiable pollution reductions over and above their normal level. We follow the guidelines developed by the Clean Development Mechanism and Voluntary Carbon Standard.
Projects must provide additional, long-term benefits to the communities that undertake them; these range from better health and improved incomes to job creation and the protection of endangered plants and animals.
Projects must be efficient; funds should support the projects, and not be diverted to unnecessary bureaucratic overheads, waste or middlemen.
Carbon Clear is supporting a wide variety of emissions reduction projects that produce clear development benefits. These range from improved cookstoves in Sudan, to wind farms in India and energy efficient brick kilns in Nicaragua.

Carbon Capital Markets Welcomes Defra's Offset Code of Conduct

Commenting on today's launch of Defra's Code of Conduct for Carbon Offsetting, Lionel Fretz, CEO of Carbon Capital Markets®, a leading trader and fund manager in carbon and clean energy markets, said:

"We welcome this strict code from Defra for the carbon offset markets. We have always taken the position that offsetting should only use credits from the regulated market as it is only these that have been through such a strict process of auditing and verification to guarantee their worth.

I would urge anyone purchasing offsets to make sure they are buying regulated credits only, using an FSA authorised and regulated supplier to ensure that both the offset supplier and the offsets they provide, are subject to the highest standards of regulation."

Carbon Capital Markets is involved in all aspects of the regulated, Kyoto-compliant carbon markets. It was recently cited by Point Carbon, a leading provider of news and analysis, as an industry leader for its management of the Carbon Assets Fund, which invests in Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Projects.

DEFRA Government Offsetting Code to remain open to quality VERs (Verified Emission Reductions).

Eight leading international carbon offset companies, together supplying both CERs and VERs to the beyond-compliance market, have today welcomed the UK Government’s Offsetting Code and its recognition of the important role played by Verified Emissions Reductions (VERs).

When Defra in the UK published its draft version of the Code (Jan 2007) ‘Kyoto-compliant’ carbon credits only were included. However, following a twelve month consultation that saw support for VERs from experts as varied as NGOs and academics through to Parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee, Hilary Benn stated yesterday that “we recognise that credits from the unregulated market may be innovative and of a very high standard”.

As a group of eight leading carbon offsetting companies, representing most of the leading suppliers by volume in the beyond-compliance carbon (voluntary) market, we welcome the government’s adoption of the key principles already used by the market for selection of VER and CER emission reduction programmes – from additionality and leakage through to permanence and verification. It’s appropriate and welcome that Defra has listened to the market and is taking a lead from it.

The beyond-compliance carbon market, which kick-started carbon trading in the mid-nineties, is global, cross-sectoral and growing extremely fast. The industry has professionalised over the last 5 years, and has seen in the launch of new quality standards for VERs including the Gold Standard (GS VER) and the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS), with registries for the VCS and GS in development along with a planned project database linking the two. (see Notes below)

We firmly believe that there is increased interest from people and business in acting beyond compliance, i.e. reducing emissions because they want to not because they have to. This is the carbon market coming of age, and we look forward to working with the UK Government to keep them informed participants in the global development of this innovative and fast-paced emergent market – one that is already generating important investments and innovative solutions towards tackling climate change.

Jonathan Shopley, Executive Director,The CarbonNeutral Company

Jamal Gore, Managing Director, Carbon Clear

Edward Hanrahan, Chief Operating Officer, ClimateCare

Steve Green, Carbon Strategy and Partnerships Manager, Climate Friendly

Mike Rigby, Director,co2balance

Tom Stoddard, Vice President, NativeEnergy

Kerryn Schrank, Programme Director, targetneutral

Adam Stern, Vice President of Policy and Strategy, Terrapass


Anonymous said...

So which of the offsetters are worthy? Which do we have reason to trust?

After the scandal of Future Forests, Equiclimate / Calor Gas and the general move away from planting trees, there appear to be very few carbon offsetters who can hold their heads high and demonstrate integrity.

As a consumer, I do everything I can to reduce, but there are some things you just can’t. I do want to offset the rest and I think any form of code of conduct for this industry has got to be a good thing to give me confidence when I buy.

After a little research, there appear to be 2 kinds of companies which appear to comply with the government proposals – those that stick just with CERs, and still have other projects like tree planting in the mix:

CERs only:
Pure: www.puretrust.org.uk
Clear Offset www.clear-offset.com

Have some CERs:
Global Cool: www.globalcool.org
CO2 Balance www.co2balance.com
Equiclimate: www.co2balance.com (Originally recommended by the government, but they dropped the ball with Calor Gas)
Carbon Offsets: www.carbon-offsets.com
The Carbon Neutral Company: www.carbonneutral.com (didn’t they used to be known as Future Forests?)
Carbon Footprint: www.carbonfootprint.com (but only for business customers they claim)

Now which of these companies can we really rely on? Which ones should I trust as a consumer?

So do we really need the government to act on our behalf or should it be up to the offsetters – can you prove you are doing what you say you are?

Peter said...

A good, key question. Actually several, all in one para. Such as what defines 'worth'? And as to trust, who, in the extensive chain we as consumers have to turn to, can 'we' really 'trust' any more. The industry? The media? The government? Quangos?

Sadly, as a consumer, there are so many messages, at best mixed and at worst most certainly tainted (including from those we in theory should reply upon to be objective, but with agendas, short-termism and targets most certainly compromised), even if I was so minded to try and look at this aspect of mitigation, I'm sure I would soon give up in confusion, if not disgust.

Though not a finance whizz, just on the basis of admin. and logistical costs I have to wonder about the plethora of these efforts, all requiring boards, staff, comms budgets, offices, overseas visits, etc. The sheer costs look vast before anything actaully starts getting done.

You have certainly added to the knowledge base here, for which I thank you.

And hence you come to pose your question.

And it seems to boil down to trust. Trouble is, it is in such short supply, having been sorely abused, and by every protagonist.

Personally I think to be meaningful it should be a matter for government, but along with such as food miles, labelling, etc, I do not think they are fit for purpose in this regard, either through ability or motivation.

Interestingly, I have had a few press releases through subsequent to this issue being raised from 'the industry', and perhaps it is worth me popping these up to add to the debate, if not adding much by way of a definite answer.

Sadly, while I can see some merits, it remains a very contentious issue which, as one requiring more money from consumers, might face quite a struggle to regain its initial appeal.

It will be interesting to see how businesses stay with the notion, especially as most seemed only to see it more as a PR exercise.

Anonymous said...

You mention the issue of costs. Interestingly some companies seem to be more upfront about the pence in the pound that actually go to offsetting than others.

Climate Care's acccounts suggest 57% goes to offsetting.
Carbon Neutral Company annecodotally suggests 60% ish.
Clear Offset and Pure (the pure CER players) both appear to be north of 70% which would make sense if they work just with CERs. CC and TCNC both go out and find / administer their projects, people on the ground, admin, overheads, whereas I guess the CER only guys just purchase direct from UN accredited sources.

Ironically, maybe the government are actually encouraging more efficient (and does that mean trustworthy?) companies with their suggested code? And for the consumer that certainly has to deliver some level of trust.

Peter - Which of the companies do you trust?

Peter said...

Oo, 'eck... talk about being on the spot.

Simple, honest answer, for now: I don't know. And that means, as a safety default, none of them.

There's also the small matter of whether, in whatever best practice form one can accept, I believe them to be effective anyway, at least in terms of enviROI.

I'm torn between the logical necessity for reductions in consumption all round, and the pragmatic demands of modern life, which means mitigations are an uneasy midway option that have to be better than nothing.

Don't forget I am just a consumer like you. I guess 'professionally' I am a lot more involved in areas like reuse and packaging, etc through Junkk.com and RE:tie, and hence am much more likely to know enough to at least have a stab at an informed opinion in these areas.

I just dabble in other, related fields such as this, and mainly on the blog (at least in more subjective terms) as they are, obviously, related. A £ spent in one area is a $ not going somewhere possibly 'better'. And as all my efforts to date are pretty much funded still by me, I am sensitive to anything in the name of green that smacks of the offices and CEO perks getting sorted before anything else.

Which is not a very satisfactory answer, and I apologise for being one so inadequate considering the investment of time you have made here.

I guess it is incumbent upon me to find out more, but posts such as yours certainly are moving things along. I (and others) now know a lot more about some companies' 'rates of conversion', which is more than I do many charities.

When I get time and/or more help (a sorry mantra), this is how I plan to create 'zones' of category focus on the main site, with complementing but still clearly delineated areas for objective information and more subjective debate. Even though I have a dream of civilised exchanges, where opinons comem in, and differ, I fear that, without serious (and hence potentially censorious) moderation, some I still wish to attract and be 'better' informed may get dissuaded by extreme advocacy.

That said, as a concerned e-lite person, I still have to advise that this is not an area of priority for my financial investing choices, nor likely to be for a while. Currently broke and going backwards in the name of 'speculating to accumulate!'. So I see Junkk.com being a better source for my offsetting largesse.

And bearing in mind the amount of thought and effort such as you and I are having to devote just to get to a motivating enough answer, I'd have to say the industry might have its work cut out.

Whether that is due to an unhelpful media environment, authority dithering, etc, on top of a rather 'loose' sets of practices at the outset, the situation now exists and that's just they way it is.

So I feel for the good ones much as I feel for a Belu in the latest Planet Ban-it that is non-tap water.

At least I'll post up those press releases now; it's the least I can do.

Thanks for engaging.

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the debate, have you come accross this before?


Peter said...

I had not, so thank you for another source of information.