Saturday, March 19, 2011

plus for carbon offsets where the offset is located in a developing country

A more benign way of looking at carbon offsets is they give first world countries a self-interested reason to invest in the the ecology of developing countries.

Friday, March 18, 2011

offsets are indulgences

What hurts my head about offsets is not that they are a get-out-of-jail-for-free card (let's just keep on consuming but ease our conscience), but that you need to know that what you are spending your money on would not have been done otherwise - that methane would not have been used to generate electricity from that waste dump, or that tree would not have been planted, without my expenditure on the offset. That is really hard to assess. We are talking about a counterfactual future, what would have happened if hadn't contributed that money, and who can really answer that.

The carbon we release in driving to the beach is actual but the carbon we save is more notional. If you are subsidizing a company that gives out free energy efficient light globes - how much does that actually save is an actuarial exercise in estimation. One is happening now but the savings are projected to happen in the future.

But what if you are paying somebody not to do something in the future, like not cut down that tree. Now that's really notional. Farmers may be asking for credits for trees that they could have cut down but don't actually have any plans to.

To the cynical offsets could be seen to just be subsidizing normal activities that would have occurred in the normal course of events - and therefore increasing profits.

Offets are also used to excuse the unsustainable growth in industries say like travel that emit a lot of carbon.

There also the issue of discount rates for carbon savings which I'll deal with in another blog.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It is less what you buy and more how you look after it that matters

It is not so much what clothes you buy as how you wash them that makes the green difference. The biggest impact of clothing on the environment is how they are washed: cold water, biodegradable washing powder and line drying are low energy/good for the environment. Hot wash and spin drying sucks up a bucketload of energy. So says Keith Colishaw a textiles expert from RMIT, quoted by Choice.

Garnaut sheds light

The smoke around Australia's carbon tax is clearing with the release of the latest update of the Garnaut report. While we still have a Labor government this report carries weight and it is being considered at a multiparty climate policy committee meeting today. Garnaut backed Labor's carbon price which is effectively a tax and it starts next year, at a price of between $20 and $30 tonnes on Garnaut's recommendation (compare EU $20.50, NZ 19.50 and forecasted for the mighty state of California:$12.95-15.95; with the global offset price being $16.95). Then we will graduate to a emissions trading scheme with a market-set carbon price.

Professor Garnaut did not think much of Tony Abbott's "Direct Action" style of approach. Abbott's plan is to select particular emission reduction projects and pay for them out of the government's coffers. Too arbitrary to win the heart of an economist. Garnaut has built in plenty of compensation for polluting export industries like aluminium and steel. They would get 90% back initially then down to 60% later. Initially that's a quarter of the revenue raised.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More on Reflex - the "ethical" paper

The more I peel back the layers the more layers that are revealed below. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is, as mentioned in an earlier post, investigating the certification of Australian Paper the makers of Reflex. Adam Trumble, FSC's Business Manager, does not want to say too much as he doesn't want to prejudice any claims for or against the cerification but to let the process take its course. I have appended below what Adam and the FSC is prepared to say.

One item that intrigued me in this discussion was that the FSC doesn't do its own certification. That's done through an associated entity Accreditation Services International (ASI), and that associated entity does not actually do the certification either but contracts that out. Byzantinely beauracratic. There's a wrinkle in this exposed layer in that the certification for Australian Paper was done by Smart Wood, which is part of the not-for-profit Rainforest Alliance, and further that the Wilderness Society is a member of the FSC, and sits on its board. It's not a simple story.

FROM FSC Australia

The following points represent FSC Australia's position.

  • The Forest Stewardship Council sets standards for responsible forest management.
  • Organisations may seek certification under FSC forest management standards (forest management certification) or under FSC Chain of Custody Standards (for companies operating in the wood and paper supply chain).
  • FSC does not undertake certifications itself, but through an associated entity (Accreditation Services International (ASI)) authorises certification bodies to conduct assessments and audits against FSC standards.
  • In July 2006, Smart Wood (an accredited certification body and a unit of the US-based Rainforest Alliance) granted a Chain of Custody certificate (SW-COC-001966) to Australian Paper for production of specified paper products.
  • In 2009 FSC clarified requirements for sourcing non-FSC certified ‘controlled wood’ that can be mixed with FSC certified material in a ‘Mix’ label product (Australian Paper supplements its FSC certified wood sourced from nearby plantations with non-FSC certified ‘controlled wood’ sourced from Victorian state forests).
  • FSC Australia has concerns that the Smart Wood audit of Australian Paper in 2009 did not comply with FSC controlled wood requirements.
  • FSC Australia has raised these concerns with ASI in 2010, which is investigating.
  • Smartwood has since conducted a further regular audit of Australian Paper.
  • Pending an outcome of the Smartwood audit and ASI investigation, Australian Paper's Chain of Custody certificate remains valid.
  • FSC Australia does not have the ability to directly influence audit processes and therefore awaits the outcome of both the FSC International review and the Smartwood audit.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"recycled" disappointment

The consumer thinks of "recycled" as post-consumer waste, the stuff that's put out in the recycling bin for collection by the council, as recycled and don't consider that the labelling actually includes factory offcuts or pre-consumer waste. It comes as a surprise and a shock - and then a rush of disappointment: " I'm not being as green as I thought I was."

Maybe that's why Naturale only receives a grey tick not a black tick on the ethical consumer website.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

the Hazelwood deal - looked good at the time

The cost of closing Hazelwood - Australia's dirtiest coal plant - would cost $3.8 billion. It's current value is $2.5 billion and the Kennett government and was purchased from the Victorian government for $2.35 billion.

We as Victorians made a huge windfall profit when Kennett, cleverly sold the 30 year old Hazelwood in 1996 (offering a 40 year life) for far more than it was listed at on the government books. And we have been paying for it every since. The station was due to be shut down in 2005 by the SECV.

The station has to be kept going to deliver its owners (which interestingly includes the CBA) a profit, so the government keeps agreeing to new extensions of the terms. The government is driven by fear of driving investment away.

The privatization of electricity, when we are trying to cut carbon emissions, looks daft.