DECC launches its carbon offsetting quality mark and starts consultation to clearly define 'carbon neutral'
Diagrammatic definition by DECC of 'carbon neutrality'
Mon 2 Mar 2009 – The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has unveiled the new carbon offsetting quality mark to help consumers easily identify carbon offset schemes that have met the Government’s criteria and offer “genuine carbon savings”. DECC has also launched a consultation seeking to clearly define the term ‘carbon neutral’ as well as recommendations on good practice so that the term can be used in an informed way. Meanwhile, a Department for Transport sponsored survey into public attitudes towards climate change found that in 2008 just under half of UK adults believed air travel should be limited for the sake of the environment.
Welcoming the quality mark, the Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Joan Ruddock, said: “Information for consumers needs to be crystal clear and people need to have confidence that their money is put to good use. This new quality mark – developed with the industry – aims to improve transparency and give confidence to people wanting to offset their travel.
“Everyone should look for opportunities to reduce their emissions. Where we can’t avoid emissions, offsetting offers a means of taking responsibility for them.”
Offsetting companies authorized to use the quality mark first have to apply and then be approved by the Carbon Offsetting Quality Assurance Scheme. They have to demonstrate that their projects are compliant with Kyoto standards and, for the time being, include only Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), Emission Reduction Units (ERUs) and Phase 2 European Union Allowances (EUAs) credits issued by projects approved under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
This has caused an outcry (see article) from the burgeoning voluntary offset market which argues that many smaller but worthwhile projects that issue Verified (or Voluntary) Emissions Reduction (VER) credits will not be permitted under the Government scheme. As the CDM does not support forestry projects, these too will be excluded. However, the Government has said it will set up an industry stakeholder panel to monitor the scheme and has not ruled out VERs being admitted in the future.
British Airways’ carbon offset scheme does make use of UN-certified CERs to help finance clean energy projects in China and Brazil is said to be studying the possibility of joining the Government’s quality assurance scheme.
John Shedden, Director of Carbon Passport, said the scheme will help consumers and businesses distinguish between “real and not so real” carbon offset products, offering customers “certainty that a real carbon reduction is taking place as a result of their purchase, a certainty which is sadly lacking from other products on the market. Something like this has been long overdue.”
The company also points out that the scheme also ensures that qualifying offset products use approved calculation methods for determining carbon emissions and that the Government audits offset providers to ensure that they have cancelled an amount of carbon credits equivalent to their sales to customers.
The DECC minister also launched a consultation proposing improved stringency and greater consistency in the use of the term ‘carbon neutral’.
“The UK will need to live within set carbon budgets as we reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050,” she said. “This will be nothing short of a revolution in the way we live and we need to ensure that terms like ‘carbon neutral’ are not used carelessly but are clear measures of what we can and will achieve.”
Although the Government is not seeking to regulate, it believes that establishing a single definition of carbon neutral would help standardize the term, “enabling individuals, groups and organizations to take informed decisions on its application”.
Its proposed definition reads: “Carbon neutral means that – through a transparent process of measuring emissions, reducing those emissions and offsetting residual emissions – net calculated carbon emissionsequal zero.”
The consultation document says users of the term should decide which emissions are to be measured, for example whether measurements are carbon dioxide (CO2) or all Kyoto greenhouse gases (CO2e), recognising that the latter would tend to be a better approach for business. Although the process followed when calculating emissions is voluntary, it recommends that the means chosen, the time period covered and the size of the footprint should be made publicly available. It might also be necessary, the document continues, to provide information about the geographic scope for a carbon neutral statement.
The National Statistics Omnibus Survey published by the Department for Transport found that seven out of ten people questioned felt that they themselves could only have some or a little influence on limiting climate change, with around three-quarters saying that they would be prepared to change their behaviour in some way to help limit climate change. The main barriers to behaviour change appear to be uncertainty about the consequences of climate change and believing the consequences to be too far in the future to worry about.
The survey, conducted regularly over the past three years, found that in 2008, 47% of adults believed ‘Air travel should be limited for the sake of the environment’, though this was lower at 38% for people travelling by plane more than twice a year. Around a fifth of adults supported increasing the cost of air travel to help reduce transport emissions.
Around 8% of adults said that climate change was the most important issue facing Britain (a similar proportion selected education). The proportion of adults considering climate change to be one of the top three most important issues was significantly higher in 2007 (32%) than in 2006 (23%), although the proportion fell to 27% in 2008.
In each year of the survey around 10% of respondents said that they knew a lot about climate change, with a further 42% believing that they knew a fair amount. Just over a third said they knew a little, while just over one in ten said that they knew hardly anything or nothing.
Over a third of adults said that they believed that climate change would have a great deal or quite a lot of impact on them personally. So although the majority of adults express concern about climate change and believe that there is already some impact on the UK’s climate, a far lower proportion believe that this will have an impact on them personally. Respondents were more likely to believe climate change would have an impact on future generations, with almost nine in ten believing it would impact on future generations a great deal or quite a lot.
Asked what factors they thought contributed most to climate change, the most commonly cited cause, by far, was road transport emissions, mentioned by around 70% in each survey. This was followed by emissions from planes, mentioned by around 40%. Emissions from power stations, ‘other CO2 emissions’ and the burning of fossil fuels for energy were each selected by around three in ten respondents.
The public were most likely to choose cars or aeroplanes as the mode of transport contributing most to climate change. In 2006, 39% selected cars, falling to 33% in 2007, but rising in 2008 to 36%. There have been fluctuations in the proportion selecting planes over time too, with the highest proportion choosing planes in 2007 (40%), although this fell back in 2008 (see graph below).
Respondents were presented with two statements regarding air travel and asked to select the statement that came closest to their own views:
a) Air travel should be limited for the sake of the environment
b) Limiting air travel would be too damaging to the economy
In each survey, views were reasonably evenly split. For example, in 2008 47% said that ‘Air travel should be limited for the sake of the environment ‘, while 53% said that ‘Limiting air travel would be too damaging to the economy’. Those who travelled by plane more than twice a year were more likely to see limiting air travel as too damaging to the economy (62%) than those who never travelled by plane (43%).
Among plane users who were not intending to reduce their number of flights, the most common reason for not reducing usage was the desire to go on holiday abroad (32%).
Respondents who mentioned that they were likely to reduce their plane use due to concerns about climate change were asked to what extent they were likely to do so, and nearly six in ten said they would travel by plane a bit less and a quarter by a lot less.