International Day of Forests 2016

Today is the International Day of Forests 2016 and a good time to take note of the importance of forested land (the ‘lungs of the planet’) that covers almost one third of land area of our planet. In our projects and many others, a strong focus is put on the role of forests as a form of carbon storage to counter the increasing anthropogenic carbon emissions, however forest ecosystems provide a variety of other ‘services’ that often go unobserved or unaccounted for.

It is estimated that forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. As well as being important themselves in creating biologically diverse plant ecosystems, they provide a vital habitat to a vast array of animals, many of which are not yet known to science. For humans, this can provide food, medicinal resources and raw wood/plant products for fuel and building materials. Additionally, grazing occurs within forests and local populations often grow rotational crops on temporary plots of land with the forest providing cover and protection.

Forests also play a key role in the hydrological cycle. By stabilising the soil with root structures, slowing the percolation and reducing the total water flow, forests lessen the impact of flooding and erosion, benefitting people far beyond the forest margins. This process greatly increases the water purity through filtration and preserves soil quality across the landscape; improving crop yields and the health of populations that rely on surface water for drinking and washing.

One ‘service’ that is often less considered is the cultural importance. Forests often come to define landscapes and, though it may contribute to the tourism industry, the aesthetics and beauty that they offer is something that cannot be quantified. Places where nature is untainted often carries a spiritual importance, not least for indigenous populations, therefore any destruction of these areas undermines this historical knowledge.

The benefits that humans derive from forests should not be understated; as well as providing a home to hundreds of millions of people, almost a quarter of the global population depend on forests for their livelihood. When considering the vast array of ‘ecosystem services’ that forests provide for humans, the number is probably far greater than that. Every year an area of forest the size of England is lost but, more and more, these benefits are being recognised and celebrated. Today in particular we can try to raise this awareness and encourage the sustainable use of these resources so that they might provide the same benefits to future generations.

Budget 2016 – A missed opportunity?

We heard from the Chancellor George Osborne yesterday as he set out government spending plans and it certainly offered a mixed bag for the energy and environment sector. It was framed as a budget of long-term solutions, “putting the next generation first”, which was promising following the recent Paris Agreement, however this claim has since received some criticism from representatives of the ‘green economy’.

There were undoubtedly some positive announcements and there was an obvious effort to streamline energy efficiency requirements for businesses. Following a consultation on the future of the energy efficiency tax landscape it was finally revealed that the CRC scheme is to be abolished. In the form it has adopted, the CRC is a tax rather than a ‘commitment’ and, recognising this, the levy will be collected through an increase in the Climate Change Levy (CCL) after the 2018-19 reporting year.

The obligation for large companies to report on their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will remain. In the consultation, GHG reporting through the ESOS regulations was highlighted as a successful driver for energy efficiency investments. CO2balance are conducting a review of our ESOS experience and will publish the results in the coming weeks.

A single energy and carbon reporting scheme is to be introduced from April 2019 that integrates the requirements from climate change agreements (CCA), the ESOS regulations and the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS). In the short-term, not much will change but a single reporting system and tax will be seen as an improvement for any company negotiating the current overlapping policies and schemes.

Those looking for a drive towards a low-carbon, energy efficient future however have found few positives. After the last Budget the CCL also applies to electricity generated from renewable sources who will be impacted by the increase and policies to support and encourage the renewables sector were again, scarce. This dearth is one reason the UK has slipped in the ‘Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness’ table and with the announced tax cuts for oil and gas it does not seem as if the Government has much ambition to climb it again.

In the first Budget since the Paris Agreement and in the face of record-breaking global temperatures over the first two months of the year, many felt there was an opportunity to send a strong signal to bolster the ‘green economy’ in the UK. This ‘budget for the next generation’ however, was particularly notable for its failure to mention climate change at all and has left many feeling that, perhaps, this was an opportunity wasted.

Carbon Counting

Since the Paris agreement was reached and political leaders across the world signalled their ambition and direction for the path ahead, it has become increasingly apparent that there is a huge need for ‘carbon accountants’. Now, the title ‘accountant’ doesn’t often inspire great aspirations but this is a different breed of accountant with a very different remit. In a world where companies now account for their carbon debits as well as their financial bottom line and countries have made ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ of how they intend to reduce emissions, there is a need to monitor, verify and report on carbon emissions and for those with the expertise to do so.

The job of calculating carbon emissions is not a simple one; an improved cook stove for example, may use less wood when cooking than an open fire but people may also use fuels other than wood, may use more wood during different seasons or still use an open fire to heat the family home; calculating how all this affects potential emission reductions from a new stove can be complicated.

At CO2balance, we have developed a breadth of expertise in precisely this area and have developed several climate mitigation projects that support some of the poorest communities in developing countries as well as helping to work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We have also worked with hundreds of companies around the world to calculate, verify and make savings on their carbon footprints. We support the agreement reached in Paris and will continue to build on this strong foundation.

We have recently advertised a new position for the role of Carbon Projects Officer in search of applicants to join our team whom we can share expertise with. The call for applications closes at 17:00 today and we look forward to bringing in a new member to our team who can contribute to our work at an exciting time when ‘carbon counters’ are becomingly increasingly essential for a carbon-free future.

ESOS: Driving forward..

As we reach the extended deadline for large companies within the UK to comply to the Government’s Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), it is a good time to reflect on the main outcomes that were common across many of the reviews we conducted.

Depending on the level of detail, audits can identify savings of between 10-40% and this is certainly the case with the organisations that we have worked with. Running through the audits there were a few themes where the vast majority of organisations could reduce energy consumption, save money and thereby improve the bottom line.

Low-hanging fruit

When visiting any organisation with a large number of employees it is clear that small actions by many will result in a large cumulative energy reduction. An effective employee engagement campaign, tailored to an organisation, is one example of the relatively simple opportunities to drive down energy expenditures. Just by adjusting the heating timer or the layout of an office, coupled benefits of energy saving and employee comfort can be achieved. Typically, zero or low investment opportunities alone could achieve 10% reductions in energy bills.

Transport

Though not the case with all organisations, where the company owns or leases vehicles, transport makes up a significant proportion of their total energy consumption. This presents attractive energy and cost saving opportunities, for example vehicle procurement policies, driver efficiency training and more effective route planning, all achieving dramatic fuel reductions. This came as a surprise, particularly to organisations with an established energy and sustainability management policy, highlighting that across sectors, not enough attention has been paid to decarbonisation of the transport sector.

Management

With this being the first ESOS reference period there was a sense of ‘getting your house in order’ to get an idea of the energy baseline before considering more significant investments. In many cases, responsibility for energy management was limited to supplier account management without considering the organisations’ energy expenditure. The attitude of ‘the cost is the cost’ is almost unique to energy bills and wouldn’t be accepted in any other area of business. Designating one or a few individuals as responsible for understanding, monitoring and managing energy consumption will inevitably lead to achievements in reducing energy demand.

Looking to the future, it is likely that the multiple policies and regulations relating to energy and carbon reduction will be amalgamated in to one energy tax similar to the Climate Change Levy (CCL) and one reporting system that is based on ESOS; many of these policy decisions are expected to be announced in the Spring budget in March. To date, ESOS has highlighted the wealth of energy-saving opportunities but hopefully also raised energy management up the agenda, bringing it to the attention of company boards and directors. With current low prices, now would be an attractive time to act on opportunities to future proof organisations against rising energy costs and more stringent energy policies. Time will tell how the policy landscape might change but CO2balance will continue to work with all of our clients to help manage their energy and make significant cost savings in the process.

A low-carbon Christmas

Tis the season to be jolly, merry and usually extravagant but instead of a white Christmas, perhaps a ‘green Christmas’ would be the best way to finish what has been a very positive year for the environment. Here are a few ways in which you can lower your carbon footprint this festive season and truly enjoy a guilt-free holiday.

1. Reduce

With forecasts suggesting that this is likely to be the warmest Christmas for many decades, consider adjusting heating controls to reflect the mild weather. As many homes fill up with family and friends, as well as having an oven on for hours, houses will be warmer than usual and each 1° of overheating is equivalent to an 8% increase in heating costs.

2. Recycle

Once the presents have been opened and the Christmas meal cooked and eaten, the waste paper in the UK alone could reach all the way to the moon! We now recycle more than we throw away in the UK and by keeping that up and recycling everything we can, it dramatically reduces the Christmas carbon footprint. For the UK, find out what you can recycle here.

3. Re-use

When the festivities begin to wind down and it’s time to dispose of the tree, different methods of disposal have a big impact on its carbon footprint. Carbon Trust estimates suggests that with real trees the footprint can be reduced by as much as 80% by diverting old trees from landfill. Artificial trees have a larger carbon footprint than real ones and need to be re-used for 10 Christmases to keep the environmental impact lower than real ones.

Christmas celebrations can be all too short but it can be a great time to form lasting habits and encourage broader change. With friends and family around, your actions are more likely to get noticed by others and influence positive change. The simplest thing you can do to reduce the overall environmental impact over the holidays, is share your Christmas with as many family and friends as possible and from everyone at CO2balance, we wish you all happiness and good health.

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The time is now…

Discussions continue in Paris this week at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) as politicians from all over the world begin their final push to reach a new global accord for action on climate change. Negotiations are due to conclude on Friday but could roll on in to the weekend with some sleepless nights as many key disagreements are yet to be settled.

Though major steps forward have been made, it is becoming clear that the agreement in Paris will only form part of the solution and also, how businesses will be one of the most influential actors on climate change. Just this week there has been calls from many sectors for businesses to aim carbon neutrality by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Now, with the new international agreement on the horizon and wide calls for global price on carbon, businesses are beginning to see value-at-stake from action on climate change. Changing public perceptions, increased energy costs and changing weather patterns, all represent risks to businesses and should be treated as such.  By measuring carbon footprints and investing both internally in energy efficiency and externally in climate change mitigation to offset carbon emissions that cannot be reduced, there are multiple benefits to be realised.

Last week ICROA, of which CO2balance are members, launched a series of videos from just a few businesses that have recognised the benefits of offsetting as part of broader carbon management strategy, setting out the clear business case. Endorsed by Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it will feature at this year’s COP to highlight offsetting as a vital part of the solution set to meet global emission reduction goals.

By supporting carbon-offset projects, businesses are investing in the local environment, communities and benefits that extend far beyond the carbon reductions. We now look forward to the conclusion of this week’s negotiations and hope for a strong, binding agreement that sets a clear path to a low carbon future.

The Big 5-0!

CO2balance are celebrating somewhat of a milestone this week as we submit our 50th project under our global micro Programme of Activities (mPoA) GS1247! Together, our projects have had a huge impact, reducing global carbon emissions and improving livelihoods in some of the world’s poorest communities.

This is a significant flag in the ground and it coincides with the commitment from World Leaders to 17 Global Goals in the hope of achieving three extraordinary things; ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and mitigating climate change. As we continue to develop projects across the globe we are proud to be able to see and measure the tangible benefits that our projects have and how they are contributing towards achieving these goals.

For updates on all our projects, sign up to email updates or follow us at @co2balance.

Find out more about the Global Goals here http://www.globalgoals.org/

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High hopes on the road to Paris

Global support for climate action is growing and with less than 100 days to go before a deal is struck in Paris, there is an increasing focus on governments around the world to match this support with political will. Unlike the heady days of the ‘90s when agreements in Rio and Kyoto left environmental campaigners euphoric, negotiations in recent years have been incremental and marred with political log jams; the signs for the latest Conference of the Parties (COP) however, have been positive and groups of all persuasions are looking forward to the outcome on December 11th.

Unlike previous COPs, all governments have been invited to publically disclose their ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs). These are the climate pledges that countries are encouraged to submit ahead of the UN negotiations and to date 30 INDCs have been submitted covering 57 countries and almost two thirds of global emissions. Many of these have indicated ambitious reduction targets and more than 100 countries are expected to have announced their plans before negotiations begin in November.

Countdown to Paris

The balance between a bottom-up and top-down (with the UN tracking whether governments are committing to enough reductions) format seems to have been delicate enough to ensure that a “fair” deal is struck and, since they have been decided themselves, governments of the future are less likely to backtrack on commitments. Setting these goals will send strong signals to businesses and investors globally, raising the confidence that a path is being laid in a transition towards a cleaner planet.

Today marked the close of the penultimate UN talks before Paris and already there seems to be a more open and transparent approach to roadblock issues that may arise over the coming months. We can only hope that this approach supports productive discussions and an ambitious climate agreement that meets global expectations and sets the tone for a brighter future.

Keep an eye on INDCs on the UNFCCC website – bit.ly/1AAyvjS

An Introduction..

Hi everyone,

My name is Richard Stone and I thought I would write a quick introduction after joining the CO2balance team this week. I’ve recently graduated from the Master of Environmental Sciences programme at the University of Southampton and I’m excited to be joining a team with such a high level of expertise in finding quality climate change adaption solutions. I live locally in the South West of the UK and I am happy to be joining the Taunton office where it is clear everyone is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the carbon management industry. Already I feel welcome, I have relaxed in to the office and I am excited about being able to contribute to the team and to the valuable work that they do. I’m very much looking forward to getting up to speed on all the on-going work and working with the rest of the team in the future!

A bit of background about myself – before joining CO2balance I’ve done a lot of cycling, swimming and running and I’ve included a picture of myself at the end of my cycle across the length of the UK, from John O’Groat’s Lands’ End.

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