Choice on going carbon neutral

Choice magazine have got an interesting article on going carbon neutral. I found it interesting that in this graph Australia ranks 4th for per-capita emissions. I’d always been led to believe we were second only to the US. Also includes all the usual tips (and usual suspects) for reducing emissions, but doesn’t mention offsetting. A useful guide to pass on to family and friends that are bitten by the green bug…

Jetstar launch offset program

In my inbox today – “Introducing Jetstar’s Carbon Offset Program”:

To celebrate the launch, we are going to be paying for all carbon emissions on every international and domestic flight, for all of our passengers, on Wednesday 19th September – the first day of our new program.

This single day offset will have a six figure price tag and is a real sign of our commitment to protecting our environment…

The program is accredited by the Government’s Greenhouse Friendly program, which includes tree-based offsets in the mix of accredited products. (I’m not a fan of tree-based offsets – investment in renewable energy, like that offered by Climate Friendly, is preferred in my book.)

Unlike Virgin, Jetstar have embedded offsetting into their booking page on their website – right after the “excess baggage” section. This is a good move (and one of the criticisms I had of the Virgin program.)

A flight from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast – which, fortuitously I need to book today 😉 – adds $2.52 to the flight cost. By contrast, Climate Friendly’s price for the same trip are $13.04. This is partly because Climate Friendly also include other factors in their pricing – such as the contrails and other impacts of flights – as well as using more expensive credits.

That said, Jetstar do go to some effort to explain how they calculate the cost and it seems they are factoring in a few things specific to their airline, which may also lower the cost. They also claim that they “will not make any profit from Carbon Offset transactions”.

The offsetting doesn’t apply to Jetstar’s business operations, nor is it compulsory for all passengers (it’s not even ticked by default). But they do claim to be taking measures to increase operational efficiency:

Jetstar is focused on the implementation of several conservation strategies relating to energy, water and waste usage across all facets of its operation.

They also tout the benefits of their younger plane fleet’s fuel efficiency as one of the “measures” they are taking (although I doubt environmental benefit played a significant part in their decision making process).

Unfortunately for Jetstar, like Virgin, their core business, low-cost flights, are actually contributing significantly to the increase in flights being taken, which in turn contribute to global warming. So moves like this will do little to dent the scepticism of many a hardened climate campaigner.

But as I’ve mentioned before, I think, on balance, programs such as these do help, because they result in investment in renewable energy (and in the case of tree-based programs, landcare and bushland regeneration). And with our government lagging behind in introducing any concrete targets or legislation, this can only be a good thing.

Find out more about the program on Jetstar’s site.

Virgin carbon offsets

Well, I missed the news yesterday – but it seems that Virgin must have been listening 😉 They’re now offering carbon offsets for their flights. Noice!

More on the news – I do hope other airlines follow suit, but in the meantime this will impact my decision when booking airfares. I currently offset my flights using Climate Friendly – but this makes it easier (and by the looks of things is also cheaper).

Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to have been integrated into their online booking system (I did every step but pay) – but I’m sure it’s not far away…

I think it was a very wise step to get the “Greenhouse Friendly” accreditation. In one fell swoop they remove any ambiguity about the validity of their efforts.

You know, I was just thinking about offsets this morning. I, like others I know, are waiting for the greenwash, with companies scrambling to go “carbon neutral” by doing nothing more than using offsets.

Although I don’t agree with this method of doing things, one thought I had was that at least a lot of money and investment will go into renewable energy infrastructure development. I don’t think it would take long for the existing investments to “run out” of capacity, therefore driving the business case for more renewable capacity.

Then again, maybe I’m just idealistic…

Branson

I wonder – if Richard Branson is splashing all this money around to reduce climate change, why doesn’t his airline have an “offset this flight” button when you book a flight?

People that want it can get it easily when they’re booking the flight. People that don’t simply uncheck the box.

Ang had a similar idea for insurance companies. Insurers are well aware of the risks of climate change. If they have a retail arm that insures cars, they have most of the information they need to provide offsets. All they’d need to add to the bill is a check-box and the distance traveled during the billing period (e.g. the last year). Send in the bill with your cheque and you’re done – or provide an online payment service.

They could outsource the fulfillment to an existing carbon offsets provider (like Climate Friendly).

Two simple things that would help effectively reduce emissions.

Sustainable energy

This morning The Australian has front page: Climate target to cost $75bn.

AUSTRALIA’S best hope of making affordable but deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to reach global targets is by using clean coal, nuclear and gas technologies rather than renewable energy sources.

It’s interesting to note that first paragraph includes clean coal and nuclear as solutions to reach that target. Neither of these technologies are available today. Clean coal is still just a dream (as the article says further down “Capturing and storing emissions from coal-fired power stations, if viable” – emphasis mine).

Nuclear will take at least 10 years to be introduced, even if the decision was made today to start down that path. That means that it will be 2015 at least before we’ll see the benefits. In fact the report suggests 2020 as the year.

The Australian goes on to report that the infrastructure cost for these technologies “could double the cost of electricity generation”. I’m sure that’s the high-end figure (thus the “could”). I’d like to know how they came to that conclusion – but it’s fairly well understood and accepted, by both the government, business and the public, that the cost of shifting our energy infrastructure is going to cost more.

Higher infrastructure costs present a two pronged problem: 1) it’s more expensive to create clean energy infrastructure than existing coal technologies, so the market is reluctant to invest unless there is clear incentives to do so; and 2) it’s going to cost more at the point of use (i.e. our bills will be higher.

Point 1 can be addressed by the introduction of a carbon tax, which is being considered by the government at the moment (I suspect as a result of the nuclear energy inquiry). This brings the cost of coal into line with competing clean technologies, by taking into consideration the environmental cost of burning coal.

Tim Flannery presents an interesting solution to point 2. He suggests that with though prices increase with the introduction of a carbon tax, the government can reduce PAYG tax by roughly the same amount. The government continues to receive the same revenue through the carbon tax. Tax the bad, not the good is the basic principle. The net result, he suggests, is that we, as consumers, will not notice the difference. Our bills will be higher, but the tax breaks would ease, if not neutralise the pain.

But there’s another measure that can be taken, one that often seems to be ignored: efficiency. If we use less, the overall cost to us is less.

When I started reading the article, the main question I had was who produced the report? The Energy Supply Association of Australia. From their homepage: “The Energy Supply Association of Australia represents Australia’s electricity and downstream gas businesses.” So in other words, the electricity industry. The industry has a vested interest in protecting their existing practices, which I suspect is why clean coal features prominently.

The article goes on to point out this interesting tid-bit: “The report uses lower cost estimates for clean-coal technology than the Switkowski review of nuclear energy in Australia and also assumes that nuclear technology is not available until 2020.”

Perhaps the Switkowski review used an inflated figure (which is plausible); or the electricity industry is citing deflated figures (which is also plausible). So, if clean coal technology does become possible, the actual cost is probably some where in between those two reports.

I think the chief of the ESAA hit the nail on the head with this quote:

ESAA chief executive Brad Page said the report, based on best available estimates of costs and technology changes, demonstrated the need to develop the widest portfolio of technologies possible to minimise the cost of greenhouse emissions cuts.

He also said that “Over the next 25 years, if you are seeking to achieve fairly deep cuts in emissions, then polices that favour a particular renewable technology are probably poor choices,” which I also agree with.

This is where a carbon tax can be effective – let the market decide the best solution. The government is pushing nuclear, but it shouldn’t push any one technology. However, where there is a significant public interest in not pursuing a particular technology (like dirty coal, or I would argue nuclear) the government should intervene, in my view.

WWF CEO Greg Bourne was quoted saying much the same thing: “WWF chief executive Greg Bourne remained opposed to nuclear energy and called for market mechanisms to accelerate the development of lower-emissions technologies.”

At least the Oz got WWF’s and Greg’s position on nuclear right this time 😉

As an aside, I wonder if a report was released showing that renewable energy could meet that need, would it be front page? Or do only controversial findings make the cut?

Reason I ask is that the Clean Energy Future reports, released a few years back by WWF, show how our energy requirements can be met with renewable energy and gas-fired power (for base load – not renewable, but with much lower CO2 emissions than coal-fired power). Is that not newsworthy?

Polls show that the public wants renewable energy, and believes that they are the way forward. Yet it seems practical solutions that exist today are ignored. Sigh…

Disclosure: I am an employee of WWF-Australia. The views expressed here are my own, and not necessarily those of my employer.

No excuses left…

WWF and CSIRO yesterday jointly launched a new report called The Heat is On.

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet (been on annual leave moving into our the apartment), but there’s a fair buzz around here about the report. From the press release launching the report:

The report was two years in the making and is the result of a coalition of Australia’s leading energy and transport stakeholders – including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Xstrata Coal, Westpac Banking Corporation, Alcoa World Alumina Australia, Woodside Energy and the Australian Automobile Association.

The report features modelling by CSIRO and ABARE that reveals Australia can make deep cuts to its greenhouse gas emissions in concert with the international community with little impact on the economy.

Contrary to popular belief, the report shows that overall household energy will be more affordable in 2050 than it is today.

This, on top of the Stern Review of previous reports on the topic should finally put lie to the argument that taking the necessary steps to reduce our carbon emissions will destroy the economy.

This, plus the continued public and political momentum behind addressing global warming will hopefully tip the government into action. Only time will tell…

P.S. just a reminder to those that don’t know, I work for WWF-Australia, but the views expressed here are my own, and not necessarily those of my employer.

Proportional emissions

Tim Burrows: UN overtaken by snail. Tim points out an interesting fact.

If China was to emit at the same rate as Australia, it would be responsible for about 90% of global emissions instead of the 30% or so that they account for at present.

China is taking an active stance on reducing emissions. As Al Gore points out in An Inconvenient Truth, it’s mileage standards for cars are far stronger than the US. And there are many other things they are doing. Not perfect, but a lot better than our country’s piss poor efforts.

He then goes on to talk about a proportional carbon allowance:

As George Monbiot points out in his book ‘Heat’, rather than stopping the clock and freezing everyone’s emissions at their current level, surely it would be fairer to base emissions caps on a proportional split of allowable emissions levels. That is, take the allowable total emissions of the world, divide that by the population of the world, then multiply by the population of each country.

On this basis, most developing countries would be allowed to actually increase their emissions slightly, while developed countries would have to make drastic cuts. This would allow developing countries some time to adapt to the new regime, while putting most of the burden on the countries that caused the problem in the first place.

I’ve seen this theory before (it’s not Monbiot’s creation I don’t think). But it makes intuitive and rational sense. And it shows how irrational some of the alternatives are. But that’s politics for ya…

Flip-flopping?

Oikos: Costello on climate change: Back to the future?.

From the ABC, Costello says:

“I think the ground is changing. I think it is important that we bring new countries into this discussion. And I think, from Australia’s point of view, if the world starts moving towards a carbon trading system, we can’t be left out of that.”

David does more than just point out that the Kyoto Protocol in fact does include an emissions trading mechanism – he points to Alexander Downer telling us just that in 1998.

This at the same time as the so-called Environment Minister apparently claims Australia is recognised as a world leader on global warming (I heard that from someone in the office earlier today, but can’t find a reference)…

Do they take us for fools?