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Warning issued over firms that promise to fix your blot on the planet

Your view: Is carbon offsetting a con? Holidaymakers are being misled by companies who guarantee to repair the damage flights do to the atmosphere, according to the first independent study of a fast-growing market. The report claims it is not possible to state categorically that buying any "carbon offset" — as Tony Blair did grudgingly last week to counter the global warming potential of his family's New Year break in Miami Beach — will neutralise the damage that flying causes to the atmosphere.

Your view: Is carbon offsetting a con?

Holidaymakers are being misled by companies who guarantee to repair the damage flights do to the atmosphere, according to the first independent study of a fast-growing market.

The report claims it is not possible to state categorically that buying any "carbon offset" — as Tony Blair did grudgingly last week to counter the global warming potential of his family's New Year break in Miami Beach — will neutralise the damage that flying causes to the atmosphere.

The study funded by the United States-based non-profit organisation, Clean Air-Cool Planet, widely regarded as a leader in the field, gives only eight out of 30 providers of carbon "offsets" a score of more than five out of 10 for the service they offer in taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

The report says the worst companies make it difficult for customers to establish whether what they do — planting trees, installing solar panels or making biofuels — would not have happened anyway.

Offsetting a ton of carbon can cost from 2 to 19, according to the study. But it claims that price is no guarantee of whether projects take carbon out of the atmosphere permanently, as offsets claim... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Your view: Is carbon offsetting a con?

Holidaymakers are being misled by companies who guarantee to repair the damage flights do to the atmosphere, according to the first independent study of a fast-growing market.

The report claims it is not possible to state categorically that buying any "carbon offset" — as Tony Blair did grudgingly last week to counter the global warming potential of his family's New Year break in Miami Beach — will neutralise the damage that flying causes to the atmosphere.

The study funded by the United States-based non-profit organisation, Clean Air-Cool Planet, widely regarded as a leader in the field, gives only eight out of 30 providers of carbon "offsets" a score of more than five out of 10 for the service they offer in taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

The report says the worst companies make it difficult for customers to establish whether what they do — planting trees, installing solar panels or making biofuels — would not have happened anyway.

Offsetting a ton of carbon can cost from £2 to £19, according to the study. But it claims that price is no guarantee of whether projects take carbon out of the atmosphere permanently, as offsets claim to do.

This week the Government, which seeks to offset all ministerial flights, is expected to announce plans to raise standards in the offsetting industry.

A Government source privately described the burgeoning market in carbon offsets as "like the Wild West — full of cowboys."

A further problem is establishing whether carbon credits have been sold more than once, because there is no register of what has already been done and crossed off the list.

Mark Kenber of the Climate Group, an independent British reviewer of the study, claimed people were buying carbon-saving credits that could have been sold before: "One must assume that if you can get away with it, someone probably is."

Another problem is the widely differing estimates of the amount of carbon produced by the same flight.

The Government is expected to announce this week that it is developing its own standard that companies must conform to if they are to claim to make any use of fossil fuels "carbon neutral."

Meanwhile, a Commons select committee is soon to begin an inquiry into the market in carbon offsets.

Tim Yeo, the Conservative chairman of the all-party environmental audit select committee, said there was "a very strong suspicion that the environmental gains are dubious."

Adam Markham, the British-born chief executive of Clean Air-Cool Planet, which commissioned the study from independent researchers, said: "Some companies don't know what they are talking about and some do not want to tell anybody what they are doing.

"I want to buy something that guarantees the resource would not be built without the income from the offset sales. I want to ensure my money is invested to ensure what we technically call additionality."

The study, entitled, A Consumer's Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers, identifies a top tier among the providers of carbon offsets which it says are "more likely than those of other providers to result in high-quality greenhouse gas emissions reductions."

These include:

• The Oxford-based Climate Care, which turns chip-fat from Caribbean cruise liners into bio-diesel and offers efficient stoves to wood burning communities in Nicaragua.

• The UK-based CarbonNeutral Company, formerly known as Future Forests. This has contracted for more than 800,000 tons of offsets and its portfolio consists of small-scale renewable energy projects, landfill gas collection, energy efficiency and reforestation projects.

• US-based Native Energy, the company Al Gore used to offset his flights to promote his global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth.

• The Portland, Oregon, based Climate Trust, the biggest US-based provider. This tests all its top-rated projects to make sure that they would not have happened anyway.

Among companies scoring less than five out of ten were:

• Carbon Clear, a British-based company specialising in small developing country reafforestation projects. Mr Markham said that this was a good organisation by all accounts but, looking at its website, there is no mechanism for certifying that these projects work, and no calculations about how much carbon they reduce.

• World Land Trust, again British-based and again entirely dedicated to forestry. Markham notes: "WLT appears to be a conservation organisation looking for a new income stream for projects it wants to do. There is no information about how it measures the actual carbon benefits of projects on its website"

• The Leonardo Academy. A US-based body gives no useful information on where it buys its offsets from or how they verify them. Mr Markham says: "Based on recommendations from the study, we'd probably not recommend them."

Many bodies, including the select committee, have been calling for a voluntary, industry-based set of standards so that the customer can rate the value of the offset they are buying.

Even this is controversial, because the standards to be announced this week by the Government will not include any offsets not carried out under mechanisms of the Kyoto climate treaty.

Some environmental groups claim this is too narrow a definition because it excludes voluntary projects and projects in the United States which has not ratified the treaty.

Mr Kenber of the Climate Group has been working for the past 18 months on a voluntary carbon standard. He said: "We think what the Government is planning is overly restrictive. There are many good projects out there. There has been a lot of complaining by companies saying they really haven't thought it through."

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "Offsetting has an important role to play in fighting climate change. It isn't the first thing people should do —we should all aim to avoid or reduce our emissions as much as possible (by saving energy and considering our transport options). This includes looking at how frequently you need to fly.

"Some emissions can't or won't be avoided, and we have to be realistic. That's where offsetting has a role to play."

 

 


Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/...

JAN 15 2007
http://www.windaction.org/posts/6776-warning-issued-over-firms-that-promise-to-fix-your-blot-on-the-planet
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