Many businesses, local authorities and central governments had already committed to drive forward carbon neutrality and climate emergency plans when coronavirus hit. Covid19 has, understandably, taken the lion’s share of the news coverage over the past few months but the climate emergency is still very much at the forefront of these organisation’s future plans and green recovery continues to be a core element of their response to the pandemic. Indeed, the impact of lockdown has accelerated a move towards more energy efficient ways of working. Options to reduce carbon footprint continue to be explored. We feel it is important to keep this subject on the agenda so we have produced a short article that may help create a little more understanding.
What is carbon neutrality?
This refers to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon dioxide emissions with removal, often through carbon offsetting, or simply eliminating carbon dioxide emissions altogether. It is used in the context of carbon dioxide-releasing processes associated with transportation, energy production, agriculture and industrial processes.
Is carbon-neutrality achievable?
Yes! Carbon-neutrality can be achieved in two ways:
Balancing carbon dioxide emissions with carbon offsets - the process of reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make up for emissions elsewhere. In essence, if the total GHGs emitted is equal to the total amount avoided or removed then the two effectively cancel each other out and the net emissions are 'neutral'.
Reducing carbon emissions (low-carbon economy) to zero through changing energy sources and industry processes. There has been a sizeable shift towards the use of renewable energy (e.g. hydro, wind, geothermal and solar power) as well as nuclear power and each reduces GHG emissions. Although both renewable and non-renewable energy produce carbon emissions in some form, renewable energy has a lesser to almost zero carbon emissions. Making changes to current industrial and agricultural processes to reduce carbon emissions Carbon projects and emissions trading are often used to reduce carbon emissions, and carbon dioxide can even sometimes be prevented from entering the atmosphere entirely (such as by carbon scrubbing).
Some Common Phrases
‘Greenhouse Gas’ (GHG) - a gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range. Greenhouse gases cause the greenhouse effect on planets. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of Earth's surface would be about −18 °C rather than the present average of 15 °C.
Human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (around 1750) have produced a 45% increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. The vast majority of carbon dioxide emissions come from combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal, petroleum (including oil) and natural gas, with additional contributions coming from deforestation and other changes in land use.
‘Carbon Offset’ - a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Offsets are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent i.e. one tonne of carbon offset represents the reduction of one tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.
There are two markets for carbon offsets:
the larger, compliance market - companies, governments or other entities buy carbon offsets in order to comply with caps on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit.
the much smaller, voluntary market - individuals, companies or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use and other sources. For example, an individual might purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by personal air travel. Carbon offset vendors offer direct purchase of carbon offsets, often also offering other services such as designating a carbon offset project to support or measure a purchaser's carbon footprint.
Offsets typically support projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short- or long-term. A common project type is renewable energy, such as wind farms and hydroelectric dams. Others include energy efficiency projects like efficient cookstoves, the destruction of industrial pollutants or agricultural byproducts and forestry projects. Some of the most popular carbon offset projects from a corporate perspective are energy efficiency and wind turbine projects.
Offsets may be cheaper or more convenient alternatives to reducing one's own fossil-fuel consumption. However, some critics object to carbon offsets, and question the benefits of certain types of offsets. Due diligence is recommended to help businesses in the assessment and identification of "good quality" offsets to ensure offsetting provides the desired additional environmental benefits, and to avoid reputational risk associated with poor quality offsets.
Offsets are viewed as an important policy tool to maintain stable economies and to improve sustainability.
‘Carbon Scrubbing’ - A carbon dioxide scrubber is a piece of equipment that absorbs carbon dioxide. It is used to treat exhaust gases from industrial plants or from exhaled air in life support systems such as rebreathers or in spacecraft, submersible craft or airtight chambers. Carbon dioxide scrubbers are also used in controlled atmosphere storage - agricultural storage methods in which the concentrations of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, as well as the temperature and humidity of a storage room are regulated - both dry commodities and fresh fruit and vegetables can be stored in controlled atmospheres. Carbon scrubbers have also been researched for carbon capture and storage - the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide, usually from large point sources, such as cement factories or power plants, transporting it to a storage site, and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere, normally an underground geological formation, with the obvious aim of preventing the release of large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Many companies across the UK are still very much making the effort to minimise their environmental impact. Consumers are now more likely to choose carbon friendly businesses over ones that do not pay attention to their environmental impact. Here at Social Responsibility, we will promote businesses that operate socially responsible practices, including those that are environmentally responsible.