How Can Carbon Accounting Save Our Planet?

Author:  Arnaud Brohé, CEO of CO2logic Inc and Board Member of the Global Sourcing Council

In a TEDx talk I recently presented at Columbia University in April of this year, I talked about 3 things:  

  1. How bad is CO2 pollution really?
  2. Why haven’t we fixed it?  
  3. What I think is the number 1 method for change.  

Despite how bad things have gotten, I’m going to turn you into climate optimists.

What I will focus on for this month’s issue of THE SOURCE is item 3: What I think is the number 1 method of change.  

In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius estimated that if the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere doubled, the earth’s temperature would increase significantly. At that time, humans had emitted less than 40 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.  Today, that number is close to what we emit on an annual basis.  Since 1992, humans have emitted the same amount of carbon dioxide than what we emitted before 1992. This means that we have doubled the cumulative emissions of CO2!

Think of this big, red exercise ball, as the volume of CO2 the average American releases every 6 min. Next to that is one CO2 molecule.

Filled with CO2, the exercise ball weighs half a pound. The average American emits more than 120 pounds (~54 kg) of CO2 every day. Every day each of us releases the equivalent of 240 CO2-filled exercise balls. That’s equivalent to the weight of about 10 domestic cats, or 19 masonry bricks, or 87 US basketballs, or 176 human hearts.  In 2017, collectively, we humans, emitted 40 billion metric tons of CO2, a volume large enough to fill 8 billion Olympic-sized swimming pools full of carbon dioxide.  

In all areas of our life, if we are looking to make change, we take measurements first: “You can only manage what you measure.” If we want to lose weight, we calculate the calories in our meals and look at the impact of our efforts on the scale. If we want to improve our running performances, we train and measure and track the results so that we can make targeted improvements. The same is true for climate action.  I think the number 1 method for change is measurement. The moment we start measuring carbon emissions is the moment that we make positive change possible.  Carbon Accounting tracks and calculates CO2 emissions and sets carbon prices. It is one way we can measure how much energy it takes to produce what we consume, implement methods to reduce that energy footprint and assign a financial value to those emissions and actions.  

Here are 2 examples of how effective carbon accounting can be.

First, take Proximus, the largest telecom company in Belgium. They started calculating their emissions in 2007 and set a target to reduce them by 70% by 2020. With an engaged C-suite and Board support, Proximus achieved its 70% target 5 years earlier than projected. In 2016, they further reduced their carbon footprint by contributing some of those financial savings to a certified climate project in Benin where efficient cookstoves are used to prevent deforestation and improve air quality.  Those stoves’ waste heat can also (potentially) be used to charge mobile phones. These offset credits rendered Proximus “CO2 neutral”.

 

A second example is the European Investment Bank, the world’s largest multilateral bank. We – CO2logic Inc – did one of our most exciting projects with them. By helping the bank include the cost of carbon on society in their cost benefit analysis, we developed the carbon accounting tools to assess the climate impact of the projects they were considering financing such as airports, highways and power plants. With these new evaluation tools, a project that would emit too much carbon would not pass the cost benefit analysis and would not be financed.

There are many globally accepted ways of measuring COemissions. Here are links to the 2 main protocols that CO2logic Inc works to adhere to.

●  GHG Protocol https://ghgprotocol.org/

●  ISO14064 https://www.iso.org/standard/38381.html

Not only can carbon accounting helps us make good choices, but it also stops us from making damaging ones. Take the booming green bond market. These bonds are aimed at funding new projects with some environmental benefits. Some estimates see the green bond market reaching one trillion USD per year by the end of 2020. That’s a lot of money and that’s great. That could help us achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement faster. But are they really green? In my experience, and supported by carbon accounting principles, some green bonds have become a marketing instrument and are actually funding projects that are adding CO2 into the atmosphere. Coal plant project developers and governments with a very poor climate action record have been using green bonds to finance projects that will add billions of pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere. While the intention of the bonds is admirable, sometimes the projects that are funded go against the goals of the bonds themselves.

Other applications of carbon accounting can be used in the following manners:

●  in calculating voluntary offsets

●  for the implementation of carbon tax or carbon markets

●  for labeling schemes that help inform consumers’ choices.

Since we can’t roll back time and completely reverse what has already been done to the environment or change the expectations of our modern lifestyles, we must look forward and utilize the economic incentives our advanced industrial age has created which can reduce how much energy we consume on a daily basis while still being competitive in a world where profit margins and financial stability dictate many decisions of how we run our businesses. I am trained as an economist and I absolutely understand the concept of prioritization and financial accountability to public and private boards and stakeholders. But I also understand that if we don’t alter our methods of production, sourcing materials and consumption, the costs on a human, environmental and logistics scale will continue to increase beyond what any business, corporation or individual can afford.

Let’s ask the big question. Is it too late? Do we have a chance to succeed?

Yes, I believe we can.

Click HERE to view the full TEDx presentation.