Worlds Apart, but the Future Is Balanced between Them ; ANALYSIS Suddenly, UK Companies Want to Finance Environmentaly Friendly Initiatives in Developing Countries. Either Business Leaders Have Turned Green Campaigners, or We Are Seeing the Rise of the Next Major Global Commodity - Carbon
Webb, Tim, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town, is the third-largest township in South Africa. It was set up in the 1950s when apartheid laws banned black people from living in the cities. Unwittingly, it now finds itself on the front line of a different conflict: Tony Blair's crusade against global warming.
British government ministers had earmarked an environmentally friendly housing project in the township as away of making the UK presidency of the G8 last year "carbon neutral". The Government would cancel out the 2,700 tons of carbon emissions resulting from the presidency by investing in a scheme to kit out 2,230 homes in the township with solar panels and roof insulation. But after all the rhetoric, the project is running one year behind schedule, and only 10 homes have so far been refitted.
Organisers complain that it took far longer than expected to get their plans approved by the understaffed UN body that monitors these carbon offsetting projects. The South African management company, Agama Energy, blames politicians for requiring them to source the materials and labour for the project locally. Being socially as well as environmentally responsible is too ambitious, says Agama's managing director, Glynn Morris.
It is not just governments that invest in projects such as this. A growing number of companies - some more enthusiastically than others - are adopting carbon offsetting and encountering similar problems to those highlighted by the Khayelitsha initiative. They are looking at ways not just of reducing their own energy consumption but of investing in unrelated, renewable energy projects, usually overseas, to cancel out the pollution they make at home. Their critics claim they are using carbon offsetting as a way to avoid having to cut their own levels of pollution.
So what's behind companies' sudden interest in climate change - and can carbon offsetting actually work?
A committee of MPs last week called on the Government to tax the airline industry's carbon emissions.
Unlike motorists, the aviation industry in the UK is not subject to a fuel tax (petrol is taxed, but not aviation fuel), and now emits twice as much carbon as it did in 1990. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN-FCCC), the UK transport sector - which includes only domestic flights - accounted for a fifth of total UK carbon emissions between 1990 and 2003. In comparison, power stations were responsible for just under half, but the aviation industry is more visible and an easier target for politicians.
Jonathan Shopley, chief executive of the Carbon Neutral Company, which helps companies reduce and offset their emissions, says airlines realise some sort of tax on pollution is inevitable. Some aviation companies are already privately looking at ways of offsetting their emissions in preparation for when regulators start clamping down, he says.
Admittedly, some of these attempts are half-hearted. British Airways, for example, allows passengers to make their flights carbon neutral by paying an extra surcharge when they purchase their tickets' the money raised is used to fund carbon-offsetting schemes. But the surcharge is not heavily marketed.
For those companies that produce less pollution than airlines, it is much easier to go "carbon neutral". The broadcaster BSkyB announced in May that it had become carbon neutral, advised by the Carbon Neutral Company. The hedge fund manager Man Group and the HSBC bank have done the same.
Doug Johnston, head of corporate responsibility services at the accountancy firm Ernst & Young, says this is a relatively easy way for office-based businesses to generate good publicity. "It's interesting that the companies that have recently made public commitments about carbon neutrality are those that tend to have a limited carbon footprint themselves." …
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Publication information: Article title: Worlds Apart, but the Future Is Balanced between Them ; ANALYSIS Suddenly, UK Companies Want to Finance Environmentaly Friendly Initiatives in Developing Countries. Either Business Leaders Have Turned Green Campaigners, or We Are Seeing the Rise of the Next Major Global Commodity - Carbon. Contributors: Webb, Tim - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: August 13, 2006. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Independent on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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