Future in which global concentration of CO2 is permanently above 400 parts per million looms
The world is hurtling towards an era when global concentrations of carbon dioxide never again dip below the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone, as two important measuring stations sit on the point of no return.
The news comes as one important atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Australia is poised on the verge of 400ppm for the first time. Sitting in a region with stable CO2 concentrations, once that happens, it will never get a reading below 400ppm.
An atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Australia is poised on the verge of 400ppm for the first time. Photograph: CSIRO
Meanwhile another station in the northern hemisphere may have gone above the 400ppm line for the last time, never to dip below it again.
“We’re going into very new territory,” James Butler, director of the global monitoring division at the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Guardian.
When enough CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, the seasonal cycles that drive the concentrations up and down throughout the year will eventually stop dipping the concentration below the 400ppm mark. The 400ppm figure is just symbolic, but it’s psychologically powerful, says Butler.
In Hawaii, the Mauna Loa station is sitting above 400 ppm and might never dip below it again. Photograph: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The first 400ppm milestone was reached in 2013 when a station on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa first registered a monthly average of 400ppm. But the northern hemisphere has a large seasonal cycle, where CO2 concentrations decrease in summer but increase in winter. So each year since it has dipped back below 400ppm.
Then, combining all the global readings, the global monthly average was found to pass 400ppm in March 2015.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graph of global monthly mean carbon dioxide. Photograph: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the southern hemisphere, the seasonal cycle is less pronounced and atmospheric levels of CO2 hardly drop, usually just slowing in the southern hemisphere summer months. This week scientists revealed to Fairfax Media that Cape Grim had a reading of 399.9ppm on 6 May. Within weeks it would pop above 400ppm and never return.
“We wouldn’t have expected to reach the 400ppm mark so early,” said David Etheridge, an atmospheric scientist from the CSIRO, which runs the Cape Grim station. “With El Nino, the ocean essentially caps off it’s ability to take up heat so the concentrations are growing fast as warmer land areas release carbon. So we would have otherwise expected it to happen later in the year.
“No matter what the world’s emissions are now, we can decrease growth but we can’t decrease the concentration.
“Even if we stopped emitting now, we’re committed to a lot of warming.”
Over in Hawaii, the Mauna Loa station, which is the longest-running in the world, is sitting above 400 ppm, and for the first time, might never dip below it again.
“It’s hard to predict,” Butler told the Guardian. “It’s getting real close.”
Meanwhile, the global average, after controlling for the seasonal cycle, popped above 400ppm late last year. Within a couple of years, the seasonal dips will never drop below 400ppm in the global average too.
Air samples collected at Cape Grim, Tasmania, Australia, under clean air (baseline) conditions. Photograph: CSIRO
All together, the world is on the verge of no measurements ever showing a reading under 400ppm.
“There’s an answer to dealing with this and that’s to stop burning fossil fuels,” Butler said.
Butler also emphasised that this CO2 is locking in future warming. “It’s like lying in bed with your electric blanket set to three. You jack it up to seven – you don’t get hot right away but you do get hot. And that’s what we’re doing.”
The CO2 concentrations are driving what appears to be runaway climate change around the world.
This year has seen record hot global ocean temperatures, which have caused coral reefs all around the world to bleach and devastated Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Air surface temperatures have also been shocking climate scientists. Yearly and monthly temperature records have been breaking regularly, with many of the records being broken by the biggest margins ever seen.
“It’s pretty ugly when you look at it,” Butler said.
Carbon markets around the world are continuing to expand and gather momentum, according to a series of case studies released by IETA, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and CDC Climate Research today, despite diverse challenges.
The case studies – released at Carbon Expo in Barcelona – find that while countries such asKazakhstan, Norway and New Zealand are opting for market-based carbon pricing systems, each system is tailored to suit the national circumstances.
Case studies on carbon markets and pricing in Australia, Brazil, the EU, Japan, India, Tokyo,South Africa, the UK and Switzerland have also all been updated, to reflect the latest in policy developments in these regions. Each case study identifies unique challenges and lessons learned for each market, such as how forestry could be handled in an ETS, addressing competition concerns and moving away from free allocations.
The World Bank estimates that the world’s emissions trading systems are now valued at $34 billion.1 A report by the International Carbon Action Partnership earlier this year found that jurisdictions with an ETS now represent 40% of global GDP.2
“This collection of work showcases how different governments have used market forces to curb emissions, tailored to their unique circumstances,” says IETA President and CEO Dirk Forrister. “As we increasingly move towards a bottom-up world of climate policy, these case studies offer an array of models that others can borrow from. They show that carbon markets can work for all regions, all circumstances and all economic structures.”
“It is highly encouraging to see the growth and development of carbon markets around the world,” said Gernot Wagner, Lead Senior Economist at EDF. “As more governments implement innovative and effective market systems, we are beginning to see the needle shift on global climate policy.”
“There is a growing consensus on the fact that carbon pricing is becoming a priority among economic decision makers around the world – the big question is how to put a price on carbon,” says Benoît Leguet, Director of CDC Climat Research. “These case studies provide a fantastic collection of experiences that can be extremely useful to share government experience and inform the implementation of these innovative climate policies.”
He adds: “Whatever their stage of maturation, each system has to overcome important challenges to ensure the credibility and the stability of the system and the emergence of a robust and predictable carbon price signal.”
1 The World Bank’s valuation is based on the price of allowances in all ETSs on 1 April 2015 multiplied by the allowance volume for 2015. See Carbon Pricing Watch 2015, released by the Bank on 26 May for more information.
2 See the ICAP Status Report 2015 for more information.
Source: Press Release
The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme has started delivering financial benefits to the South African power sector and the economy on the whole, a recent study has shown.
A study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) states that the 1.6 GW of wind and solar power capacity commissioned by the end of 2014 helped save more than $450 million. With the payments to these renewable energy projects through feed-in tariffs at around $390 million the net ‘profit’ to the economy from these project is over $60 million.
Electricity generated from 0.6 GW wind energy projects and 1 GW solar power projects replaced 1.07 TWh electricity from diesel-fired power plants and 1.12 TWh electricity from coal-fired power plants. Renewable energy projects have thus offset more than 2 million tonnes of CO2e emissions in 2014.
Under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme (REIPPP) South Africa plans to source 10 TWh electricity from renewable energy projects based on a wide variety of technologies. Generation of this quantum of electricity would be generated from 3,725 MW capacity. The government plans to auction this capacity through competitive bidding.
1.85 GW of onshore wind energy capacity, and 1.45 GW of solar photovoltaic (PV) power capacity will be auctioned by the end of the programme. Other renewable energy technologies include concentrated solar thermal, biomass, biogas, small hydro, and landfill gas.
The net financial saving of over $60 million is an excellent advertisement for the South African renewable energy sector which may see a further boost once the government introduces the carbon tax policy. Companies that would be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the carbon tax policy would be able to fulfil their obligations by generating offsets from renewable energy projects which, as shown by the CSIR, would bring in significant financial savings.
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by Andreas Wilson-Späth
The idea of allowing employees to work from home instead of requiring them to work in a centralised company office every day is not new. Together with more flexible working hours, remote working became a well-established practice in North America and Western Europe in the years following the Second World War.
In recent times it has experienced a considerable upswing, not least because of the perception that it offers distinct environmental benefits. But how much greener is working from home really, and should you consider it as an option for your own business?
Changing attitudes meet new technologies
A growing trend away from process-based staff assessment towards a more outcomes-oriented approach, along with an acknowledgment of the advantages of allowing employees greater freedom in time management, has led many companies to consider homeworking as a viable alternative to full-time office-based jobs.
This marked change in attitude has been encouraged in part a range of technological innovations—from videoconferencing and smart phones to broadband internet connectivity and cloud-based data sharing — having become more widely accessible and affordable. A number of governments, including those of the UK and the USA have endorsed progressive homeworking policies for civil service workers, and in the UK more than four million employees out of a total workforce of 30 million now usually work from home.
In a global business environment increasingly affected by concerns over the looming threat of climate change and the need for sustainability, remote working has been touted as an effective measure to significantly reduce corporate as well as personal carbon emissions.
The reason is obvious: for most people, travelling to and from work on a daily basis represents by far the largest portion of their overall greenhouse gas emissions and thus the biggest single environmental impact they have.
An American study suggests that more than 98% of a typical individual’s work-related carbon footprint is accounted for by the CO2 released into the atmosphere during their daily commute.
At a first glance, avoiding these emissions by working at home offers obvious advantages over driving to work every day. But is the equation really quite that simple?
No one-size-fits-all solution
Earlier this year, the UK’s Carbon Trust, a not-for-dividend organisation that promotes a move to a low-carbon economy
among governments, businesses and the public sector, published
a study that investigated the potential environmental benefits of homeworking. The results are very interesting, and while they strictly apply to British conditions, they are certainly relevant to South African companies who are thinking about giving their employees the choice of working remotely.
The study confirms that an average UK employee can save approximately 260 kilograms of CO2e (equivalent carbon dioxide) per year by working from home during two days of every week. It highlights two additional factors that can tip the balance of carbon emissions in the opposite direction, however.
Both the distance individual employees travel to get to work
and the mode of transport they use have important effects. Homeworking was only found to offer a net saving on carbon emissions if the person travels a distance by car that is greater than seven kilometres (one way). If they take the bus or train, the tipping point lies at 11 and 25 kilometres respectively.
So working from home provides the greatest environmental benefits for people who live far away from their place of work. Clearly this has significant implications in the South African context where many people travel large distances to work. If they use public transport or cycle or walk to the office, however, working from home may not save any carbon emissions at all.
The reason for this is that staying at home involves energy usage and carbon emissions that would not occur otherwise. These involve powering computer equipment and other appliances, lighting, as well as heating and cooling requirements, all of which depend on specific behavioural patterns, climate and weather conditions and the energy efficiency of the homes involved.
In the cold British winter months, the Carbon Trust estimates that having to heat the average house for just one additional hour per day would eliminate any carbon savings accrued from avoiding an average daily work commute. The organisation’s Hugh Jones warns that “companies must be careful to ensure that they get the balance right, for if employers do not take account of their individual circumstances, a rebound effect from employees heating inefficient homes may actually lead to an increase in carbon emissions”.
While South Africa is favoured with a much milder climate than the UK, home-cooling, air-conditioning and heating may still make considerable contributions to the net carbon emission balance and may, depending on specific circumstances, tip it in a direction that would favour working in a centralised office over working at home.
Massive potential savings
Having emphasised the importance of carefully considering the specific circumstances under which homeworking policies are implemented, the Carbon Trust’s report leaves no doubt that the practice promises very significant potential benefits to companies.
In combination with hot-desking, in which multiple employees share a single desk, remote working allows businesses to raise desk occupancy while reducing office space, resulting in lower energy consumption, carbon emissions and costs.
For a company with 100 employees, the associated annual savings are estimated at between 270 and 700 kilograms of CO2e per employee and between R1.7 million and R3.4 million. The UK as a whole would stand to lower carbon emissions by over three million tonnes of CO2e per year and costs by over R50 billion annually if an additional four million people worked from home.
The report highlights a case study of a homeworking roll-out implemented by the BT Group, a British telecommunications company, which resulted in a 14 000-tonne CO2e reduction and financial savings of more than R100 000 per full-time homeworker over a period of 12 months.
When telecoms and financial services provider O2 asked its entire head office workforce (bearing 125 mission-critical employees) to work away from the office for just one day in 2012, they saved a cumulative total of 2 000 hours of commuting time and over
12 tonnes of CO2e while reducing electricity and water consumption by 12% and 53%, respectively.
Things to consider in your own business
Employers who want to explore the option of homeworking in their own business should take into consideration a number of issues. While the practice does allow them to greatly rationalise and optimise their office space through, for example, the introduction of hot-desking and a variety of novel technologies, leading to a potential reduction in space, costs, energy consumption and environmental footprint, they need to carefully evaluate the particular circumstances of their workforce.
How far from the office do their employees live? Do they commute in private vehicles or by foot or public transport? Do they live in energy efficient homes? Will homeworking actually result in a net decrease in overall carbon emissions?
Business owners who are intent on making real improvements as opposed to merely ‘green-washing’ their operations cannot simply ask their employees to work from home and ignore whatever additional carbon emissions they may cause while doing so. That would amount to wilfully outsourcing part of their responsibility to a sustainable future.
A thorough survey of all employees, followed by a homeworking trial (perhaps for a particular subsection of staff), during which measurable environmental impacts are monitored and compared to business-as-usual scenarios, are necessary to ascertain whether offering remote working as an option can in fact deliver the eco benefits it promises. If successful, such a trial could then be extended to a larger section of the workforce or the company as a whole. Depending on the circumstances of individual employees, business owners could help to ensure the positive outcome of a work-from-home policy by offering their staff assistance in improving the energy efficiency of their homes. In instances where remote working is not an option, they should consider incentivising the use of public transport. Of course, a number of other positive aspects of remote working should be kept in mind as well, including:
• a reduction in the consumption of petroleum, a valuable, non-renewable natural resource,
• a reduction in unproductive time spent commuting to and from work along with significant savings on money previously spent on paying for transport,
• greater personal freedom, convenience and flexibility for employees, leading to improved employee work-life balance, job satisfaction and staff retention, and
• perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, higher staff productivity, which has been confirmed by several studies of homeworkers.
Employers also need to take into account that working from home is not for everyone, improved ecological footprint or not. Most companies who use remote working offer it as an option for their staff rather than a requirement, and combine homeworking with working in the office on different days depending on job roles, patterns and priorities. During a typical week, part-time homeworkers may thus have regular office days to allow for face-to-face interaction with colleagues as well as work-from-home days on which they benefit from being able to concentrate on tasks without interruptions.
Source: Green Economy Journal Issue 15
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Boeing and SAA, along with partners SkyNRG and Sunchem SA, also officially launched Project Solaris, their collaborative effort to develop an aviation biofuel supply chain with a nicotine-free tobacco plant called Solaris. In Limpopo province, company representatives and industry stakeholders visited commercial and community farms where 123 acres (50 hectares) of Solaris have been planted.
Oil from the plant’s seeds may be converted into bio-jet fuel as early as next year, with a test flight by SAA as soon as practicable.
“SAA continues to work towards becoming the most environmentally sustainable airline in the world and is committed to a better way of conducting business,” said Ian Cruickshank, Environmental Affairs Specialist, SAA Group. “The impact that the biofuel program will have on South Africans is astounding: thousands of jobs mostly in rural areas, new skills and technology, energy security and stability and macro-economic benefits to South Africa, and of course, a massive reduction in the amount of CO2 that is emitted into our atmosphere.”
“It is very exciting to see early progress in South Africa towards developing sustainable aviation biofuel from energy-producing tobacco plants,” said J. Miguel Santos, managing director for Africa, Boeing International. “Boeing strongly believes that our aviation biofuel collaboration with South African Airways will benefit the environment and public health while providing new economic opportunities for South Africa’s small farmers. This project also positions our valued airline customer to gain a long-term, viable domestic fuel supply and improve South Africa’s national balance of payments.”
The farm visits followed the announcement in August that Boeing, SAA and SkyNRG were collaborating to make aviation biofuel from the Solaris plant, which was developed and patented by Sunchem Holding. If the test farming in Limpopo is successful, the project will be expanded in South Africa and potentially to other countries. In coming years, emerging technologies are expected to increase aviation biofuel production from the plant’s leaves and stems.
Sustainable aviation biofuel made from Solaris plants can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by 50 to 75 percent, ensuring it meets the sustainability threshold set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB). Airlines have conducted more than 1,600 passenger flights using aviation biofuel since the fuel was approved for commercial use in 2011.
Boeing is the industry leader in global efforts to develop and commercialize sustainable aviation biofuel. In addition to its collaboration in Southern Africa, Boeing has active biofuel development projects in the United States, Middle East, Europe, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Brazil and Australia.