Les risques du métier

november 24, 2007

Action Carbon – Pollution has its price

by Lien De Leenheer

beautiful nature

A remarkable stand at the entrance of the European Development Days – a tower of fluorescent light, green and red. Some thought it was the information stand of the EU development days, others thought it was an XL sound meter. In reality, it was a huge carbon dioxide meter. The red bars showed the amount of CO2 the EU development days were producing – just think about everyone flying in from all-over the world. The green part showed how much people were ‘paying back’. A trip from Brussels? 15 euro please. A trip from Paris? 12 euro please.

“The red part was put at 1000 tons, I think the real emission amount is much higher, but we decided to have a reachable target”, says Ruy Korscha Anaya de la Rosa of Action Carbone. This French NPO started with the beautiful pictures of Yann Arthus Bertrand, who travelled the world with his helicopter to capture our majestic nature in an attempt to push us to take care of the world around us and protect the biodiversity. “But you are polluting the world too with your helicopter” was an often heard critique. Yann Arthus Bertrand agreed. He could not stop flying because it was essential for his pictures but he could calculate how much he was polluting and pay back by supporting a project in Cambodia. Others wanted to follow his idea and that is how Goodplanet.org was founded, and Action Carbone is the offset website of the organisation. Offset is the term often used when you want to compensate your emissions. With the funds from “offset” development projects were funded, often investments in renewable energies such as solar energy, biomass, biogas and wind energy. Most of the projects are done abroad in developing countries.

Why not over here in the developed countries? “First of all the cost for a project is much lower in developing countries because they do not need the same amount of energy as the developed countries need, so with less budget we can achieve much more.”

But could the developed countries not benefit more from renewable energies, in order to put a hold to enormous pollution? “Yes, that is why we are urgently looking for domestic projects. The problem is that it is hard to convince companies to invest in local projects, it is marketing wise much more attractive if you can show off with a project in Africa for example.”

Is it not enough to plant a tree? “It is not enough. Trees are only good for those countries where biomass is a way of surviving, 96% of their energy needs are met as such. They need the forest, the fauna and flora, it fertilities the sole, trees retain water and protect animals. That is why deforestation is such a drama. But the problem with trees is that it is not a permanent carbon dioxide retainer. Once the tree dies or there is a wood fire, all the carbon dioxide goes back into the atmosphere. So we need a balance.”

But why do we pay 15 euro to fly from Brussels? “I’ll be honest with you that price is totally arbitrary, based on how we work. 15 percent of the 15 euro you pay (2,25 euro) goes to daily costs such as wages, the rest of 12,75 euro goes to a project. There is a lot of speculation going on in the market of offset and some people are getting nasty rich from it. The world is fucked up (sigh). Luckily there are still some good companies, some of them are working together with airline companies, offering the travellers to pay their offset right away while booking the trip.”

After three days of European Development Days the attending polluters, all of them strongly involved in development organisations and environmental organisations, paid only half of the 1000 ton back.



What are CO2 equivalents and what is GWP?

Often emissions are expressed in CO2 equivalents, abbreviated CO2-eq. This allows us to compare the influence of several emission gasses on global warming. It is based on the “Global Warming Potential’ (GWP), the level in which a gas is contributing to global warming. For example: Methane has a GWP of 21 CO2-eqen. This means that 1 kilo of methane is contributing over a period of 100 year 21 times more than 1 kilo CO2 to global warming, and is more harmful. Consequently the offset prices for methane are higher.


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