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The Week in Carbon (4/8/07)
Gil Friend, 8 Apr 07

The week in carbon is back after a brief hiatus. I'll do my best to keep it regular from here forward.

Read it and weep

The big news of the week, of course is the latest IPCC report. The second of four reports expected this year from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it details current research and thinking on potential impacts. It's not a pretty picture: rising temperatures and sea levels, of course, but also shifts of climatic zones and agricultural production (which bodes well for some and ill for others); northward migration of tropical diseases; more fires, floods and droughts; species loss

No one of us will escape the impacts of climate change
said Patricia Romero Lankao, a scientist with the National center for Atmospheric Research, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle's lead story yesterday.

The report summary [PDF] has been posted. Watch the IPCC web site for the full report, graphics, etc. Expect to see growing attention to climate change adaptation as well as prevention -- see for example "Regional responses" in This week in carbon - 2/18/2007 -- as companies and communities grapple with how to "future-proof" /contingency plans

No nukes? Some nukes? Lots of nukes?

No surprise, then, that the nuclear power battle is back on the table -- as are dozens of proposal for new plants. As the SF Chronicle reports (in an article

Almost all of the 30 applications for new reactors expected in the next few years are likely to come from Southern states, which need relief from the cost and pollution of coal plants.

On the plus side: low carbon emissions and high power continuity. On the minus side (safety questions aside): the expense; the uninsurability; a still unresolved fuel cycle

For now, 50,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and waste remain at 72 reactor sites across the country....

and the nagging question of whether they're needed:

New nuclear plants won't open for business in California, "and it's not because of any legal prohibitions," said Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "There's an abundance of better alternatives."

For those who haven't seen it yet, there's a fine primer on the details (if "primer" is right for for depth it provides) in Winning the Oil End Game, which argues that

it will cost less to displace all of the oil that the United States now uses than it will cost to buy that oil. Oil's current market price leaves out its true costs to the economy, national security, and the environment. But even without including these now "externalized" costs, it would still be profitable to displace oil completely over the next few decades. In fact, by 2025, the annual economic benefit of that displacement would be $130 billion gross (or $70 billion net of the displacement's costs). To achieve this does not require a revolution, but merely consolidating and accelerating trends already in place: the amount of oil the economy uses for each dollar of GDP produced, and the fuel efficiency of light vehicles, would need only to improve about three-fifths as quickly as they did in response to previous oil shocks.

Still, performance is lagging

EPA's Inspector General has an "Evaluation Report" [PDF] that found, according to Environmental Leaders, that

EPA’s Performance Track program does not have clear plans that connect activities with its goals, and does not have performance measures that show if it achieves anticipated results (via Inside Green Business). According to the evaluation, only 2 of 30 sampled Performance Track members met all of their environmental improvement commitments. In addition, members did not have access to some program benefits.

[M]ost Performance Track members’ compliance and toxic release records were better than average, but some were not. Although most members showed leadership and environmental progress, the presence of under performing facilities reduces the integrity and value of the brand.

The news is no better in the private sector.
GreenBiz.com reports on a study, conducted by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney in conjunction with the Institute for Supply Management, which found that

...barely half of the companies that have embraced a sustainability strategy have taken concrete steps to deliver on their promises.

While 60 percent of North American firms in the survey have a documented corporate-level sustainability strategy, just 36 percent have adopted a formal sustainability strategy for their supply chains -- a crucial step in ultimately being able to deliver on their sustainability promises.

Kearney's research confirms supports my more anecdotal experience, both with our own clients and what we hear from other consulting firms: sustainability visions and even innovative technologies are relatively simple, compared to the real challenge of implementation: getting bureaucracies, and ultimately people, to change their day to day behaviors -- make "sustainable" and "socially responsible" choices the normal things we do, not anything special.

Auto-erratic

On the other hand, we have Environmental Leaders's report on Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) biennial ranking of the greenest automakers.

Honda and Toyota left Detroit’s Big Three in the dust according to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) biennial ranking of the greenest automakers. Honda and Toyota also saw March deliver their best sales ever in the U.S....

Ford and General Motors, meanwhile, were at the back, and DaimlerChrysler placed last, earning the Rusty Tailpipe Award for the dirtiest automaker.

“There is a huge gap between the cleanest and dirtiest automakers,” said Don MacKenzie, author of the report and a vehicles engineer with UCS. “The winners are using clean technology across their entire fleets. The losers are installing it piecemeal, or not at all.”

Creative strategies

British tech firm Vebnet has partnered with PURE to provide their 250,000 employees a carbon offset program built into their payroll system.

An in a related story, UK software provider Vizual says that HR departments, as custodians of the workforce data,

are in the best position to communicate strategy, influence and change behaviour and put effective systems in place to collect and collate emissions data.... Vizual says that this new role will not increase HR’s workload if HR already has the data on travel and expenses.

(Vizual provides HR software, so may have a vested interest in the matter. But that's fine by me -- it's shifting understanding of "vested interest" that powers change. (I wonder if any HR departments -- comparable US HR software/service firms are listening. If you are, please let me know!)

Meanwhile, Whole Foods's month long Whole Earth Weigh-In enables Whole Foods shoppers can track and calculate their carbon footprint through a customized version of Green Mountain Energy’s web based carbon calculator and BeGreen carbon offset product.

The Port of Vancouver's "harbor dues" program offers ships toll discounts of 20-41% for running on more 'eco-friendly', lower-sulphur fuel. The program appears to be about sulfur emissions, not carbon emissions, but it's an example, I think, of the innovations we'll be seeing from many more business as they try to better couple their operations to looming impacts climate change may have on those operations.

Another case in point: Hewlett Packard:

Speaking in connection with the launch of a range of HP energy-efficient PCs, which the company claims could be more than 45 percent more efficient than existing systems, Todd Kruse, HP business desktop product manager, said it was important that IT managers should be given incentives for buying energy-saving products.

HP also... has set itself an ambitious target for reducing its energy use over the next three years by 20 percent, which will affect its manufacturing and day-to-day operations.

"Sustainability should span the entire business, from product reuse and recycling, to a socially and environmentally responsible supply chain, to energy efficiency in products and internal operations — it's the whole package," said Pat Tiernan, vice president, corporate, social and environmental responsibility at HP.

And back in the UK, the government said it would work with the food industry to establish a way to show environmental information on packaging alongside nutritional details. (See Nutrition labeling, meet carbon labeling.)

The system would be similar to one already announced by Tesco, which said in January that it planned to introduce new labels on the 70,000 products it sells to allow shoppers to compare carbon impacts.

Food miles, meet carbon miles!

Momentous? Let's hope so!

Oh, and lest I forget, last week began with that Supreme Court decision on regulating carbon emissions. As I wrote then:

The US Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Monday (in Massachussets vs EPA, a landmark case brought by 12 states and most major environmental organizations) concluded that CO2 is a pollutant under the 1970 Clear Air Act -- which requires the EPA to regulate "any air pollutant that may endanger the public welfare" -- and therefore subject to federal regulation....

It's finally clear that the EPA does have the authority. We'll see whether they use it; "the administration could drag its heels on a decision, hoping to run out the clock until President Bush leaves office," the Chronicle notes....

But in the absence of decisive action from the Feds, and the rapid awakening of US business to the economic and strategic challenges that climate change presents (just like blood is thicker than water, money seems to be thicker than ideological loyalty), watch for the plaintiff states to seek waivers from EPA to allow tougher regulation -- and for a growing collection of companies to get on with implementing GHG reduction programs, rather than opposing them.

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