Monday, 31 March 2014

Carbon free conference

We're having a language teachers conference in May and a few of us think it would be nice to make it carbon neutral. I think the main carbon emissions are going to come from people flying there. It's at the bottom of Kyushu, in a beautiful city called Miyazaki, and even people from Fukuoka at the top of Kyushu are likely to fly. I'd like to get the train, but it would be a ten-hour journey and cost more than the flight. Probably shouldn't even be going, but, ironically, it's about sustainability in language teaching.

Anyway, there are various sites that will estimate carbon costs of various things from car journeys to weddings in various places around the world. This makes a difference because, for example, using electricity in nuclear-powered France will produce about 20 times more CO2 than in hydro-electric Norway. Electricity from dirty coal in Estonia will produce ten times more than in France. This is just looking at Europe, where comparable data can be easily found.

We used a site called, which has localisations in various countries including Japan. A first rough estimate gave an output of 37 tonnes of CO2, and suggested we offset this with a donation of around 110,000 yen to one of their projects. None of their projects is in Japan, and many, but not all, are in developing countries. Their cost per tonne of carbon works out around 3,000 yen, roughly 30 USD. I'm really not sure whether this is expensive or cheap, but it gave me a first estimate. There are carbon offset projects in Japan, and it seems to me better practice to make a local offset, which may have more tangible benefits to the region that is hosting the conference. Also I have a sense that projects in developing countries could encourage people in richer countries to continue polluting while buying up land in poorer countries to clear their consciences and carbon accounts. 

That site didn't mention any projects in Japan, but luckily another of the conference organisers sent a link to which listed 5 local projects. It even gives some information in an English-language powerpoint file here, mentionig a couple of projects in Japan, one asking for 10,000 yen per tonne of CO2, the other 2,500, so it seems that projects in Japan are not completely different to the international projects. According to the other conference organiser, this is expensive, and this site mentions prices of £7.50, quotes someone saying that the price should be £1 per tonne, and someone else that $11 per tonne is the top price for carbon credits. This site encourages people to spend around $10 per tonne of carbon.

So, it seems there's a mixture of currencies and prices here.The market is likely to drive these costs down, but something makes me feel incredibly wary of that. 

And it make me wonder how much it should cost to get a tonne of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and exactly what that means. For example, in putting solar panels on my roof, I could argue that I've taken carbon out of the atmosphere by reducing demand on thermal power stations. This is the kind of project that may get funding from selling carbon credits. But looking at it objectively, the panels themselves aren't taking any carbon out of anywhere, and in fact produced a fair bit of carbon in their manufacture.

Planting trees seems a more unequivocal way of fixing carbon, but it depends on what was there before. If grey, former industrial land is being re-forested, that should make a genuine difference.

Anyway, these are all things to think about as I'm sitting on the plane...