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Is business killing the planet?

  • Published at 09:32 pm December 1st, 2019
Op ed climate change

Carbon offsetting not enough to combat climate change

Every day there seems to be a new report on the issue of climate change. The latest one comes from the UN which says that countries will need to increase their carbon-cutting ambitions five times if the world is to avoid warming by more than 1.5C. 

The annual emissions gap report shows that even if all current promises are met, the world will warm by more than double of the targeted 1.5C by 2100. Business as usual will kill the planet.

The UN’s emissions gap report looks at the difference between how much carbon needs to be cut to avoid dangerous warming -- and where we are likely to end up with the promises that countries have currently committed to in the Paris climate agreement.

This report says that to keep the Paris target alive, the world needs to cut emissions by 7.6% every year for the next 10 years.

Reports such as this have become so commonplace that there is a danger we have all become blasé about them. We must not, and we must all consider what we can do -- as individuals and businesses -- to ensure the earth remains inhabitable for future generations. 

Think about that figure for a moment -- 7.6%. That is going to require some radical carbon cutting. I’m not talking about a bit of tinkering here and there. I am talking about major changes to the way that we do businesses. I still think too many industry leaders have not grasped the severity of the situation and are in danger of sleepwalking into disaster.

So what is the solution? One popular answer being put forward in the global apparel and textile industries right now is carbon offsetting.

A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Offsets are measured in tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

With this in mind, many apparel retailers are committing to reducing deforestation and similar initiatives through the UN’s REDD -- or Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation. They say they are offsetting emissions in their supply chains by contributing to carbon storage projects via forest schemes.

Is this the solution? The problem is that there is no central authority to deal with the varieties of REDD currently in existence and nobody has done a comprehensive assessment of how effective these programs actually are. Research on the issue suggests monitoring such initiatives is close to impossible.

Does carbon offsetting work? The research on this issue is patchy but there is plenty of information out there to suggest that, actually, carbon offsetting is ineffective. For instance, Norway’s Office of the Auditor General published a report into offsetting last year which suggested the country’s carbon offset efforts in this area had failed virtually every test.

Meanwhile, a 2015 report from Stockholm Environmental Institute found that 75% of carbon credits issued were “unlikely to represent real reductions,” and that if countries had cut pollution on-site instead of relying on offsets, global CO2 emissions would have been 600 million tons lower.

The fear with carbon offsetting is that it will be viewed by the apparel industry as an easy way out -- a problem where they can throw money at some projects in far-off places and then carry on as normal.

That’s not to be critical of brands, just acknowledging that there is a natural instinct to look for simplistic solutions to these issues. Carbon offsetting can also help a brand achieve carbon neutrality, which looks good in a public relations and marketing sense.

But we cannot afford to ignore supply chains, and this is where we come in. More than 80% of carbon emissions come from supply chains, and it is these that are causing the earth to warm. The frustrating thing is that we can address these here and now and, in many ways, it is about mindset. 

Shifting to renewable energies in global apparel supply chains is a critical step for the industry and is crucial if we are to meet demanding targets such as the one mentioned earlier of cutting carbon emissions by 7.6% per annum. Stopping a few forests being cut down won’t save us, we have to start addressing emissions at the source.

We hear many RMG factories saying they lack the up-front capital to shift to renewable and other clean energy sources but the money is out there if one looks hard enough -- I know that from my own experiences. Organizations such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have already facilitated initiatives in supply chains and there are other funding partners out there. 

That said, the supply chain cannot tackle these issues on its own. Now truly is the time for collaboration between RMG suppliers and their customers. Now is the time to urgently upgrade the whole supply chain, moving it to the cleanest, most efficient sources of energy available. There are some remarkable solutions out there, and it is criminal that they are not yet being used on a grander scale.

It is in all our interests to start cutting carbon emissions drastically -- we cannot afford to kick this can down the road any longer.

Profits are all well and good, but what good are profits without a planet?

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at [email protected].

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