Let’s Break it Down: Climate Change, Emissions Management & Offsets – Part 1

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Dave is the Emissions Reductions Lead at Wild + Pine. His Biosystems engineering background and corporate product line experience bring analytical and systematic support to our operations. Dave is focused on bringing Wild + Pine’s integrated supply chain to market through the interface of our work with the carbon market and global sustainability initiatives. This is a 4 part series highlighting what he has learned so far.

I am not an expert. 

BUT – I have been thrown into the deep end of sustainability, emissions management, and offset development over the past 18 months and I would like to share my version of the basics with you. I hope I am still new enough to this world that I am able to communicate it clearly, and I accept any and all feedback/corrections.

Let’s start off with some simplified definitions and background:

Climate Change  Almost every activity undertaken by civilization revolves around the collection and utilization of some resource. Oftentimes the output of these activities is an emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). The primary GHGs are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapour. As these GHGs accumulate in the atmosphere, they overload the planet’s natural regulatory cycles and create unnatural changes in the global climate.

Coal mining in the Elk Valley, British Columbia.

Carbon emissionsMost of the scientific community uses 1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) as the baseline unit to measure emissions. Meaning that whatever an activity emits, it is measured by the equivalent amount of CO2 that would have the same impact on the atmosphere.

Emissions ProfileEvery person, household, business, etc. has emissions that can be measured and defined, based on its activity and interactions with its surrounding environment. This is often referred to as a carbon footprint, or an emissions profile.

Emissions Management

The impacts of climate change have been very evident as of late, with extreme weather events such as flooding and wildfires directly affecting significant portions of the global population, often disproportionately affecting those that are most vulnerable.

Elevated forest fire activity across North America.

This has catalyzed some of the hot topics of today: Sustainability, mitigating emissions, and managing the overall emissions profile of your organization… being “green”. How can organizations better manage their emissions so that they can minimize their negative impact on the planet? From my point of view, there are four components to minimizing an emissions profile:

  1. Emissions Avoidance – Eliminating redundant or unnecessary activities from an entity’s operations. Example: Shifting to a work from home or hybrid office to avoid the emissions of a daily commute.
  2. Emissions Reduction – Changing procedures, processes, equipment, etc. to make necessary activities more efficient. Example: Transition of a vehicle fleet from gasoline or diesel to electric. 
  3. Emissions Removal – Utilizing processes or equipment that actively remove emissions from the atmosphere. Example: Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS), Direct Air Capture (DAC), Reforestaion/Afforestation.
  4. Emissions Offsetting – Claim the outcomes of another entity undertaking one of the above activities. This is often done to address residual emissions not mitigated by avoidance, reduction, or removal.

And that’s it. You now know everything you need to become carbon neutral or net zero!

If only it were that simple.

As you can imagine, there are many layers of complexity and, of course, people finding ways to make a quick buck. New markets and services are being peddled around emissions reductions: implementation and operation of emissions reductions/removals, development and distribution of offsets, and professional services to support the strategy of accumulating and deploying sustainability assets. Is that a good thing? Maybe.

This series will be focusing on the fourth activity listed above: Emissions Offsetting – the purchasing of offsets (often referred to as Carbon Offsets or Carbon Credits) from an entity that completes avoidance, reduction, or removal activities on behalf of others.

Offsetting allows people, organizations, etc. to leverage money in order to counteract (or offset) the emissions from their activities. This exchange provides a mechanism for project developers to fund environmentally positive projects that would otherwise not be economically feasible.

I hope you’ll join me as I discuss some of the challenges with offsets, the carbon market, and offset development projects. I will primarily address these challenges from a nature-based perspective and in doing so, attempt to address some of the questions about nature-based sustainability pathways and the solutions they provide.

– Dave

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