Consumers too must roll up their sleeves to cut emissions
After the easing of lockdown restrictions imposed to slow the spread of Covid-19, carbon emissions have made a rapid resurgence. Any carbon savings accrued under lockdown have since dwindled, and while population confinement has led to big changes in energy use and CO₂ emissions, further drastic change is needed.
This is not solely the responsibility of manufacturing and industry. Consumers must also make conscious, educated choices to reduce their individual carbon footprint if we’re to have any hope of averting catastrophic global warming. Planning and achieving effective, sustainable change — whether at an industry or individual level — starts with quantifying the problem; and that’s where technology can make all the difference.
After March 27, when the nationwide hard lockdown began, SA’s carbon emissions dropped by 250,000 tonnes daily. If such reductions had been applied across the whole year, emissions would have been cut by almost 100-million tonnes, or 22.4%. During this time, emissions from industry and power generation accounted for 43% of the global daily reduction, with most of the remaining decrease coming from surface transport (or lack thereof) during the lockdown.
According to a study published in Nature, while population confinement has changed energy use and CO₂ emissions, these reductions will only be temporary if there is no structural change in our economic, transport or energy systems.
One of the global steps in emission reduction is product carbon certification and labelling. This measures and certifies the product’s carbon footprint by taking a full inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions released throughout the life cycle of a product or service, right from raw material extraction to end of life.
Several product labels indicate different carbon-related attributes, communicating which products are significantly lower in emissions than the dominant market product, providing affirmation of ongoing commitment to carbon reduction. Ultimately, the goal for every product and service offered by every business should be to achieve that aspirational “carbon-neutral” product label.
Quantifying the carbon footprint in such a visible way has many benefits for business, including:
- A starting point for identifying and addressing carbon hotspots in every value chain;
- The data to verify the fulfilment of contractual and procurement requirements;
- The ability to participate holistically in value chain carbon reduction initiatives;
- Communicating commitment to act on climate change with stakeholders, employees and customers.
Industries and businesses cannot achieve carbon reduction without support that reaches consumer level. Individuals need to take personal responsibility and research the companies and products they spend money on. Technology such as smartphone apps make it easier for individuals to visualise and track the carbon impact of their lifestyle and purchase choices, to make carbon-smarter decisions.
As we reconsider our collective priorities and the value of health and environmental sustainability in a postlockdown world, we should take every opportunity to make real, long-lasting changes that will make us more resilient should a crisis strike in future. Such efforts will need to include economic stimulus measures that aim also to meet climate change targets. Special attention will need to be paid to initiatives focused on mobility, as road transport accounted for nearly half of our lockdown emission reductions.
While carbon labelling standards are still at the voluntary stage, a little closer to home is the need for organisations to comply with the Carbon Tax Act. This piece of legislation gives effect to our Paris Agreement commitments on climate change and is based on the polluter pays principle.
In terms of this legislation, large-scale emitters pay a tax on emissions above a certain threshold, while affording them breathing room in the form of offsets and tax-free allowances, intended to encourage the adoption of greener, cleaner technology. To help businesses meet their carbon tax obligations and examine their environmental impact, automated emission measurement tools such as Ecogauge offer the ability to accurately record the organisation’s carbon footprint, in addition to calculating an accurate carbon tax liability based on the act’s specific requirements.
The ability to map out the footprint provides a blueprint for decarbonisation efforts while tracking the effect thereof in real time — giving businesses everything they need to manage, monitor and advance their decision-making as they work towards becoming carbon neutral.
• Zollner is head of business development at EDS Systems.
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