Climate change is no longer a looming threat. The issue is on our doorstep.
What were once changes that occurred in centuries or millennia are now occurring in decades, or as many mountain goers can attest, a few short seasons. The outdoor spaces that Calgary’s Alpine Club of Canada members have come to love are being permanently changed; and it is happening astonishingly quickly.
Many find it difficult to reconcile with the fact that the act of visiting and recreating in these spaces directly contributes to climate change. Activities associated with outdoor recreation such as driving, flying, and even cooking often result in carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere; the key driver behind anthropogenic climate change.
So how exactly can these climate impacts be reduced?
ACC Calgary Section (the “Section”) members and non-members alike take climate change seriously. They want to do their part in reducing the climate impacts of their mountain trips.
This starts with gaining an understanding of the climate impact itself. To do so, the Section has started to calculate the GHG emissions related to its mountain trips. For example, the average passenger driving from Calgary to Lake Louise and back will consume 40 liters of gasoline; something that will result in the emission of ~106 kilograms of carbon dioxide and equivalent GHGs (kg CO₂e).
One can then work to avoid these emissions. It may be possible, for example, to carpool on the aforementioned trip to Lake Louise. A group taking one vehicle, instead of two, on such a trip would have an approximate climate benefit of planting a tree and letting it grow for 20 years.
While something to strive for in the future, it is difficult to absolutely reduce every mountain trip related climate impact.
Carbon Offsetting; a method to compensate for emissions that cannot be reasonably avoided.
Buying carbon offsets supports actions that have a positive climate impact. This includes activities such as planting trees or developing cleaner energy.
Carbon offsetting is an established concept (the first credits were issued back in 1989) with the industry quickly growing and changing to meet the demand of governments, businesses and individuals looking to take climate action. While carbon offsetting has the potential to greatly benefit the future climate, it is very important to review the quality and claims of such efforts.
Carbon offset projects function as the result of either removing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (by planting and managing trees, for example) or avoiding GHGs from being emitted in the first place (by developing renewable energy projects, for example).
It is very important to understand the methodology behind a carbon offset project and how to calculate the climate impacts (both positive and negative).
Prior to a project getting support from selling carbon offsets, it is important to consider if that funding would even be needed for the project to move forward. A natural gas power plant has a lower climate impact than a coal fired power plant, for example, yet projects like this tend to not receive carbon offset funding as they can economically compete with alternatives.
High quality carbon offset projects will be permanent in nature. This means that if carbon is captured and stored it will not be quickly released back into the atmosphere. Planting trees, for example, will require the management of wildfire and disease risks to avoid a premature release of carbon.
The climate impacts of ACC Calgary Section 2022 trips will be offset in two projects:
Leduc County Afforestation Project
Carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere and stored by planting trees on under-utilized farmland near Edmonton, AB. For every 1 tonne of CO₂ offset in this project, 10 seedlings (a collection of native species including balsam poplar, aspen, and species of willow) will be planted.
For more information, please visit: https://www.savick.ca/leduc-county-afforestation
Leduc and District Food Bank Clean Energy Project
This project will result in GHG emissions being avoided by developing cleaner energy for an Albertan non-profit. Purchasing credits from this project will fund the installation of a rooftop solar array for the Leduc and District Food Bank.
For more information, please visit: https://www.savick.ca/ldfb-clean-energy
Is carbon offsetting expensive?
Carbon offsetting tends to add between 5 – 15% of the original energy cost in Alberta. The cost of offsetting an mountain trip will range between $1.50 and $3.00 CAD, however, may be more if it involves exceptional travel or energy intensive activities (such as flying in a helicopter or operating an ATV for an extended period).
Who develops and manages the carbon offsets purchased by the ACC?
The ACC Calgary Sections Environment and Access Committee has worked with Leduc, AB based environmental consulting firm, Savick, to develop the framework for this initiative. Savick is owned and operated by Samuel Kondratski, a University of Calgary student and ecopreneur.
He has worked with his local non-profits and landowners to develop projects that generate the carbon offsets that the ACC will be purchasing for its climate action initiative.
Isn’t carbon offsetting just avoiding real climate action?
There is a long list of inexpensive and unsuccessful carbon offset projects. Sadly these low quality projects detract from the real climate solutions that can be enabled via carbon offset market mechanisms.
The determinants of a carbon offsets ultimate quality is largely a scientific conversation, however, the basic building blocks of a project can often be assessed with a commonsense approach. It prompts questions such as:
Is this project incentivizing bad behavior? Such as ultimately producing more emissions to take advantage of a particular offset methodology?
Can the ownership of offsets be clearly defined? How many organizations are laying claim to the proclaimed climate benefit of a project?
Does the offset developer have a contingency in place if things don’t go according to plan? If a wildfire were to occur, for example, is the reserve pool or offset warranty sufficient to ensure original claims for an afforestation project are valid?
These considerations, and much more, are required for a carbon offset project to truly benefit the future climate.
How do I know that what is advertised by the carbon offset projects will actually happen?
There have been many carbon offset projects around the world that have failed to deliver on their promises. Even if a stand of trees can be planted, for example, there will be no climate benefit (and can potentially cause even greater harm) if they fail to grow and store carbon.
To reduce this uncertainty, Savick is working closely with its projects local communities to develop a robust framework that success can be easily measured against. In the case of the planned Leduc and District Food Bank Rooftop Solar Installation, the production of clean energy can be accurately monitored and transparently included in annual project reports.
A key benefit to offsetting carbon locally is that interested individuals can visit the project for themselves. A clean energy project halfway around the world may have the same theoretical climate benefit, however, it doesn’t allow for the purchaser of the offset to see the environmental, social, and economic benefits of such a project firsthand.
Climate change is a global phenomenon, won’t this initiative be a drop in the bucket in comparison to the scale of this issue?
According to the International Energy Agency, global 2021 anthropogenic (related to human activity) emissions rose to an all time high of over 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and equivalent GHGs. In other words, the ACC’s climate action initiative cannot be a standalone effort if meaningful change is to be effected.
Rather, the primary focus of this initiative is to provide education and a model for future, larger, climate actions. If we do not have the motivation and tools to address the relatively small impacts of recreating in the mountains, how will we be able to reduce the impact of larger personal emission sources such as home heating or personal transportation?
Initiatives like this make it possible for individuals to take action; because people want to make things better.
What does net-zero really mean?
The terms ‘net-zero’ or ‘carbon neutral’ are based on an organization purchasing carbon offsets that are commensurate with its climate impact. Before doing so, however, it is recommended to firstly reduce GHG emissions absolutely.
If a company that annually emits 1,000 tonnes of CO2e was to pursue a net-zero goal, for example, it would need to purchase at least 1,000 tonnes worth of carbon offsets. If emissions could firstly be reduced (something primarily accomplished through using less and/or cleaner energy), this would reduce the need for carbon offsets and will commonly be associated with energy cost savings.
Is the carbon offset a tax deductible charitable donation?
In short, no. The funds collected from the Trip Climate Impact initiative will be used to directly purchase carbon credits from locally developed carbon offset projects. It is very possible, however, to donate directly to the non-profit organizations benefiting from the project funding themselves; such as the Leduc and District Food Bank.