running a green office

personal and business carbon trading allowances

Carbon is the new buzz word, but could it also become a new currency? A system of personal carbon allowances (PCAs) is now being seriously considered by the government, as part of a bid to reduce carbon emissions. Personal carbon trading could become a reality in the next five years. And if personal carbon allowances became a reality, would the next step be a business carbon allowance for all companies? Would these be voluntary or compulsory?

The government is considering a system of carbon points which would be added to and removed from a carbon credit card just as easily as store card points. The average Briton creates 15kg of carbon emissions a day (five tonnes a year). To make a decent attack on climate change this figure needs to drop to around 6kg a day (two tonnes a year).

A recent study commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently reported a carbon point system “has the potential to achieve emissions savings in a fairer way than carbon taxes”.

The main concept is that the polluter pays. A personal carbon trading scheme would set an overall limit on an individual’s electricity, gas and transport allowance (which make up 44% of total carbon emissions) and people would buy energy with a set number of ‘carbon units’. If they used more than their allowance they could buy more units on the market; if they used less they could sell them. The idea could be seen as socially progressive – everyone would have a set limit of carbon. On the negative side, PCAs could penalise those living in poor housing or rural areas with little access to public transport.

The word carbon is firmly etched into our brains now. But the idea of carbon trading is not new. Personal carbon trading was first proposed by former City worker, David Fleming in 1996. He described them as Tradable Energy Quotas.

The Royal Society for Arts (RSA) has embarked on a pilot and launched Carbon Limited last autumn. Its Carbon DAQ is an online virtual market enabling users to calculate their average annual emissions and trade carbon credits with others. With PCAs now on the agenda, it will be interesting to see whether they will be included in the Climate Change Bill, and whether the UK can meet the target it sets. Of course businesses are already waking up to the negative impact of carbon and many, including Duport take responsibility for it and have begun to offset. But will it be long before such offsetting becomes compulsory for businesses?

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