Rainforest, carbon offsetting, and you: caring for our climate

Friday, 5 June 202011 minute read
Energy Industry

We purchase carbon offsets from a variety of registered carbon offsetting projects around the world to match the equivalent emissions from the gas shipped and burnt by our Members.

Deep in the Amazonian rainforest stands a tree, a Brazil nut tree. It’s tall, strong and beautiful. It’s a tree that you’ve helped preserve and protect. Illegal loggers can’t touch it. Nor can the illicit miners. And it thrives.

The rainforest, Madre de Dios

There’s a farming community nearby that you’ve helped support too; they make a living farming the nuts in a sustainable way, which protects the forest, and allows its teeming biodiversity to flourish. It’s a place where over 30 endangered wildlife species, including the spectacularly colourful Scarlet Macaw, are simply allowed to be.

Welcome to Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon.

Brazil nut farmer, Madre de Dios

Madre de Dios is one of the carbon offsetting programmes we’ve supported on behalf of our Members. It’s one of the most high-profile and carbon offsetting projects in the Amazon. And it’s really important. Here’s a video which introduces the region.

As well as protecting the forest, its diverse wildlife, and the local community, a thriving, living, breathing Amazonian Rainforest also helps regulate the weather too.

The clue is in the name — the word ‘rainforest’ was coined by German botanist Andreas Schimper in 1898. Large Amazonian trees can ’exhale’ up to 1,000 litres of fresh water a day, some of which forms as signature cloud overhead, but much of it is moved many miles away as water vapour — even as far as the UK.

The moisture that the Amazonian rainforest sends north to fall as rain on the Great Plains of the USA today, for example — the so-called bread basket states — would dry up, if too many trees are lost. Crops might well dry up too, or fail to grow at all, and America’s food supply (and food exports) would be at risk.

Brazil nut tree, towering high into the rainforest’s canopy, Madre de Dios

Crucially, the rainforest also helps protect our climate. The Rainforest is a huge carbon sink. It consumes and stores the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere — by burning gas to heat our homes, for example. The Madre de Dios project, which is slated to run until 2046, is forecast to offset more than 11 million tonnes of CO2e.

To learn more about the Amazon, we’d recommend reading Rainforest: Dispatches From Earth’s Most Vital Frontlines by environmentalist Tony Juniper. It’s a comprehensive account of why rainforests are so crucial in helping to tackle climate change.

Without the rainforests, the threats of the climate emergency would be much worse. Illegal logging and burning is still a major threat to rainforests. In 2018, 11.6 million hectares of tree cover were destroyed — that’s the size of Belgium. Last year, that figure rose by the equivalent of one football pitch every six seconds, climbing 2.8% to 11.9 million hectares of lost tree cover. Deforestation is releasing around 12% of all CO2 emissions each year — that’s more than all of the world’s transport combined.

You can see the scale of recent change and explore the world’s rainforests on this interactive map from Global Forest Watch. And that’s why carbon offset programmes exist — to encourage investment in carbon-reducing or sequestration activities, such as protecting a rainforest from destruction.

Carbon offsetting programmes also encourage the development and adoption of new, cleaner technologies, such as the building of new renewable power generation.

The Madre de Dios project in Peru is a REDD scheme, registered under the Verra Verified Carbon Standard, and protects and preserves the rainforest to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change by helping to support a local community of around 400 Brazil nut farmers working in a sustainable way. It was the first offset project we invested in, to cover around 27,000tCO2e emitted by our early Members.

With other more recent carbon offset projects we have purchased around 250,000tCO2e offsets from a variety of renewable power projects around the world. This helps the energy transition away from fossil fuels to clean power generation — cutting the carbon society needs to light their lives. These projects are registered under the Certified Emission Reductions Scheme, accepted by the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, and include hydropower in Brazil and the Philippines, and wind generation in China.

Keen to help the rainforests even more?

Have a look at these charities and nonprofits. And, don’t forget, if you’re a Pure Planet Member and you successfully refer a friend to us, you can use your gift voucher to donate to any of tens of thousands of charities in the UK, including many conservation charities — or even, perhaps, to buy a copy of Rainforest.

The carbon offset controversy

Pure Planet carbon offsets the emissions from all the gas our Members have piped to their homes, and all the emissions caused by burning it. It means our Members have as near as is practicable to a carbon neutral product.

But carbon offsetting is not without its controversy. Why should one part of the world make good the ‘bads’ in another?

Carbon offsetting schemes have their roots in the high-ranking UN gathering in Kyoto in 1997, where the world’s governments agreed that countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to help tackle climate change. By creating targets, emissions’ goals took on an economic value and offsetting was created to help nations meet their obligations, and to help finance new low carbon projects, such as renewables or forestry protection in developing economies. Our only atmosphere doesn’t recognise national borders, so where emissions are produced and offset sort of doesn’t matter — as far as the overall effects of climate change is concerned. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but that’s how the broad argument crudely goes.

But many sustainability experts think offsetting is seen as a convenient get-out-of-jail-card for all the emissions we continue to chuck out into our atmosphere in wealthy Western countries. Surely, it’s better not to have to offset at all?

Well, yes. And that’s where we headed.

The greenest thing to do is for us not to burn any gas at all. Residential gas use accounts for 18% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions. But given four in five of Britain’s homes are reliant on gas for heating and hot water, offsetting it is the next best thing — for now, at least.

The use of gas is set to reduce dramatically as we move to net zero by 2050. From 2025, no new-build homes will be allowed gas. And over the next 20 to 30 years, as we decarbonise heat as a nation, our homes will move off gas to alternate energy sources such as air or ground-source heat pumps, hydrogen or electricity-only — which by 2050 will be renewable for most.

Do you charge me extra for carbon offsets at Pure Planet?

No, absolutely not.

We want Pure Planet and all of our Members to be fully green. So, all of our carbon-offsets are included in the price of our gas. There is no premium for you to pay. Just like with our electricity, you don’t pay more just because it’s from renewable sources. In fact, it’s far cheaper than much fossil-sourced power.

Pure Planet aims to offer consistent, excellent value — to be around 20% cheaper than the market norms. Today, our savings against the Big 6 mainstay variable tariffs, for example, are indeed at 20% which means an average household will typically save several hundred pounds a year by comparison — £1,124 plays our £902.

We don’t aim to be the very cheapest. That is financially unsustainable over anything but a very short term.

Some suppliers do charge an additional premium to go green. And some suppliers charge much more than the Big 6’s mainstay variable tariffs to go green — above the price cap, in fact — we don’t. One green supplier is charging £1,275 compared to our £902 for a medium average user — that’s a difference of more than £370 a year.

We believe green should cost less than brown — and at Pure Planet it does.

Do other suppliers offset gas too?

A few do, yes — sort of. A small number of our competitors have followed Pure Planet… but be warned, there are various ways of carbon offsetting gas and not all suppliers do it the same way:

  • Some offer renewable electricity only and don’t offset the carbon emission impact of the gas they sell
  • Others offer partial offsets on their gas
  • A few offer a percentage of biogas in their overall gas mix and carbon offset the rest (note: green gas still causes emissions, though less than natural gas, but as far as we know no supplier yet offsets its biogas)
  • And in the details, you might find that most offset only the emissions involved in the burn of the gas at someone’s home. They don’t necessarily include the emissions caused by its transportation, so-called emissions from well to tank. To offset both is considered to be the most environmentally-friendly best practice
  • But most continue to sell ‘brown’ electricity and don’t carbon offset any gas at all, of course. Sadly, this remains the norm.

At Pure Planet we keep things simple: all gas is offset for both transmission and combustion emissions. It’s the most comprehensive and sustainable way. We use the BEIS and DEFRA guidelines to calculate offsets. The methodologies and conversion factors for calculating emissions from different types of activities are published by the government each year.

Here’s how we buy offsets at Pure Planet in a bit more detail

We purchase carbon offsets from a variety of registered carbon offsetting projects around the world to match the equivalent emissions from the gas shipped and burnt by our Members.

Pure Planet has recently been accredited as part of bp’s Advancing Low Carbon programme for 2020. The accountancy firm Deloitte audits the amount of the carbon saved through the programme, so you can be assured of its validity. We currently buy carbon offsets after the end of our accounting years, when we know how much gas has been used throughout the period and what the offset volume needs to be.

As we’ve got bigger, and more gas is being consumed by our Members, more frequent offsetting makes the deals easier to manage, so we may soon move to buy offsets four times a year, or perhaps every month — we’re looking at it.

There are no rules about the timings of making offset purchases — what matters is simply that at some point in time the tonnage of carbon emitted is matched with a certified equivalent tonnage of carbon saved. This is unlike the process with renewable electricity certificates (REGOs) which need to be matched annually.

We’ve offset 277,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions so far. We’re currently transacting the deal to cover another 500,000 tonnes to cover last financial year’s emissions.

Thank you for helping to make this difference.

When we launched Pure Planet in September 2017, our aim was to create as sustainable a company as possible, and to offer one of the most sustainable energy products available. This ambition resulted in Pure Planet launching Britain’s first 100% renewable electricity and 100% carbon offset tariff. This was and remains, in our view, one of the best environmental combinations available today.

On the company front, sustainability is an aim we continue to advance every day — imperfectly, of course! Sustainability is both an ambition and a process. And it involves much more than environmental matters — but more on this another time.

Thanks for being part of Pure Planet.