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9th July 2007

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Your views on ... climate change

Cath O’Driscoll, 9 July 2007

With a sizeable majority of the world’s top climate scientists now agreed that global warming is happening, with human activities ‘very likely’ to blame, it seems that almost everyone everywhere is looking for ways to lower their emissions of the greenhouse gases that are to blame. From individuals turning off the standby mode on their electrical appliances to multinational oil and gas corporations seeking to build new cleaner and more efficient power stations, the options to minimise our carbon footprint are numerous and growing.

Yet what of the chemical industry’s part in all of this? Long perceived as one of the most energy intensive and (mistakenly perhaps) polluting – as well as one of the most innovative – of all industry sectors, surely the chemicals sector has a major role to play in contributing to reduce emissions? So just how much are we already contributing to tackling this important topic, both through our products and processes? Are we doing enough, or should we be doing more?

Overwhelmingly, say respondents who took part in our climate change survey in May this year, the answer to this last question is ‘yes’. A convincing 72% of those who responded agreed that the industry should be doing more to help tackle climate change. ‘The chemical industry in the UK and Europe has been late to respond to the political and practical threats of climate change,’ wrote one respondent. ‘While efforts have been concentrated on energy efficiency, there has been little thinking or resource devoted to developing or modifying processes in terms of the raw materials.’

But the contribution the industry could make to this global problem is large, over half of respondents believe. The main ways in which it can do so are by developing new environmentally friendly products and services (48%), and leaner and more efficient manufacturing processes (44%), while lobbying government is perceived as the least effective (8%) route. Almost certainly the biggest gains are to be had from developing new products and services, industry consultants agree, while nearly all survey respondents reported a limited potential to further cut emissions – by less than 20%.

According to a report in May 2007 by consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan (F&S), meanwhile, ‘the green energy sector is growing at breathtaking speed, driven by the challenges of climate change’. Already a ‘multi-billion dollar’ global industry, ‘revenues are set to double, triple or increase even more over the next few years,’ says F&S. Indeed, the market for biodiesel alone will be worth €7.46bn by 2013, F&S analysts forecast, while green buildings and hybrid vehicles will be ‘an essential part’ of the EU’s drive to meet its Kyoto goals to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020.

Fewer readers, however, appear to be convinced of the impact of the EU’s much-vaunted Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), judging by the results of C&I’s survey. Over half (57%) of respondents agreed it was not a useful mechanism for lowering emissions, while a quarter of those surveyed said the scheme threatened the competitiveness of EU industry.

Introduced in January 2005, the ETS aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through the setting of national allocation plans (NAPs), with set allowances for individual companies allowing them to buy and sell spare carbon credits. Now approaching the end of its the first stage, even more stringent goals are expected to be set for the period 2008-2012. But already, there is much debate over its effectiveness, with many people questioning whether the NAPs some countries (the UK included) set themselves in stage one were too generous.

Chemical company ceos and senior executives, meanwhile, need to be seen to be doing more on climate change, a large majority (77%) of survey respondents believe. Engagement with the public and dialogue with other industry leaders and governments will be helpful not only in establishing best practices and procedures, but also in establishing goals and standards set by policy-makers. Indeed, ‘the chemical industry is contributing to the G8/G20 Gleneagles dialogue on climate change, clean energy and sustainability, and to biofuels, via the world economic forums,’ wrote one respondent. ‘Their voice goes directly to the governments of the G20.’

The importance of working together in this way to tackle climate change cannot be over-stated. As another C&I reader eloquently stated: ‘Climate change is a global problem with multiple actors. There is not a single solution, but a network of measures that only together can alleviate the consequences.’ Government, NGOs, consumers and industry all need to take actions for us to stand any chance of averting the potentially disastrous consequences of climate change.

Fast-growing economies in the East, so far largely exempt from the Kyoto agreements, can no longer be left out of the equation, many respondents caution. With China now emerging as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, overtaking even the US for this ignoble title earlier this year, ‘it is essential for all countries to assist the large developing economies to do all that should be done to reduce emissions’.

Finally, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that there are still some C&I readers who remain deeply sceptical of the role of carbon dioxide in global warming, or of the need to take action. Even given the best efforts of the world’s climate scientists, and the considerable amount of data now available, our survey revealed there remain those who question whether the problem exists or if reducing carbon dioxide emissions will have any effect at all (see comments). However well considered, these views are still in the minority. For the majority of survey respondents, it would appear that the evidence is clear and the need for action is urgent. In the words of one respondent, ‘I do not believe that the penny has fully dropped yet. The world is facing a catastrophe within less than a century and is debating emissions trading. Unless there is a fundamental change in attitude by the major emitters of greenhouse gases in the short term, then I fear for the future of my children and grandchildren.’

Respondents´ comments:

  • Did the glacial epoch come because a dinosaur used too much fossil fuel? No. So how can we explain the reason? Just destiny

  • There is no silver bullet on climate change/emissions. A major contribution is required in consumer behaviour to make significant inroads – we have to tackle overall consumption to have a real effect

  • There needs to be more emphasis on product life-cycles – it’s changing but only slowly

  • Any reduction in combustion emissions will be accompanied by a reduction in the by-products of combustion emissions that have a demonstrated deleterious impact on human health, ie particulate material, oxides of nitrogen, oxides of sulphur

  • Global warming has to be taken care of not only by industries, but also an awareness programme about the harms should be conveyed to the world

  • Unless very strict rules and regulations are implemented, it is impossible to control climate change

  • Stop the massive slash and burn clearing of tropical rainforest to plant palm trees for biodiesel, for raising cattle and other purposes. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is only a small part of redressing the balance

  • Yes, the world is getting warmer but climate ‘change’ isn’t new. Rather than divert large resources into trying to change the climate, we should be concentrating on lifting the world out of poverty and adapting to a warmer world

  • The general public could do a lot more by using non-polluting transport for shorter journeys and switching off unnecessary appliances All the organisations the world over should co-operate against the dangers of global climate changing

  • While global warming is recognised, I am not sure that all the reasons have been fully explored. Carbon dioxide is a contributor, but what about cyclic changes caused by the Earth’s relationship in distance to the Sun

  • I’m not convinced by the evidence that global warming is something that we can influence, however, reducing the use of fossil fuels and making processes more efficient would be a sensible thing to do irrespectively

  • The chemical industry has already made significant steps towards reducing energy consumption and emissions, which is why I think from this point on their relative impact on the problem will be small

  • Action taken now is good for the environment. It is better to take action and go wrong rather than not taking action and going wrong

  • Although I work in a university, contacts with various local industries (particularly in glass manufacture) show that areas such as ETS can actually benefit industry if they are willing to invest in new raw materials or make the existing processes more efficient

  • Nuclear is a time bomb solution

  • Governments have not shown responsibility in these matters for fear of not being re-elected

  • While climate change is occurring, the drivers of change are less clear. Nevertheless, an impending shortage of energy suggests that it is prudent to reduce the impact of mankind on the planet

  • ‘I have great respect for the inventiveness of the human race. Solutions will come faster

  • Until the US, China & India ALL make the same effort that the UK & some European countries have made to reduce emissions over the past 10 years then there is little hope of achieving very much’ 22

And the winners are… Congratulations to Peter Hambleton and Graham McDougald who are the winners of £25 Amazon gift vouchers after their names were selected at random from all those included in the survey. Thanks to everyone who took part.

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