The TH Interview: Mike Mason of Climate Care, part 2

Mike Mason is the founder of Climate Care, one of the world's first carbon offset providers which recently celebrated selling 1 million tonnes of offsets so far, and has just opened an office in Australia. Since the beginning, Climate Care has focused on supporting offset projects with a strong development potential, often replacing dirty fossil fuels, or greatly reducing reliance on natural resources. Some examples of projects they have funded include efficient cooking stoves in Africa and Asia, compact fluorescent light bulbs in South Africa, and human-powered treadle pumps in India. Mike Mason continues to innovate, developing small-scale technology for converting wood chips and other energy crops into wood pellets, and supporting a number of research initiatives into large-scale carbon reductions. In part one, Mike talked about how the offset market has changed over the years, and explained why offset companies should work with even the heaviest of polluters. In part two Mike tells us a little bit about how offsets are accounted for and verified, why they have a potential for improving lives in the developing world, and what we can all do to fight climate change.

TH: Can you explain a little bit about how offsets are measured, and how they are verified?
MM: Offset funds go towards projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The projects only create offsets if three things occur simultaneously: firstly the project has to be one that would not have gone ahead without the offset funding ('additionality'), secondly the project must not create increased emissions anywhere else in the world ('leakage'), and thirdly the emissions reductions must not be counted more than once ( 'double counting'). So, if a country has a Kyoto target to reduce emissions, we won't fund projects there since there is a danger the emission reductions would be double counted both by the offset funder AND by the country.

It is the role of independent standards, applied through third parties, to test carbon offsets against these three things, and this is increasingly the case - Climate Care puts all its projects through an internationally recognised standard.

TH: Climate Care is particularly proud of the additional development benefits that are associated with many of its projects, yet some observers have baulked at the idea of wealthy westerners continuing to pollute, while funding low tech projects like treadle pumps in the developing world. How does Climate Care ensure that the technologies and projects it funds are appropriate, and genuinely needed and wanted by the people who end up using them?

MM: One thing must be clear — the developing world cannot afford to make our mistakes. Their economies stand to lose massively, and their people suffer most through the impacts of climate change. We need to help them to never become as addicted to oil as we are.

When looking at carbon offset projects we have to avoid Western middle class views of what people want and value — there is a tendency to assume that because we don't do something others won't either. In reality, with efficient cooking stoves or treadle pumps for example, people often comment that the technologies we are supporting have revolutionised their lives.

What we have to do is offer sustainable technologies that people in the developing world choose ahead of the unsustainable alternatives. If they choose these technologies then there is no question of neo-colonialism or being patronising — it is their choice.

If you look at the range of organisations we are working with you'll see we are funding the work of entrepreneurs in India, NGOs in Central America and governments in Africa. This is about financial support and technology transfer, and there's a lot of excitement in the developing world about what carbon offset funding can help to achieve.

For example, Ugastove Ltd is a company producing efficient cooking stoves [pictured] in Kampala, Uganda. They found their business model was unsustainable until ClimateCare agreed to buy the carbon savings made by the stoves. The factory has increased production from 25 stoves per day to over 75 and is aiming at reaching 200. Over the next 5 years the project is expected to save over half a million tonnes of CO2. David Mukisa, project manager, is very enthusiastic — and his opinion is an educated one given his many years experience working in development NGOs:

"This kind of funding is one of the most promising ways of getting Africa moving towards sustainable development . Unlike most overseas development aid it goes directly to the people that need it, like Ugastove, and the close monitoring required by the carbon offset standards ensures that people genuinely benefit from the investment . I am really excited about the potential of carbon finance in Africa, and I can see many channels where it can be used "

The potential for huge carbon savings for relatively small amounts of investment is really exciting. Our project team, based in Kenya, have estimated that the humble efficient cooking stove, costing a mere $5-$30 each, could save over 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year — the same as taking 45 million cars off the road - if it was adopted across sub-Saharan Africa. The reduced wood consumption would save an area of forest the size of England every year. And on top of the climate benefits, 100 million families would have healthier homes through reduced indoor air pollution. And there is an appetite for this in Africa. At a recent workshop on carbon finance that the team held in Nairobi, over 50 organisations turned up.

TH: What are the most effective ways that Treehugger readers can bring about real change to prevent catastrophic climate change?

MM: Back to the lifeboat analogy — we have probably 30 years to sort this problem out. The problem is huge — for example, for US citizens it means a 90% or greater cut in emissions. We need to understand this urgency, and be absolutely sure we spend our efforts and money on actions that deliver the biggest and fastest reductions possible. Get campaigning, reduce your own carbon and fund offset projects!

For example my family is working to get our house down to zero-carbon — something of a challenge as it's over a hundred years old! We've done the quick wins — efficient light bulbs, good insulation, a solar water heater and heating controls for different rooms. That's cut our carbon footprint by about 25%, but we're still at 11 tonnes per year between the four of us. So we have to offset the rest (about $150 dollars), as well as looking at the more expensive options such as re-making all the (100 year) old windows as double glazed units.

Offsets are a vital part of the mix, and a way of reducing carbon emission quickly and cost-effectively around the world. The need to reduce and the need to offset are equally important - no good fixing the hole in the boat after everyone has drowned.

Put simply, we cannot afford NOT to offset our carbon — we all need to use our wallets as well as our willpower if we're to avoid climate meltdown.

Tags: Alternative Energy | Alternative Fuels | Appropriate Technology | Australia | Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Neutral | Carbon Offsets | Clean Energy | United Kingdom