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The Daily Need

26 days to Cancun

We’re 26 days out from the 2010 climate talks in Cancun and it’s time to check in on the 30 Ways in 30 Days campaign from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). A couple of entries worth highlighting from the last few days:

Green Passport Initiative

Some Cancun delegates will no doubt be wracked with pangs of guilt for all the carbon emissions their flights to Mexico produced. But UNEP hopes they’ll find good news in the form of the Green Passport program, aimed at helping vacationers make sustainable travel decisions. The problem, says UNEP, is that tourism is responsible for 5 percent of global CO2 emissions. (No word on the percentage due to methane release by international climate negotiators after the all-you-can-eat enchilada buffet). The Green Passport website assists would-be travelers in “choosing the least polluting form of transport, finding low-impact accommodation options, improving their energy efficiency at destinations, offsetting the inevitable carbon emissions of their trip, and acting to help improve livelihoods in host communities.”’

Many of the suggestions on the site seem like common sense, or at best, old news for your seasoned greenie — onsider taking a train rather than flying, pick a hotel with a commitment to sustainable tourism, be careful about bringing home souvenirs made from protected wildlife, etc.

But there are a few things you probably hadn’t considered. For instance, Green Passport (GP) notes that tourism can create an increased burden on waste disposal systems in many countries. So, GP suggests removing packaging like soap wrappers before you leave.

If you are going to fly, GP recommends routes that don’t include stopovers because it’s during takeoff and landing that the highest emissions occur. And if you have the time, GP suggests taking a freighter to your destination. They say a typical trip costs only $100 per person including meals. (Unfortunately, the link they provide for more information — while proclaiming itself  “the most comprehensive source of information about freighter travel to be found on the Internet”- – seems to only include links to Google ads about Transatlantic ship travel.) Finally, just to give the guilt screws a finishing twist, GP reminds us that “a single holiday can greatly exceed the yearly emissions of an average world citizen or even of the average EU citizen.” Bon voyage, planet killer!

African Carbon Asset Development Facility

The carbon offset market is attracting investors from all over the world. UNEP says that last year alone, $84 billion was invested in “emerging-market emission-reduction projects.” Unfortunately, Africa saw only 2 percent of that total. The African Carbon Asset Development (ACAD) Facility is “a financing platform that aims to help African banks and eco-entrepreneurs unlock the potential of the continent’s nascent green economy.” Basically, ACAD aims to support projects that would create carbon credits. The credits could then be sold on the international carbon market to those Kyoto Protocol-signatories looking to offset their own pollution.

An admirable initiative indeed and potentially lucrative, as carbon is one of the fastest-growing commodities in the world. But risk-adverse investors have been skeptical of certain aspects of the offset system. Bundles of carbon offset credits can have varying degrees of reliability. Who calculates the amount of marketable offsets? Who polices programs to make sure they provide measurable, long-term reductions in emissions? And even green advocates have reservations. A 2009 report from British environmental group Friends of the Earth calls carbon offsets “a dangerous distraction” that allows the developed world to keep emitting greenhouse gases and push the burden off on developing countries.

After upholding their landmark global warming legislation by voting down Proposition 23, Californians will soon be wrestling with the challenges of their very own offset system. For example, proposed sources of carbon credits include forest management programs that would preserve trees as de facto carbon banks. But as the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out earlier this year, “forestry officials, scientists and biologists don’t precisely agree how much carbon a given tree can store, let alone how much an entire forest can sequester.“

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    Countdown to Cancun
    In the month leading up to the Cancun climate talks, the UN Environment Program looks at 30 environmental initiatives that work.