A criticism often made of the voluntary carbon markets and companies that buy carbon credits to offset their emissions is that those companies then carry on doing little to cut their own pollution with an ill-founded clear conscience. New research from Ecosystem Marketplace, a Forest Trends programme, has found that companies engaging with the voluntary carbon market were in fact mostly working hard to cut emissions in their own operations.
Analysing CDP Climate Change programme data from 2022, researchers found that of the just over 7,400 companies disclosing activities, 822 or 11% bought project-based carbon credits. Of those companies, 59% reported an overall decrease in emissions because of actual cuts or switching to renewable energy. Only 33% of companies that were not engaged with the voluntary carbon market reported a reduction. The research also found that buyers of carbon credits are more likely to be engaged with their supply chains on emissions reduction and to have set science-based targets – nearly three and half times more likely than companies not participating in the voluntary carbon markets.
Starbucks develops climate-resilient coffee seeds
Starbucks is taking action to protect coffee’s future in the face of climate change impacts, unveiling six resilient coffee seed varieties. With a daily consumption in the US alone of 517m cups, and climate-related threats looming, arabica coffee beans, which constitute 70% of global production, face threats such as pests, diseases and extreme heat. Robusta, a thicker coffee bean, is generally more resilient to heat.
Starbucks’ climate-resilient arabica seeds are resistant to coffee leaf rust, a fungus that thrives in warmer, wetter conditions. Tests have shown that these seeds generate a higher yield in a shorter timeframe. The seeds are being distributed to farmers, who are then free to sell the resulting crop to other buyers. So far around three million seeds have been distributed annually over the last five years to farms worldwide. Some experts have said that the innovation is “critical” for the future of coffee.
Post-consumer coffee’s upcycle value
What to do with post-consumer waste, in all its forms, and utilise currently lost value continues to drive innovation. A new Danish start-up has developed technology that can extract nutrients and oils from spent coffee grounds. Kaffe Bueno has recently opened a refinery capable of processing 500 tonnes of coffee grounds a year, helped by a €2.5m investment from the European Innovation Council.
Research suggests that only 1% of the nutrients in coffee are used while brewing the estimated two billion cups of coffee consumed every day. Spent coffee grounds also release carbon dioxide and methane as they break down in the environment. The Kaffe Bueno refinery can upcycle the grounds into ingredients for food and cosmetic products, including prebiotic fibre, antioxidants, colourants, fats and emulsifiers.
Palm oil’s sweet alternative
While there has undoubtedly been progress over the past decade, the fact remains that many crop-based cooking oils and fats made from palm oil and soy have a deforestation risk problem, which has driven innovation in trying to find alternatives. One of the latest, as reported in news non-profit Grist, comes from California based Zero Acre Farms with its Cultured Oil product that is made from fermenting sugar cane. The company says that Cultured Oil requires 90% less land and releases 86% less green-house gas than comparable products made from soybeans.
And the product is gaining some traction, attracting millions of dollars of venture capital investment. It is created through a process where microorganisms break down sugarcane and convert the sugar into oil that is low in the saturated and polyunsaturated fats linked to health problems. The product is at an early stage of development and full LCA results comparing it with its competitors are not yet public.
EU deal to reduce ‘super-potent’ GHGs
The European Union has made a significant move to reduce the use of potent greenhouse gases in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, aligning with its broader efforts to curb CO2 emissions and safeguard the environment. Negotiators and lawmakers have reached an agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) entirely by 2050, recognising their detrimental impact on the planet’s health. Spanish climate minister Teresa Ribera, who recently co-hosted an international climate and energy summit in Madrid, with the aim of strengthening ambition ahead of COP28, emphasised the importance of this phase-out in the fight against climate change. The deal will progressively prohibit the sale of products containing these gases, with varying timelines for different items. For instance, a complete ban on fluorinated or f-gases in split air conditioning and heat pumps is set for 2035.
Power sector emissions growth slowing
New research by Ember has analysed electricity data from 78 countries, representing 92% of global electricity demand, to reveal that global power sector emissions experienced minimal growth in the first half of 2023, with an increase of just 0.2% compared to the previous year. This encouraging development was driven by the expanding capacity of wind and solar power in electricity grids worldwide.
However, the progress made in reducing emissions was dampened by a remarkable 8.5% decline in hydroelectric power output, largely attributed to droughts in China. During this period, wind and solar energy’s combined share of global electricity supply rose to 14.2%, marking a significant increase from the 12.8% recorded in the first half of 2022. Had hydroelectric power generation remained stable, global power sector emissions could have seen a decline of 2.9%.