Sustainability & CSR
Net zero you by 2030
Governments and businesses the world over have committed to achieving net zero, but the choices individuals make should not be overlooked.
By Bart Linssen
We have been hearing net zero announcements a lot in the past few years. The EU and Taiwan have committed to net zero as have many other countries and industries. Net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests, for instance. This is a huge undertaking. This article intends to provide a sense of how huge an undertaking that is and encourage individuals to take a bigger role in achieving these targets.
Businesses move slowly, governments even slower. We need to hurry up. Scientists say that we have less than 10 years left to curb CO2 emissions to avoid irreversible climate change. Want businesses and governments to move faster? Your choices as a consumer and voter count! How about you becoming net zero by 2030?
If you live in Taiwan, you are emitting 11.9 tons of CO2 per year. To reach net zero, you must get that down as close to zero and then offset the rest by planting 46 trees per ton of CO2. To put it into perspective, currently Taiwan has 98 trees per capita! And yes, trees are the only carbon capture option available. Scalable, affordable, energy efficient carbon capture technologies just don’t exist and will not exist before your net zero 2030 target.
The following lists a few things that you can do today to get you closer to zero. We will assume you already changed your light bulbs to LEDs and set your air-conditioning to no less than 26 degrees.
1. Avoid single use plastics
We are so used to single use plastic that we seldom think about it anymore. Starbucks trash-bins are filled with paper cups, while perfectly reasonable alternatives exist. The plastics industry has led us to believe that plastics are recyclable, by printing an identification label on the plasticware that has the appearance of a recycling symbol. In fact, very few plastics are effectively recyclable. To be truly recyclable plastic has to be white or a transparent colour, must be clean and should also not be a composite product like the misleadingly named “paper cup” (which is actually a paper cup with a plastic coating and that plastic is not recyclable). What is not recyclable is usually incinerated and contributes directly to CO2 emissions. According to the site “8 billion trees”, 1kg of CO2 is emitted for every 5 plastic bags produced. Yes, plastic is light, cheap and convenient but it is a menace to the environment. We consider glass old fashioned, heavy and expensive, but it can be recycled endlessly and produced with renewable energy. You will find this step easy to take as soon as you consciously decide to reject using single use plastics; you will find all kinds of ways to work around it, with convenience not affected.
2. Reduce combustion
When you burn carbon-based material, you directly contribute to CO2 emissions. When you ride a motorbike or drive a car, you contribute directly to CO2 emissions. Consider whether alternatives exist. Worst case example; a petrol-powered leaf blower releases as much CO2 in an hour as your passenger car driving for 200 kilometres (km). Perfectly suitable emission free alternatives exist.
Your car emits approximately 170 grams of CO2 per km. Going electric will help cut approximately half your emissions; your Gogoro and Tesla do not combust, and they are a great way to achieve Taiwan’s goal of net zero 2050, but currently 90% of the electricity electric vehicles use in Taiwan is produced by coal, oil and gas. That’s still a lot of combustion and therefore will not have the maximum contribution to your personal net zero 2030 goal.
Consider taking the buses, trains, metro and shared bicycles like U-bikes. Public transport can get you almost anywhere you want to go in Taiwan and using a U-bike for the rest of the way will help to keep you healthy. Emissions from public transport are on average 40 grams per km per person, but the higher the occupancy rate, the lower this value will get.
The worst thing you can do for the climate is air travel. The website ourworldindata.org states that domestic flights will spit out 0.25kg of CO2 per km and long-haul flights 0.19kg of CO2 per km. A trip to Europe will really mess up your net zero plans, releasing about 1 ton of CO2. Flying business class will double your emissions, flying direct instead of with a stopover generally will reduce your emissions.
3. Eat local and less animal products
This is probably the biggest win that we could make individually with the least effort. Producing meat is several times more energy intensive than producing vegetables. Just think about it, you need to produce all the vegetables and grains first to feed the animal, and then you eat the animal. The bigger the animal, the bigger the emissions. On top of that, animals burp and fart methane, which is an 86 times more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. So, eat a little less meat or stop eating meat altogether. Becoming vegetarian may cut your emissions by 1-2 tons of CO2 per year.
And while you’re shopping, have a look at the labels to check where your meat, vegetables, fruit come from. We are so used to having every kind of fruit and vegetable available all year round. Huge emissions are involved in the transport and cold storage of these products. Buy seasonal and local instead. And of course, don’t use single use plastic packaging. Most fruit and vegetables come in their own natural packaging. Bananas are a perfect example; nature has even designed them with that little handle for you to remove the “packaging”.
4. Fast consumption, slow net zero
Fast fashion is responsible for 6-8% of global CO2 emissions. Fast fashion is a huge polluter due to the production, transport and waste involved. Recycling rates are very low. It is time to move away from fast fashion and fast consumption in general and choose quality, sustainable products instead. Marketing is so effective and addresses our impulses so accurately that we often end up with things we do not need, cluttering our houses and adding to trash that, due to the lack of landfills, will eventually be incinerated. Find ways to reduce your impulse buying. Consider for a moment how long it will take for that item to be turned into kilograms of CO2 before you decide to take it home. When buying something, buy something that you really need, that is sustainably produced, well designed and of good quality that will stay with you for many years. We will all look better with well-designed, quality products.
5. Your online carbon footprint
The internet has brought us a lot of convenience and a wealth of information. It has the ability to bring us closer and also has the potential to reduce our carbon footprints. Data centers use an immense amount of power, but the data allows us to do things more efficiently and avoid CO2 emissions by other means of communication or reducing the need for travel. For other online activities, for example search, consider using providers like Ecosia (www.ecosia.org). Ecosia is a non-profit that plants trees to compensate for the carbon emitted for your search.
What is definitely not helpful are online activities that do not replace or reduce carbon emissions. Producing cryptocurrency like Bitcoins is a case in point. On average, for each bitcoin, over 100 tons of CO2 are emitted only to produce something imaginary and, up until now, only used speculatively. Bitcoins are often produced where power is cheapest, therefore frequently with energy generated from coal and even if bitcoins are produced with green energy, this is a wasteful deployment of green energy, which could be used to reduce the carbon emissions of other more productive activities.
There you go, a few suggestions to help you on your journey to net zero by 2030. You may be able to cut a few tons of CO2 emissions per year, but you will not yet have reached net zero. How will you deal with the remainder? Count on your elected officials? Plant hundreds of trees? Wait for new technology to become available before 2030? You have seven years left to think about it and take action.
Bart Linssen is Director of Renewable Energy at RCI Engineering