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Arctic Climate Footprint

New Frontier in CSR for Climate Protection

The Arctic is in crisis, warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. To many of us, this crisis seems remote, but we are all contributing to this warming. In turn, climate change in the Arctic is affecting the entire planet and accelerating global warming. For instance, Arctic warming is altering the jet stream, impacting weather patterns and storm activity. It is melting the Greenland ice sheet, threatening coastal populations worldwide, and thawing the permafrost, under which lie vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Melting summer sea ice is exposing the darker sea surface, creating a heat sink and speeding the warming process.

Now, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs can join in, providing solutions to this emerging crisis. SCS has developed new tools to help you:

  • Determine your Arctic Climate Footprint, distinct from your global carbon footprint.
  • Set reasonable goals aligned with your sustainability objectives.
  • Identify practical strategies for becoming Arctic Climate Neutral, either through direct mitigation efforts or by supporting verified offset projects.
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Linda Brown
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Background

The Challenge

Most people assume that Arctic warming is simply a consequence of global warming. However, that is only part of the story. At least half the warming occurring in the Arctic is caused by regional emissions of, short-lived greenhouse gases and aerosols such as black carbon and tropospheric ozone. These short-lived climate pollutants are not accounted for by current carbon registries or offset programs, or regulated as such. As a result, until now, companies and governments have had no incentive to set reduction goals for these pollutants from a climate change perspective. Additionally, the near-term potency of methane as a greenhouse gas has been understated until quite recently, thereby undervaluing efforts to reduce emissions.

Every company, organization, city and individual has an Arctic Climate Footprint, no matter where we live, work or operate. This is due in part to the fact that in today’s global market, products, materials and supplies are regularly transported by air or ship through or near the Arctic, resulting in the release of highly potent emissions. Personal and business air travel through the region is another factor. Simultaneously, GHG emissions from sources far from the Arctic can transport into the region, including methane, one of the chief culprits in Arctic climate change.

The Opportunity

Because black carbon and tropospheric ozone are only present for days or weeks in the atmosphere, stopping or slowing these emissions at the source can have immediate positive effects for the region and the planet. In addition, efforts to control methane releases can reap much larger benefits than previously recognized. By focusing on such efforts, companies, organizations and agencies can work independently and collaboratively to substantially slow down Arctic warming within this critical decade.

Our Credentials

SCS is an internationally accredited carbon offset verifier and long-time LCA practitioner. We provide a full suite of LCA services for companies who wish to establish their environmental impact profiles to support internal decision-making or public claims. In addition, we are accredited to:

  • Verify Carbon Footprints conformant with the World Resource Institute (WRI) GHG Protocol, PAS 2050, ISO 14067 or the draft National LCA standard LEO-SCS-002.
  • Conduct Carbon Neutral verification under PAS 2060.
  • Conduct Carbon Offset verification under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), the American Carbon Registry (ACR), The Climate Registry (TCR), the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), and the Climate Community and Biodiversity Project Design (CCB) standards, and others.

Benefits

  • Demonstrate corporate sustainability leadership to your investors and stakeholders.
  • Learn where your operations and decisions can have the greatest positive impact in slowing down Arctic warming in the most cost-effective manner.
  • Gain independent recognition for actions to reduce black carbon and tropospheric ozone that would otherwise go unnoticed.
  • Demonstrate the value of methane reductions well beyond that currently recognized under current carbon registries.
  • Provide the highest level of transparency to your customers.
  • Position yourself for the emerging carbon markets that will include short-lived climate pollutants and focus on regional climate “hot spots” around the globe, such as the Arctic Climate Action Registry.

The Process

  1. Establish Your Arctic Climate Footprint. Determine the degree to which your operation is contributing to climate change in the Arctic, and learn where the greatest improvement opportunities exist. This includes sources of emissions that directly impact the Arctic, such as emissions from flights that transit the Arctic region, as well as emissions that indirectly affect the Arctic. If you have current carbon footprint data, you are already well on your way to having the information you will need, along with readily available criteria pollutant reporting data. SCS will independently certify your Arctic Climate Footprint, and document your subsequent improvements.
  2. Become Arctic Climate Neutral. Identify the steps you can take to mitigate emissions directly, and determine the amount of offsets required to become Arctic Climate Neutral. A wide variety of mitigation opportunities exist, revolving around operational efficiencies and use of a combination of off-the-shelf and emerging technologies. SCS will independently validate your plan to become Arctic Climate Neutral, and verify your accomplishment.

The Science

SCS has been at the forefront of developing methods to calculate Arctic Climate Footprints, incorporating the latest climate science findings into an advanced life cycle assessment (LCA) framework. The importance of these upgrades is summarized here, while scientific studies and recent articles are referenced below.

  • The Kyoto-based climate accounting is based on the per-unit-mass relative warming potential of each greenhouse gas (GHG) as compared to carbon dioxide, averaged out over a 100-year timeframe (a metric known as the “100-year Global Warming Potential,” or GWP). However, the Arctic is changing so rapidly now that the 100-year timeframe is not particularly useful for developing policies to deal with impacts occurring in the Arctic now.
  • Consideration must be given not only to long-lived GHGs, but also to the local and regional sources of short-lived pollutants that are causing additional warming in the Arctic. Of greatest importance are black carbon and tropospheric ozone; together, they are contributing up to 60% of the total warming influence in the Arctic, even though neither was included in the original Kyoto GHG list. On a per unit mass basis, these climate pollutants are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide during the few weeks they remain in the atmospheric.
  • Mitigating emissions of black carbon and the precursors to tropospheric ozone would lead to a near-immediate reduction in the rate of increase in Arctic temperatures by helping to lift the “Arctic haze,” which is trapping heat.
  • NASA research now demonstrates that the heating effect of methane over 20 years, the critical timeframe for action to slow Arctic warming, is 68 times that of carbon dioxide. (Past climate accounting systems have shown methane’s potency to be 21 times greater than carbon dioxide, a value averaged out over 100 years; this value is also considered low based on the latest NASA research.) Mitigation of both biogenic and industrial sources of methane within the Arctic region would have a very positive effect on reducing Arctic temperatures.

The advanced climate accounting protocols used to calculate the Arctic Climate Footprint integrate these findings through: 1) inclusion of all climate pollutants, including black carbon and the precursors of tropospheric ozone, as well as the updated potency value for methane; 2) consideration of shorter timeframes to better reflect the actual pace at which impacts are occurring and emissions reductions are needed; and 3) development of specific climate accounting protocols for regional climate “hot spots” such as the Arctic. The protocols integrate the work of NASA, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), and other leading institutions. Experts, including scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Stanford University, are providing independent technical review to ensure the soundness of these accounting metrics.

FAQs

What is my Arctic Climate Footprint?

It is a measure of how much your product, system, service, company, organization is contributing to climate change in the Arctic region. The footprint is calculated using advanced LCA, based on regional impacts and integrating the near-term timeframes within which these impacts are projected to occur. It is also the basis against which improvements can be measured and offset credits can be established.

How does it differ from my conventional carbon footprint?

Conventional carbon footprints report your contribution to global climate change from emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other long-lived greenhouse gases (GHGs) identified under the Kyoto Protocol. The Arctic Climate Footprint focuses on your contribution to Arctic warming, where surface temperatures are rising nearly three times faster than the rest of the planet. The Arctic Climate Footprint is more comprehensive, including a broader range of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and calibrated to the near-term impacts these climate forcers are having in the region.

How does the Arctic Climate Footprint fit into Corporate Sustainability?

Every company, organization, city and individual has an Arctic Climate Footprint, no matter where we live, work or operate. Given the rate at which the Arctic is warming, and its potentially catastrophic consequences, it is incumbent upon all of us to determine how we can slow this warming as part of our sustainability planning. The Arctic Climate Footprint is a tool to help guide responsible and practical measures to slow this warming and make a significant contribution to the long-term health and well-being of our businesses and the planet.

What does it mean to be Arctic Climate Neutral?

Companies who become Arctic Climate Neutral zero out their Arctic climate footprints by mitigating emissions, instituting climate cooling measures that can be independently verified, or sponsoring verified Arctic Climate Offset projects. Companies that make serious strides toward becoming Arctic Neutral can become part of Arctic Climate Protection Network and publicly assert their leadership efforts with third-party certification.

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