Carbon neutral economies

BHUTAN is the only country in the world that is not only carbon neutral, it is actually carbon negative.

On the upside, we should be happy that at least one country has done it, thus giving inspiration to many other countries that would want to achieve carbon neutral status, without really aiming at first to achieve carbon negative status.

On the downside however, it is not good news that only one country has done it so far, despite some positive signs at the Paris Accord, a short success that was overshadowed by the decision of the United States to get out of the agreement.

To some extent, it could be said that Bhutan was able to achieve carbon negative status because it is a small country and it is a monarchy. However, that argument would not hold because there are countries smaller than Bhutan that have not done it, and all the other monarchies in the world have not done it either.

It appears therefore that that the only thing unique about the Bhutan experience is its political will. Some might say that political will was mustered in Bhutan because it is a monarchy. That argument would not hold water either, because Bhutan is not an absolute monarchy, because it is a multi-party democracy.

Back to our home front, it would be fair to say that carbon neutrality would be a daunting task at the national level, but certainly it would be a realistic task at the local level, and what I mean by that are the towns and cities, both belonging to the municipal level.

By the way, I have not given up on my advocacy that all towns and cities should be classified as municipalities. I am saying that because the officials of many cities are adverse to the idea of being a municipality, even if they continue to refer to their city hall as the “municipio”.

I also have not given up on my advocacy that all cities should be under the authority of the province, regardless of whether they are chartered cities or not.

Going back to the Bhutan experience, they were able to achieve carbon neutrality because they were able to produce more renewable energy that their aggregate carbon footprint. It is as simple as that, although it did not simply happen overnight.

In effect, they were able to stop the importation and use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and instead they were able to produce energy from renewable sources such as biomass, hydropower, solar and wind. That is not all however, because they were able to gain carbon credits from their forest cover. Bhutan has passed a law that mandates that at least 60 percent of the forest cover have to be maintained. As of now, Bhutan has maintained 72 percent of its forest cover.

In theory, it would be possible to compute the aggregate carbon footprints of a town or city and conversely, it would also be possible to compute their aggregate carbon credits. Using that as simple arithmetic, it would become possible to compute how far or how near they are from the status of achieving carbon neutrality.

Although this might sound like a pipe dream, it is really not, because if one country has done it, then certainly any town or city could do it too. Although it might sound unreal, we are really talking about real money here, because carbon credits are convertible to cash. As we speak, many local companies are already earning from tax credits, and their production data could be added to the statistics of the towns and cities.

Generally speaking, it could be said that carbon neutral economies could be built by the proper management of energy and environment policies. Although the planting of trees is already good for the environment as it is, it is also good for energy if and when renewable species are planted for biomass purposes.

As a matter of fact, it is possible to have a double income from carbon credits, as these are earned not only from sequestering carbon, but also from substituting fossil fuels with biomass feed stocks. Aside from producing electricity, carbon credits could also be earned from the production of renewable cooking fuels such as biogas.

The recording and computation of the aggregate carbon footprints and the aggregate carbon credits would require the creation and build up of databases, but that would not be difficult to do. For a start, the gathering of benchmark data could already be initiated composed of existing tree stands.

In theory, coconut plantations and bamboo stands should already be included. Although coconuts would belong to the palm species, they could be considered as trees, being palm trees as a matter of fact. Although bamboos would belong to the grass species, they could be considered as hybrid grass-trees, because as a matter of fact, some companies are already earning carbon credits from bamboo culture./PN

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