Nascent carbon markets offer ICT opportunites

Trade Me supports trading in "voluntary" carbon credits as well as official credits

TradeMe has found there’s money to be earned in facilitating carbon trading, but spokeswoman Christine Turner insists the company (which, like Computerworld NZ, is a Fairfax subsidiary) set up its carbon trading arena primarily to do something about climate change.

“While carbon trading isn’t the whole solution, we really do believe it will help,” she told the audience at a breakfast jointly organised by Women in Technology (WIT) and the New Zealand Computer Society (NZCS) last week.

“We saw this as a way to engage New Zealanders in supporting projects that reduce [carbon] emissions.”

TradeMe supports trading in both “voluntary” carbon credits, traded privately without government involvement, and the official credits allocated under the Kyoto agreement. Many organisations want to be seen to be doing their bit and reducing carbon emissions as part of corporate social responsibility — increasingly a positive factor in marketing to customers and attracting good employees, Turner says.

“It’s something staff [of many companies] want,” and a growing number of requests for tender — including those for computer equipment — are expressing preferences for companies displaying an environmentally responsible attitude.

Participants in the event discussed several ICT-relevant aspects of carbon trading. Neil Pennington, from market operator M-co, says his company got a market system for carbon emissions up and running in a week following an approach from TradeMe and Meridian Energy.

Economising on the operation of ICT itself was also canvassed as a step towards becoming carbon-neutral. Here, however, the speakers met with some scepticism; technology is becoming more efficient, some attendees pointed out, so companies upgrading to more modern ICT equipment could be accused of claiming credit for something they were going to do anyway.

Turner and Meridian Energy speaker Judy Ryan disputed this, pointing to rules for “additionality”, which admit to the trading equations only projects which would not have been in an organisation’s plans without the influence of a carbon market. Meridian cannot claim credits for one of its wind-farms, says Ryan, because it is economically viable without them.

If a company smartens up its electrical and electronic equipment to reduce consumption, asked another attendee, “how do we know how much of the electricity we save comes from fossil fuels and how much comes from a wind farm?”

Ryan later told Computerworld that carbon emissions, theoretically represented by a given amount of electricity, are calculated as an average over the whole grid. So, if you draw your electricity from a hydro station or a wind-farm you could claim credits which relate to coal or oil burned somewhere else in the country.

A basic carbon trading arena has been set up at M-co, says Pennington. A derivative market, clearing and settlement arrangements and links to international markets are still to come, but implementation of these is being stalled by “process”, he says as a euphemism for the difficult passage of emissions trading legislation through Parliament.

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