Emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is like overfilling your bath with the overflow pipe full – by John Box

The recent G7 Summit was carbon neutral. Its CO2 emissions were offset through monies paid to green energy and energy efficiency schemes in developing countries that will reduce emissions of CO2. The offsetting schemes include four schemes in developing countries: an improved cookstoves project in Uganda, a composting facility in Vietnam, hydropower in Laos and biogas reuse in Thailand. These are important schemes and the monies from the G7 Summit will help them deliver the reduced CO2 emissions.

Think about this carefully. The CO2 emissions from the G7 Summit have gone straight into the atmosphere. They will increase the existing CO2 levels which are already at a record high point. These levels of CO2 are contributing now to global heating.

The offsetting schemes for the G7 Summit will reduce emissions of CO2 during their operation. But in order for the G7 summit to be truly carbon neutral, these offsetting schemes should be removing CO2 from the atmosphere at the same time and at the same rate as it is being added by the operations and activities of the G7 Summit. Otherwise, the atmosphere is going to continue to accumulate CO2, albeit at a slightly slower rate given the offsetting schemes being funded by the G7 Summit monies.

Compare this situation to filling the bath. There comes a time when there is too much water going in. The overflow pipe deals with that. The taps are still on and the bath overflows. The floor is flooded and the ceiling of the room below will be overwhelmed and water and plaster will cascade down ruining everything in the room.

We are pouring CO2 into the atmosphere. The overflow pipe – the natural sinks of vegetation and the oceanic environment – are overwhelmed. Carbon offsetting through green energy and energy efficiency schemes is like turning the taps off a bit and reducing the amount of water going into the bath by a small amount. The inevitable collapse of the ceiling is delayed just a bit, but it is still inevitable.

Carbon emitted into the atmosphere needs to be removed from the atmosphere at the same time and at the same rate – or at a faster rate – than it goes in. The atmosphere is now so full of CO2 that global heating is having dramatic effects on the environment throughout the world and human communities are being affected.

We need to turn the taps off and stop CO2 going into the atmosphere now. This is imperative, but will take some doing. We also need a bigger and better overflow pipe now to help out until the taps are turned off. We need to extend the global sinks that are the woodlands, forests, peatlands, wetlands, mangroves, seagrass meadows, salt marshes and kelp forests. We must create more of these natural global sinks. We must stop destroying forests in order to turn them into agriculture. We must stop digging up peat for horticulture. If we do not make the overflow pipe bigger right now, the ceiling below comes down. If we do not radically change how we protect and manage and extend natural habitats globally, then global heating is here to stay and climate change and environmental destruction are irreversible.

The G7 Summit was the perfect time to link the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis and to set out a path for the future. The G7 Summit should have been a major step towards the global COP15 biodiversity meeting in Kunming in China in October and the global COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow in November. The recent global report by the IPCC and the IPBES states that climate and biodiversity are inextricably connected with each other and with human futures.

The priority is always to eliminate or reduce CO2 emissions. Then, and only then, to offset the emissions that could not be eliminated or reduced by using nature-based schemes and solutions. Offsetting carbon emissions through energy efficiency schemes and green energy schemes does not solve the problem of current emissions from the Summit going straight into the atmosphere and increasing global heating.


John Box former CIEEM PresidentJohn Box CEcol CEnv FCIEEM is an experienced ecologist and environmental manager. He was CIEEM President from 2012 to 2015 and chairs the Action 2030 group that provides challenge and advice to CIEEM on the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis.


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