Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Boycotting negotiations and debating carbon footprint labelling

CI Head of Delegation at COP15, Rasmus Kjeldahl, blogs from Copenhagen

Chaos at the entrance to the Bella Centre has all day been an obstacle to the NGO observers’ participation in the COP15 negotiations.

The CI delegation was also affected by the problems so only few managed to get in. In spite of four hours waiting time in the biting cold our newly arrived colleagues from Brussels didn’t manage to get an entry pass – they will try their luck again first thing tomorrow morning. During this week the NGO chances of participating will be further curbed as the some 130 Heads of State arrive.

There is now growing concern about whether results can actually be achieved, and a group of African countries demonstrated their dissatisfaction by boycotting the official negotiations and only participating in informal meetings. The reason is the rich countries’ very sparse promises so far to fund the initiatives needed to alleviate the effects of global warming. There are also demands for larger compensation for the deforestation which in itself is responsible for a large share of the carbon increase in the atmosphere.

Everybody is anxiously waiting to see whether the Danish presidency can get negotiations moving again. In the inner city there is a massive force of police and a series of demonstrations with quite a lot of arrests. It is expected that the current negotiation situation may increase the dissatisfaction among the protesters.

Consumers International, together with the Danish Consumer Council, hosted a well-attended discussion meeting in Copenhagen on Monday. The theme was climate change and the labelling of products, in particular food products. The key question is whether labelling of products may make it easier for consumers to make climate-friendly choices and, if so, what form of labelling is needed. Many labelling schemes breed confusion rather than providing guidance, e.g. it’s uncertain whether consumers can make use of information that a bag of crisps is associated with 75 g of carbon emissions. Is that much or little? And what is the climate-friendly alternative? Whether you choose to label or to use legislation or taxes to promote climate-friendly choices, there is a need to know the products’ carbon footprint, and a need for consensus on a calculation method.

Speaking at the discussion CI Director of Operations, Bjarne Pedersen, pointed out that the consumer focus should be on housing, food and transport, which overall account for the largest share of consumers’ climate impact, and where consumers actually have the option to choose other strategies – as long as governments and business provide the right framework.

In relation to food there was a prolonged discussion about whether local food is preferable. The message however is that transport only accounts for an average of 15 % of food related carbon emissions. In the holistic perspective it is often more desirable to produce food where the natural conditions are best suited, instead of, for instance, producing tomatoes in heated greenhouses. But choosing food of the season is also a good strategy for individual consumers.

In order for consumers to be able to make climate-friendly choices in relation to housing and transport there is very much a need for overall efforts to improve public transport systems and for increased requirements for buildings.

More on CI's approach to product carbon footprinting and labelling.

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