What’s the carbon footprint of a gas field, an electric car, a football stadium?

“Rather than looking at all the small pieces of the jigsaw, we’ve got to stand back and look at the full picture to make sure we piece together the future we want.”

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How much carbon do we use in an activity?

CARBON FOOTPRINT

There is the idea of the ‘carbon footprint’ – which measures how much individuals use in their daily lives:

Climate Change & the Carbon Footprint – Global Footprint Network

CO2: How Much Do You Spew? | Center for Science Education

It is, however, a very difficult thing to determine – as exactly what is being measured?

Here are some recent cases in point.

CUMULATIVE IMPACTS

Last year, plans to drill for gas in the Jackdaw field, off the coast of Aberdeen, were rejected – although it wasn’t very clear as to why:

Shell left ‘disappointed’ after UK regulator declines Jackdaw plans | energyvoice.com

There has been a change of mind – and this might well be challenged in court:

Campaigners threaten legal action after Jackdaw gas field approved in Scottish waters | The Scotsman

An environmental impact study was indeed carried out, but Greenpeace say this is not the point:

The government has a legal duty to assess the emissions that will come from a new fossil fuel project, including the ‘cumulative impacts’.

UK government grants Shell new permit to extract gas from Jackdaw field – Greenpeace reaction | Greenpeace UK

And to delve just a little deeper, what we mean by ‘cumulative effects’ has already been explored at length when it comes to the various impacts of the shale extraction/fracking industry, for example:

Government urged to consider cumulative impacts of fracking – DRILL OR DROP?

RE-FUSE, RE-USE AND RECYCLE

You don’t need to buy a new electric car to save the planet:

New Zealand woman creates her own electric car for $24,000
Rosemary Penwarden says the vehicle, powered by home rooftop solar, has been running smoothly for three years and has thanked oil companies for the motivation

New Zealand woman creates her own electric car for $24,000 | New Zealand | The Guardian

It all started when some people taunted Penwarden about using a petrol car when she joined protests against deep sea drilling in the Southern Ocean.“I got kind of sick of that, it was kind of a funny thing that they were trying to say. I thought ‘well, actually I know someone who has just made an electric car’.

Otago woman builds solar powered vehicle | RNZ

But why would it be better to use an already-existing car?

“Making a new car creates as much carbon pollution as driving it, so it’s often better to keep your old banger on the road than to upgrade to a greener model.”
“Rather than looking at all the small pieces of the jigsaw, we’ve got to stand back and look at the full picture to make sure we piece together the future we want – and transport is a critical part of that.”
“All we need to do to make a green difference is use our existing cars sparingly and keep them going for longer. Of course, that doesn’t suit the carmaking lobbyists who sit at the Government’s ear. They want us to keep buying new ones.”
“In a world where white goods manufacturers are berated for making less sustainable products that can’t easily be repaired and kept going, binning rather than fixing older vehicles is desperately wasteful.”

Measuring carbon footprints: old bangers vs new electric cars – Vision Group for Sidmouth

EMBODIED CARBON

There’s a lot of carbon used up when putting up buildings and infrastructure:

Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole lifecycle of a building or infrastructure. It includes any CO₂ created during the manufacturing of building materials (material extraction, transport to manufacturer, manufacturing), the transport of those materials to the job site, and the construction practices used.
Put simply, embodied carbon is the carbon footprint of a building or infrastructure project before it becomes operational. It also refers to the CO₂ produced maintaining the building and eventually demolishing it, transporting the waste, and recycling it.
Embodied carbon is distinct from operational carbon — the carbon that comes from energy, heat, lighting, etc. Thanks to advances in reducing operational carbon, recent data from the World Green Building Council indicates that embodied carbon is becoming a larger portion of a building’s overall carbon footprint.

What is Embodied Carbon? – CarbonCure

This is something pointed out in a new report out from the Environmental Audit Committee this week:

• Findings from the report include:
– national policy so far has been entirely focused on operational emissions and not embodied carbon;
– the construction industry is willing and able to undertake whole-life carbon assessments to measure the operational and embodied carbon cost of construction;
– there is availability of low-carbon building products to meet current demand, however there are insufficient incentives to develop and use these materials.
– more needs to be done to promote the benefits of re-using and retrofitting buildings ahead of demolition;
– a strong recommendation for Government to introduce a mandatory requirement to undertake whole-life carbon assessments for buildings and to develop progressively ratcheting carbon targets for buildings, to match the pathway to net zero by the end of 2022

Building to net zero: costing carbon in construction – Environmental Audit Committee

In other words, MPs are not impressed:

Government ‘dragging feet’ over efforts to cut construction carbon footprint | Construction News

And, indeed, there have been creative ideas around for years now:

Circular construction: a solution to embodied carbon in buildings – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Building in wood: building in low-carbon building materials – Vision Group for Sidmouth

RetroFirst: “the greenest building is the one that already exists” – Vision Group for Sidmouth

To give an example, the construction projects for the World Cup in Qatar have gone through the various sustainability motions:

Qatar touts dismountable stadium for ′sustainable′ 2022 World Cup | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW | 25.11.2021

Al Wakrah Stadium – Doha, Qatar | Matt Kieffer | Flickr

But a report out today suggests otherwise:

The carbon footprint of the permanent stadiums built for this year’s Qatar World Cup could be eight times greater than official estimates, a climate change watchdog has warned
Carbon Market Watch said data released by the organisers of the 2022 FIFA tournament was likely to vastly understate the true nature of emissions associated with arena construction.
Six new permanent venues will host World Cup matches in November and December along with the 1970s Khalifa International Stadium and a temporary stadium made partly from shipping containers.
Organisers claimed last year that the hugely high-profile event would be carbon neutral, pointing to energy-efficient design and construction of arenas as a key mechanism for achieving this goal.
But Carbon Market Watch said in a report this week that it had ‘serious doubts’ the tournament could be net zero, warning that the claim ‘likely underestimates the tournament’s true emissions levels and climate impact’.

Qatar World Cup stadiums’ carbon emissions ‘vastly understated’

   
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