April 21, 2016
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The Colombian president recently said that the country had exported one million barrels of carbon-neutral or offset oil. But in an unregulated carbon market, such a claim is pure greenwashing.
BOGOTÁ - In March this year, various national and corporate leaders met in Houston, Texas, for CERAWeek, an annual conference to discuss the world's energy challenges. Colombia's President Iván Duque took the opportunity to remind participants that his country produced just 0.6% of the world's carbon emissions even as it had raised crude production to one million barrels a day.
He said oil should not be seen as an enemy, since the fight was really against greenhouse gas emissions. He also revealed at the event that the country's national oil firm, Ecopetrol, had sold the Asian market its first million barrels of carbon-neutral or offset crude, consisting of the entire extraction, production and exportation chain.
Carbon compensation or offsetting may sound like a half-baked idea, but expect to hear it increasingly in the context of measures to tackle the climate crisis. The idea is to capture the same amount of CO2 emitted in your production process through a compensatory project, like preserving a stretch of forest. But with oil production, can you really curb the emissions of one of the economy's most polluting sectors? Is compensation the right strategy or response to the climate crisis?
Ecopetrol told El Espectador that the million barrels cited by the president were the Castilla Blend sold to PetroChina and shipped from the port of Coveñas in northern Colombia in February. The country specifically compensated for 32,000 tons of CO2 (or a fraction of Colombia's total emissions of around 258.8 million tons).
Ecopetrol's head of crude production, Juan Carlos Fonnegra, says the firm committed itself in 2021 to reaching zero net emissions by 2050, which he said would make it the first Latin American oil and gas firm to set this target. This is part of its sosTECnibilidad y cambio climático, or sustainable transition plans. He did point out that the offsetting cited covered the Scopes 1 and 2 emissions generated throughout the million barrels' value chain.
What does this mean? The IDEAM, a state technical and environmental agency, divides carbon offsetting into three stages. Scope 1 emissions are those generated inside the firm, say, by a gas heater in your factory.
Second scope emissions, which Ecopetrol also offset, are those generated through a purchase and not inside the firm. They might be generated by the electricity used by the firm.
It's time to start extracting carbon from the atmosphere.
Scope 3 emissions, which were not offset by Ecopetrol, are outside a firm's control. IDEAM gives the example of emissions from the decomposition of a firm's waste at a skip. Waste-related emissions are the biggest emissions in most productive processes. Which is why, as the Carbon Trust organization points out, there are mounting calls on firms to offset this stage of emissions. This would be of greater urgency when it comes to oil as 90 to 95% of emissions from its entire life cycle are Scope 3 emissions, according to data from S&P Global.
Felipe Corral, an energy transition researcher at the Berlin Technical University in Germany, says we are past the point of offsetting, and must start extracting carbon from the atmosphere.
Colombia's President Iván Duque attending CERAWeek annual conference to discuss the world's energy challenges in March 2022
Another point to consider with Iván Duque's claims concerns the project to offset emissions from the Castilla Blend shipment. The tradeoff is typically done through forestry projects to capture carbon from the air. Thus, one firm (Ecopetrol) buys from another (a forestry firm) carbon credits equivalent to the tons of carbon not being emitted. There is usually a third firm to certify that the purchase of five carbon credits did indeed entail non-emission of five tons of carbon.
How were Ecopetrol's 32,000 tons offset? The firm says this was done through a renewable energy project in the department of Antioquia (in central Colombia). Which project, and how did it work? Ecopetrol did not give details and since April 4, El Espectador has sought out details from SGS, the certifying firm, without success.
Corral explains that while details are pertinent, the deal broadly is that if "a firm installs a solar park in Antioquia with absolute certainty that in its absence there would have been a power station there, then it can sell carbon credits as it is potentially avoiding greater emissions." Corral sees this as very weak offsetting.
Some would call this greenwashing, says Juan José Guzmán Ayala, a finance and climate specialist. He says Ecopetrol can act this way as the Colombian government has yet to create an obligatory and regulated carbon market.
In 2018, the government of former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos passed the Climate Change Law (Law 1931/2018) that required among its stipulations a regulated carbon market within three years. It had to be ready in 2021 in other words.
But Guzmán Ayala says "not only were the deadlines not met, but the Duque government... is now coming out [abroad] and speaking of oil compensation measures, when it has not carried out this task." The carbon market in Colombia remains voluntary for now, and firms merely have to show that they offset emissions in order to avoid paying the carbon tax. In voluntary trading markets, says Guzmán, "costs are very low, like standards, which could mean an advantage" for the industry.
The firm insists its carbon purchase met the "highest international certification standards (known as Verra)." Colombia's deputy environment minister, Nicolás Galarza, told the daily in turn that the law underestimated the complexities of this process and that with progress made so far, the government was now working on the regulations themselves. By 2023, he said, it should have readied the institutional bases the market would need before it could start functioning between 2023 and 2025. It is a "matter that requires time," he said, citing Mexico, which passed a climate law in 2012 and only began to test its regulated market in 2020.
Colombia passed a Climate Action Law in 2021, which created a national register of emissions known as ROE or Obligatory Emissions Report, and a Carbon Markets Experts Commission, which will both aid it in forging regulations. Galarza says Colombia is the only South American state actually "developing" offsetting measures as cited on the carbon markets' ICAP ETS map, ahead of Chile and Brazil.
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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.