The world's frail ecosystem is veering on danger levels EARLIER THIS YEAR scientists for the first time set a clear deadline for bringing global warming under control. In a report entitled Meeting the Climate Challenge, an international task force of scientists and politicians estimated the world was just 10 years and one degree Celsius away from ecological catastrophe. A one degree Celsius increase in temperature is all it will take to throw the world's ecosystem out of kilter, with the probable consequences of more frequent and severe storms, widespread agricultural failure, dying forests and increased disease. That tipping point, warned the researchers, would come in the middle of the next decade unless we started to burn less fossil fuel. As the reality of global warming finally starts to sink in, an increasing number of companies have taken steps to tackle their carbon dioxide emissions through energy savings and projects that will contribute to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. At the end of last year, HSBC became the first big bank to commit to going carbon-neutral - the process of fully compensating for all carbon dioxide emissions one produces. Group chief executive Michael Smith said the bank was responsible for the release of about 700,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere last year through the use of electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and from business travel. The bank, which has about 10,000 offices worldwide, is aiming to reduce these emissions and offset the rest by next year. The plan is to tackle carbon dioxide emissions on three levels - increasing energy efficiency, buying 'green electricity' wherever possible and offsetting the remaining carbon dioxide emissions. In Hong Kong, efforts to reduce energy usage recently involved the installation of more energy efficient chillers in the central air-conditioning system at head office. The seawater cooled chillers will slash $1.1 million from the electricity bill and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1,050 tonnes annually. The process of finding offset projects is being overseen by a task force reporting directly to the group chief executive. 'The task force will include five HSBC employees and two external partners: The Climate Group and ICF Consulting. When we are confident we can make good decisions on how best to offset our carbon dioxide emissions, we will make an announcement,' Mr Smith said. Although the bank had yet to announce any offset projects, Francis Sullivan, HSBC's adviser on the environment, on secondment from World Wildlife Fund in Britain, hinted at what may well come from the task force he is guiding. 'You can actually go carbon any time by buying carbon credits but we want to find sustainable projects rather than trade bits of paper. At present, not all allowances and offsets that can be bought have the same environmental value, and as a matter of principle we will ensure that ours are of the highest credibility and are genuinely incremental,' Mr Sullivan said. HSBC was looking at projects in countries such as China and India, which had big and growing carbon dioxide emission numbers, Mr Sullivan said. 'This could mean something as simple as providing the finance for more efficient power systems in the emerging markets or tipping the balance by paying the marginal cost. An example of this would be the difference between building a coal-fired and gas-fired power plant. 'Basically, we believe we can make a difference buying energy efficiency.' He discounted tree planting as a viable solution. 'To offset Britain's carbon dioxide emissions, for example, you would need to plant around 50 million hectares of forest or 17 times the land area of Belgium,' he said. In addition to its commitment to carbon neutrality, HSBC is funding a GBP650,000 ($9.56 million) research programme in collaboration with Newcastle University and the University of East Anglia. The remit of the HSBC Partnership in Environmental Innovation is to study climate change and society's awareness of the issues, and develop technologies to combat change.