Carbon trading enters the classroom

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2009, 12:00am

Reading, writing, arithmetic - and, now, carbon offsets.

A local conservation group is planning to launch a unique pilot programme to teach Hong Kong children about 'cap and trade', an economic concept more familiar to environmentalists, policy wonks and politicians than five-to-18-year-olds.

Governments have been considering cap-and-trade programmes for years as a way to battle pollution, and the European Union has implemented a greenhouse-gas emission trading system.

But George Woodman, director of the Teng Hoi Conservation Organisation, said his non-governmental organisation would like hundreds of Hong Kong children, starting in September, to understand and benefit from the environmentally friendly concept - an idea he admits is alien to many people.

'If I talk to the guy in the street, he doesn't know what I'm talking about,' Mr Woodman said. 'But we're talking about something of global significance.

'How do you make that into something people understand? You actually get them doing it.'

Cap and trade starts with 'a cap on emissions - whether for a country, a region or the entire world', according to British author Oliver Tickell, who penned Kyoto2, a book that focuses on climate change and offers solutions to the problem.

'Then you create permits or allowances for emissions up to that cap, which you distribute in some way to polluters,' Tickell said in an e-mail. 'This may be by auctioning, 'grandfathering' [based on historic levels of emissions] for example, or a combination of the two.'

Under Teng Hoi's programme, each participating school would undergo an energy audit by international consultancy group Environmental Resource Management, a sponsor of the scheme.

Afterwards, each school would be capped on the annual amount of energy it could use.

Any energy savings would then be converted into credits, which Teng Hoi hopes to sell before giving the earnings back to the schools.

A school could make anywhere from HK$2,000 to HK$40,000 per year if buyers were found, Mr Woodman said.

One credit, also known as a carbon offset, would be based on one tonne of carbon dioxide saved, and each credit would be sold for HK$250, he said. 'If your electricity bill is about HK$1,000 ... that's about one tonne.' Buyers of credits would pay to help offset their own carbon footprint, and their money would fund schools' energy-efficiency improvements and environmental projects. 'Some people feel so strongly about climate change that they are willing to pay for it,' Mr Woodman said.

Already several schools, including Renaissance College, have signed up for Teng Hoi's programme, which Mr Woodman believes is the first of its kind anywhere.

Teng Hoi is looking for a total of 20 Hong Kong schools to sign up for the September programme. Later, it wants to expand the scheme to more schools in Hong Kong and overseas.

Peter Kenny, Renaissance College's former principal, said Teng Hoi's programme could help meet the school's mission of sustainability and benefit the 1,750 students there.

Students 'might see tangible results for their turning the power off when they walk out of the room', Mr Kenny said. 'It's not just a role-play or a game. They can actually make a real difference.'

Asked about the programme, Tickell said: 'Sounds to me like a creative concept and highly educational. It will get those kids thinking and harness their ideas to good purpose. So I'm all for it.'

Those interested in learning more about the programme can visit CommunityCarbonOffsetting.org.