How Carbon Finance is making a difference. Also, inviting applications for the atmosfair India Renewable Energy Innovation awards

Update: This article suggests that atmosfair was involved in the implementation of the biogas digester project in Kolar. However, upfront funding for expected carbon credits was provided by the French company Velcan to make the initial investment available to implement the project (www.adats.com/cdm/velcan.php). atmosfair now supports the project by buying carbon credits (www.atmosfair.de/en/our-projects/projekte00/india-biogas-digesters). “We would like to transform our current support for projects in India into a more direct involvement by extended partnering with institutions who are working on the ground,” says Robert Müller from atmosfair. The atmosfair India Renewable Energy Innovation awards addressed in the article are a step in this direction. End of Update

In the Kolar district in Karnataka, a slow but radical transformation is taking place. The villagers are altering their source of energy. Century-old practices of using firewood for fuel and decade-old practices of using kerosene are being systematically replaced by sustainable and clean biogas. Innovative biogas digesters made from locally available materials are being implemented in a joint project between local NGO’S and – not international aid agencies – the German carbon offsetting company Atmosfair. Carbon credits provide the project partners with additional income, making the project feasible.

Carbon offsetting and skewed sustainability

Carbon offsetting projects are mostly known as large scale ventures, prevailing in India and China, used by western countries to offset the emissions they cannot (yet) avoid. One major shortcoming of the majority of carbon offsetting projects is their limited demarcation of sustainability. As clean energy seems to imply sustainable development, social and economic aspects that should be taken into regard for a full picture of sustainable development are neglected. The wellbeing of people affected by the projects is barely regarded. This bleak picture, however, is not the full portrait. Though small in numbers, strong efforts are being made to guide carbon funding in the direction of people working on projects that make a difference; a daily life difference in the lives of people who need it most.

There is much controversy questioning the ethics of offsetting with the common argument that it is reinforcing business-as-usual energy use in western countries and obstructing real change. Further controversies involve incidents of forces relocation of local residents as land for renewable energy projects is required and carbon funding used to implement energy efficiency regulations in what remain highly polluting new energy plants.

In current debates on the transformation to a low carbon economy, sustainability is so strongly associated with renewable energy that the social and economic aspects of genuine sustainable development are drowned out. This is reflected in the nature of carbon offsetting projects that have highly meticulous regulations to ensure high standard implementation of renewables. Social and economic impacts are treated as an occupational hazard, tested superficially, if at all, in order to get the paperwork through.

Critique of carbon offsetting is not without reason, but there is a need to also highlight efforts of organizations within in the sector that aim to guide carbon funding in the direction of people working on projects making difference in people’s daily lives, driven by a holistic and encompassing view of sustainability.

Encompassing people’s wellbeing in renewable energy projects

Biogas from Cowdung - Construction at Kolar

Biogas from Cowdung - Construction at Kolar. Source: http://atmosfair.de/

Biogas from Cowdung completed at Kolar

Biogas from Cowdung completed at Kolar. Source: http://atmosfair.de/

In  the Kolar district in Karnataka, Women for Sustainable Development and ADATS work together with the German carbon offsetting company Atmosfair to provide families with small biogas digesters, made of local materials. The digesters are fed agro-residues, mostly cow dung and the gas produced is used for cooking. This frees women from the cumbersome task of collecting wood and provides them with a much healthier cooking environment by heavily reducing the firewood smoke that causes Indoor Air Pollution. Of course, the replacement of wood as fuel by the clean and sustainable biogas also reduces carbon emission and deforestation. As Atmosfair’s other current projects in India, this project is developed as a Gold Standard carbon offsetting project.

The Gold Standard Foundation is a international non-profit organization based in Switzerland. They developed standards that complement the existing Kyoto and voluntary market requirements with strict measures to target the development of projects with a positive local impact. These can be both CDM Gold Standard projects as well as VER Gold Standard micro scale projects. Both facilitate locally run businesses and raise the quality of life of people in the project area. Atmosfair strictly supports Gold Standard projects.

India has huge potential to develop vast amounts of projects like the one in the Kolar district. Demand from abroad is rising. Moreover, the Indian industry is also exploring the options of carbon offsetting. In some cases due to the looming inclusion of airlines in the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). (In it, all aircraft operators flying in and out of Europe will need to conform to the set allowances, foremost by increasing energy efficiency, then by offsetting what is unavoidable though the acquisition of carbon credits). In other cases due to company policies to attain a green image or even become fully carbon neutral.

The atmosfair India Renewable Energy Innovation awards

Niiti consulting is a Bangalore based firm seeking to be change agents in the society. They partner with organizations interested or engaged in projects that aim to create a strong social impact by providing local sustainable solutions. Having realized the potential of carbon offsetting projects to make this impact, Niiti consulting has undertaken a feasibility study to determine the scalability potential of carbon offsetting projects with triple bottom line sustainability in India and to assess the demand for the investment potential for the same.  The study includes identification and assessment of suitable projects that meet the stringent Gold Standard criteria. In partnership with atmosfair, Niiti consulting has launched the atmosfair India Renewable Energy Innovation awards to promote the potential of high quality offsetting projects and provides them the opportunity to win additional funding and support.

The atmosfair India Renewable Energy Innovation awards are looking for  innovative proposals for existing projects, new projects or projects under incubation, that meet the following profile:

  • Reduce greenhouse gasses in India, preferably biogas, cook stoves,  waste  management, solar lamps, pump efficiency or solar water heating
  • Enhance the quality of life of people in the project area
  • Provide opportunities for economically viable, locally run businesses
  • Preferably, should be able to develop into a GS CDM/GS VER (Gold Standard Clean Development Mechanism/ Gold Standard Voluntary Emission Reduction) project

 

An award of 9 lakh INR is being offered for the best application. Moreover, the project will be able to gain 10-100% project support from atmosfair, depending on the technology used and the large-scale triple bottom line impact it creates in the destination.

To apply for the awards or for more information please go to http://atmosfair.in/innovation.htm. If you would like to support the promotion of the awards and/or get updates on the awards as well as related topics you can follow the #atmawards hash or @niiticonsuting. You can also follow this facebook page.

About the author: Mariska has a background in social sciences and sustainable tourism. She is currently part of the Niiti consulting team where she is contributing towards a feasibility study on the carbon offset market in India, with a focus on renewable energy projects with triple bottom line sustainability.