“The role of citizens in moving to a low carbon future is vital. Thanks to the technology solution provided by Atos, we were able to undertake this unique trial to understand how a personal carbon trading scheme could operate in practice. We gained vital understanding about how people will interact with a PCT scheme, helping to take the debate forward.” Matt Prescott, former Director of the RSA’s CarbonLimited project
For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. It is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting-edge research and policy development with practical action.
The RSA CarbonLimited project is founded on the premise that climate change is one of the greatest barriers to social progress and can only be solved by the involvement of people working together. Launched by David Miliband when he was Minister for the Environment, CarbonLimited is an Action Research initiative that explores the role of the citizen in addressing climate change. It was established in 2006 as a three-year programme to analyse the effectiveness, feasibility and public acceptability of the personal carbon trading (PCT) concept.
Until now there have been some major barriers to the practical implementation of the PCT concept. One of these has been exactly how to introduce, implement and manage PCT schemes that work in a simple way so people actually want to use them. How to capture, update and make available the energy use and emissions data a scheme relies on without putting the burden for doing so on individuals.
The RSA and Atos have been exploring possibilities and solutions, to bring together the elements needed for a successful scheme: individual commitment, implementation via a national fuel retailer, automated data capture and automated account updating and trading via a web-portal.
By the end of a six-month pilot scheme, we were able to show how to overcome the technical implementation barriers to PCT schemes, and how the PCT concept might best be suited to local communities and organisations rather than being implemented by central government.
We looked at options to capture energy in the home and early research indicated that both electricity and gas usage would probably be captured by providers. We therefore decided to focus our attention on the more challenging area of personal vehicle use – more challenging because people often buy fuel from different brand service stations. Five options for capturing fuel purchases were assessed:
- A new standalone ‘carbon card’
- An existing loyalty card such as Nectar or Clubcard
- Fuel card
- Pre-pay financial card
- Credit card.
Each option was discussed and explored with relevant stakeholders such as banks, retailers, energy businesses and non-governmental organisations. The objective was to understand how existing schemes operated and how they could support a scheme to capture the carbon implications of energy purchases.
We wanted to work with partners who operated a national fuel retailer network and a loyalty card that was already in circulation. We were very pleased to have a supportive and positive response from BP and the Loyalty Management Group, who operate Nectar.
The six-month pilot was open to the general public, advertised in national newspapers, and went live in June 2008 with 100 volunteers. Participants registered for the scheme by entering their Nectar card details on the CarbonDAQ web-portal. They then received notional carbon credits to cover their emissions.
Each time a volunteer bought fuel at any BP petrol station and offered their Nectar card, fuel purchasing data (amount and grade) was automatically captured from the transaction. The data was then sent to the volunteer’s ‘carbon account’ and converted into equivalent CO2 emissions. In other words, a fuel purchase was converted to a carbon purchase, which was then debited from a scheme volunteer’s notional carbon credits. The entire process was automatically and seamlessly accomplished for every fuel and loyalty card transaction, without any input from the volunteer.
Automatic account updating satisfied what we believe is a core requirement for a successful PCT scheme – it removes the burden from scheme volunteers to remember, and find the time, to update their own account.
In our scheme, volunteers could review their carbon usage via their online account and at their convenience. Those using less credit than they were allocated could trade the surplus with people using more, for virtual currency. In this way, the pilot simulated incentives to encourage volunteers to reduce the emissions for which they are directly responsible.
The pilot scheme concluded in December 2008. The RSA is very pleased with the scheme’s contribution towards a greater understanding of the value of positive persuasion when engaging citizens in climate change initiatives. The pilot has also shown that, when the right processes are in place, cost need not be a barrier to developing schemes. At the same time it generated a positive media response – including recognition from notable political leaders and others.
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