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Sandbag is bagging carbon credits

Environmental watchdog is buying up EU carbon credits with the hope of reducing pollution.


Part environmental watchdog and part social-networking site, Sandbag lobbies the United Nations and European Union for tighter caps on carbon emissions and permits, while buying up carbon credits.

The U.K.-based not-for-profit community organization, whose motto is "real action on climate change," launched in September 2008. It uses donations to buy up EU carbon credits and cancel them in an effort to drive up the price of carbon credits in the marketplace.

The group has started to gain a following. The Guardian Newspaper Group became a corporate sponsor earlier this year, and on Monday, two London hospitals agreed to sell Sandbag 2,000 tonnes worth of carbon credits. It's the equivalent of taking 1,000 cars off the road, according to Sandbag's founder Bryony Worthington.

The group's pitch, which is explained through a silent video "Sandbag in 60 seconds," is that if polluting is made expensive enough, companies will invest more in technology to clean up their processes rather than buying emissions credits to cover their excess pollution.

In July 2009, Sandbag put out a report (PDF) on the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading System (EU-ETS), the EU's current program that regulates about 50 percent of carbon emissions in the EU and doles out about 2 billion tradable permits each year.

Sandbag asserted in the report, as it's been widely reported, that pollution has been reduced not so much as a result of big industry cleaning up their processes but because production itself has been down due to the recession.

The report goes on to say that as a result of the economic downturn, there is a glut of permits and no real economic incentive for companies to reduce pollution.

"Industry is likely to have nearly 400 million tonnes worth of surplus permits across the period 2008-2012. (As a result, industrial sectors will not have to reduce their emissions.) They will either be able to sell their surplus for windfall profits of over 5 billion euros (at current market value) or bank them for future use depressing the price of carbon in the next phase of trading," Sandbag said in its July 2009 report.

Sandbag has been lobbying the EU to address the issue by following the suggestion made by France and Ireland, which is to essentially reduce the amount of carbon permits made available going forward, according to its report.

In addition to its carbon credit report and buy-back plan, Sandbag has also mapped out by country how emissions credits have been allotted.

Interested people can use the organization's Web site tools to view Google Maps plotting emissions data for 2008 in relation to how many permits are allotted or needed for a given area. Maps are by country with an option to zoom in to a particular area of interest.

A map of the U.K. showing areas with excess carbon permits to sell. Sandbag