Greens Dispute Dell’s Carbon Cuts

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Dell says it has cut its carbon emissions by 18 percent year on year – but climate scientists say it should base its figures on older baseline dates

Computer maker Dell has announced cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions of around 18 percent year on year – but green groups say it should use a baseline of 1990.

In an announcement to coincide with the Climate Week international climate talks in New York. Dell said that it had reduced its scope 1 emissions (those associated with heating and cooling) by 12.4 percent. Scope 2 emissions, from the production of electricity for Dell’s facilities, had been reduced by around 18.8 percent and scope 2 emissions related to air travel had been cut by 30.3 percent.

But while the cuts to Dells’ emissions are based on comparing fiscal year 2009 with fiscal year 2008, green campaigners say that cuts are only meaningful if they are based on a commonly accepted baseline. Last year the EU said member states should cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

The UN advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has recommended that developed nations cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. In the US for example, total emissions levels in 2005 were around 18 percent higher than 1990 levels

Green groups such as Greenpeace have also criticised the US government for changing its baseline for measuring carbon reduction. In a statement released in May, Greenpeace said that the US climate bill or The Waxman-Markey bill was being watered down by only including a 2005 baseline.

“The bill originally called for roughly what scientists say is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change: 25 to 40 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2020. However, now the bill looks like offering a cut of 4 percent on 1990 emission levels. To make this look good the baseline has been shifted to 2005, allowing the politicians to present it as a much bigger cut,” Greenpeace said at the time in a statement.

Reports in the New York Times earlier this year point to disagreements between the EU and the US over baselines for measuring carbon emissions. “The Europeans wanted 1990, which would require much steeper near-term cuts, while the United States, Australia and Japan preferred a 2005 benchmark,” the New York Times reported.

Dell’s longer term plan to cut its “operational carbon intensity” by 15 percent by 2012 and “reduce worldwide facilities’ GHG emissions by 40 percent by 2015”, the company stated in its corporate social responsibility report for 2009. However these cuts are only based on 2007 levels.

“While we continue to make progress, we remain focused on our ultimate goal – to achieve a 40 percent reduction of global GHG emissions by 2015,” said Dane Parker, Dell’s director of global environment, health and safety. “By improving energy efficiency in our operations, purchasing more renewable energy and continuing to evaluate clean and renewable sources of energy, we’re confident we can meet this ambitious target.”

Dell is not the only computer maker to use a more recent baseline for emissions. Last month, AMD claimed to have cut emissions by 20 percent but only based on a 2006 baseline.

Other companies however have adopted more stringent targets. British tech giant BT for example claims to have cut its carbon footprint by 58 percent from the figure in 1996, and plans to keep on cutting until by 2020 it will only be using 20 percent of the carbon it used then.

Dell also stated that it sources “more than 25 percent” of its global electricity from renewable energy sources and powers eight of its facilities in the United States and Europe with 100 percent renewable energy.