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United Kingdom Defines Carbon Neutrality for the First Time

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WASHINGTON, November 15, 2009 - The government of the United Kingdom defined the term “carbon neutral” this month after holding a public consultation on the subject.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change, which was established in 2008, said that “carbon neutral means that – through a transparent process of calculating emissions, reducing those emissions and offsetting residual emissions – net carbon emissions equal zero.”

The term “carbon neutral” has been used by a number of prominent UnitedStates companies – including tech firms such as Yahoo, Google, and Dell -- but what exactly the phrase means has not been clear.

The David Suzuki Foundation, for example, holds that “Going carbon neutral is an easy way to take responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions we create every time we drive our cars, take a plane, or turn on our computers. It's based on the principle that, since climate change is a global problem, an emission reduction made elsewhere has the same positive effect as one made locally. Here's how it works: if you add polluting emissions to the atmosphere, you can effectively subtract them by purchasing 'carbon offsets'.”

Yahoo has defined its goal of going carbon neutral as not wanting “our energy use to add greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So we’re measuring our impacts, reducing within Yahoo! where we can, and, for what remains, investing in projects elsewhere that reduce greenhouse gases in amounts equal to what we are emitting. For every ton of greenhouse gas emissions that we can’t avoid putting into the atmosphere, we’ll take out the same amount somewhere else.”

However, Yahoo originally proposed doing this partially through carbon offset credits, which the company announced this year that it would stop doing.

A representative from Hewlett-Packard said last month that the use of carbon offsets in order to claim carbon neutrality has been put into question by a number of studies.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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