With our ever-growing population, currently up to 7.7 billion people (April 2019), comes a bigger responsibility towards our planet.
Unfortunately, human beings have irrevocably upset the balance of nature and, as a result, according to the Earth Day Network, our world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since we lost the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago.
Unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides – to name a few. The impacts are far-reaching.
However, the biggest threat to a sustainable future is climate change and the so-called Greenhouse effect.
What is the Greenhouse effect?
The Earth receives solar radiation from the sun. Passing through the atmosphere, some radiation is absorbed by the Earth, while some are reflected back to space. As a result of the exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation occurs, some of the radiation becomes trapped in the atmosphere by gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and the so-called F-gases (hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)).
Fluorinated gases are used inside of products like refrigerators, air-conditioners, foams and aerosol cans. Emissions from these products are caused by gas leakage during the manufacturing process as well as throughout the product’s life. They are also used for the production of metals and semiconductors.
These gases are measured by how much heat is trapped in the atmosphere up to a specific time horizon, relative to carbon dioxide called: Global warming potential (GWP). The aggregated greenhouse gas emissions are expressed in units of CO2 equivalents.
The Global Warming Potential (GWP) was developed to allow comparisons of the global warming impacts of different gases. Specifically, it measures how much energy the emissions of 1 ton of a gas will absorb over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of 1 ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). The larger the GWP, the more a given gas warms the Earth compared to CO2 over that time period. The time period usually used for GWPs is 100 years. GWPs provide a common unit of measure, which allows analysts to add up emissions estimates of different gases and allows policymakers to compare emissions reduction opportunities across sectors and gases.
CO2 , by definition, has a GWP of 1, regardless of the time period used, since the referenced being used is gas. For a very long time, CO2 remains in the climate system: CO2 emissions cause increases in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 that will last thousands of years.
Impact on our planet
Methane (CH4) is estimated to have a GWP of 28–36 over 100 years. CH4 emitted today lasts about a decade on average, which is much less time than CO2. Yet CH4 also absorbs much more energy than CO2. The net effect of the shorter lifetime and higher energy absorption is reflected in the GWP. The CH4 GWP also accounts for some indirect effects, such as the fact that CH4 is a precursor to ozone, and ozone itself is a GHG.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) has a GWP 265–298 times than CO2 for a 100-year timescale. N2O emitted today remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years, on average.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) are sometimes called high-GWP gases because, for a given amount of mass, they trap substantially more heat than CO2. (The GWPs for these gases can be in the thousands or tens of thousands.)
This whole process creates a ‘greenhouse effect’ and warms the planet.
- Increase of average temperatures, setting new heat records about each year.
- Declining of ice sheets, glaciers are in retreat globally, and our oceans are more acidic than ever.
- Rising global sea levels – 17 centimetres in the last century alone.
- Extreme weather conditions such as droughts, heatwaves, and hurricanes.
- Linear movement of Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Situation in Belgium
Belgium is a federal state composed of three communities (the Flemish, French, and German-speaking Communities) and three regions (the Flemish Region, Walloon Region, and Brussels-Capital Region). It has interlocking competencies between the different levels of authorities.
On 19 December 2018, Belgium adopted the first version of the National Energy & Climate Plan, which is a compilation of three individual climate plans from each of Belgium’s regions. It contains specific measures aiming to reduce CO2e emissions in Belgium by 35% by 2030 and to increase the share of renewable energy to 18.3%.
The territorial situation complicates unified climate policy
Climate change is a cross-cutting topic and goes beyond the environment in the strict sense. Therefore, climate policy is therefore integrated into transport, taxation, energy, environment and other policies.
During the last climate conference in Katowice, Poland (2018), the EU and a handful of other developed countries and scores of developing nations, including the poorest and most vulnerable, affirmed that they would strive to meet the IPCC’s advice on limiting warming to no more than 1.5C. Signing the so-called ‘High ambition coalition.’
Belgium retreated from this coalition because there was a veto from the Flemish side.
This move, together with the lack of a federal law regarding climate change, sparked a lot of protest movements with a majority of young adults lead by the well-known Anuna De Wever.
Yet, on March 29th 2019, the Belgian federal parliament has voted down an amendment to the country’s Constitution which would have been necessary to allow the passage of the controversial new climate law. The amendment failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required. The proposed climate law recognizes that environmental matters know no borders, but multiple reforms to the constitution have granted more and more powers to the regions, which guard them jealously.
What’s Engibex doing?
- For starters, we don’t use plastic bottles. As you can see from the picture below, this makes a huge difference regarding our carbon footprint. Instead, we choose a renewal drinking fountain in order to try to drink our daily 2 litres of water.
- Next, we banned our Nespresso machine, which uses plastic capsules for every cup of coffee, and replaced it with a bean to cup machine, which also allows us to buy fair trade coffee beans. Win-win (you could add another win for the taste, but that’s rather personal).
- We choose for a greener car fleet to reduce our CO2e emission. Road transport is now the largest and growing source of CO2 emissions in Europe, accounting for one-fifth of all emissions. One of the most important steps Europe can take to save drivers money, combat climate change, and create high-tech jobs is to require carmakers to produce more efficient, low and zero-emission vehicles. In 2009 and 2014 respectively, the EU introduced legally-binding CO2 standards, for the first time setting a goal that, on average, new cars sold in Europe in 2015 should emit 130 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, and 95gCO2/km in 2021. You can read more about the key statistics here.
- Our office is located in Brussels whereas, from January 1st, EURO 2-standard diesel vehicles and EURO 1-standard petrol vehicles or petrol vehicles without a EURO standard will also be prohibited in the Region.
- We financially promote bike use and the use of public transport.
- We allow employees who have to drive to work every day to work from home, we try to be as flexible as we can.
- We chose to have our office in a passive building. A building standard that is truly energy-efficient, comfortable, affordable and ecological at the same time.
- Calculate your own carbon footprint.
- Earth day (2019, April 20th). Protect our species, consulted on April 23th via https://www.earthday.org/campaigns/endangered-species/earthday2019/
- Marc Lallanila, (2018, March 7). What is the Greenhouse effect. Live Science, consulted on April 23th via https://www.livescience.com/37743-greenhouse-effect.html
- What’s your impact (2010). Main sources of Flurorinated gas emissions, consulted on April 24th via https://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases/fluorinated-gas-emissions
- EPA (2017, February 14th). Understanding Global Warming Potentials, consulted on April 24th via https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials
- Earth Overshoot Day (2019). About Earth Overshoot Day, consulted on April 24th via https://www.overshootday.org/about-earth-overshoot-day/
- Carbon Footprint, (2019, March 19th). Climate Change, consulted on April 23th via https://www.carbonfootprint.com/warming.html
- Stibbe, (2019, January). Belgium’s Energy & Climate plan, consulted on April 24th via https://www.stibbe.com/en/news/2019/january/belgiums-energy–climate-plan
- Fiona Harvey (2018, December 16th). What was agreed at COP24, The Guardian, consulted on April 24th via https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/16/what-was-agreed-at-cop24-in-poland-and-why-did-it-take-so-long
- The Brussels Times (2019, March 29th). Parliament fails to pass an amendment to allow climate law, consulted on April 24th via http://brusselstimes.com/belgium/politics/14720/parliament-fails-to-pass-amendment-to-allow-climate-law
- Transport & Environment (2019). Cars and CO2, consulted on April 25th via https://www.transportenvironment.org/what-we-do/cars-and-co2
- Low Emission Zone (2019). Can my vehicle circulate in the low emission zone of the Brussels Region, consulted on April 25th via https://sim.lez.brussels/intro
- Carbon Footprint (2019). Carbon Calculator, consulted on April 25th via https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx