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Does Global Warming exist?

Published:  23 July, 2008

In truth it doesn't matter whether you believe global warming exists or not. Whether you think it's caused by anthropogenic carbon emissions, sun spot activity or a particularly flatulent haddock off Grimsby called Alan. What's really important is that this issue matters to voters.

But what of wineries that have already gone carbon neutral? Why have they done it? Is it because they've seen the light of changes to their businesses that bring negative abatement costs? Because surely they wouldn't have made the move if it had been counter to their economic self-interest? Would they?

Wineries like Cullen, Elderton, Backsberg, Felton Road, Parducci, Despagne Family Vineyard and Cono Sur are all rightly proud of their carbon neutral status. Fezter has invested in a vast solar panel to run its bottling line. And Yalumba was this year the first wine company to receive a Climate Protection Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

These moves are all thoroughly laudable but they're more complex than simply going green for the sake of the planet. Fetzer are pioneers in the use of solar power, although it's worth noting that California subsidises solar power, with the intention of creating a million power-generating roofs within ten years.

Why wine and spirit firms go 'carbon-neutral' is also complex. Most achieve their status not solely through measures that lower their carbon emissions. Instead, by purchasing carbon credits or paying to join carbon neutralising schemes, they off-set (or greenwash) their emissions.

But as businesses (with shareholders and profit targets) why add a layer of cost like this? Frances Cairncross, one of the leading writers on business and environmental economics points out that when only a few firms behave this way companies 'see value in a reputation for good environmental citizenship.'

Staff morale is boosted and most importantly consumers appear willing for pay a premium price for products from firms that are actively attempting to reduce their environmental impact.

These early movers enjoy the economic value in a high-profile, green reputation. But that value comes because of the difference of their behaviour relative to sector norms.

If good environmental citizenship is ubiquitous across the industry - particularly if it is enforced through regulation - it ceases to be a point of difference. And ceases to hold value.

But for the moment these wineries, like many governments, find an advantage in being seen as proactive on green issues.

Governments have taken on significant obligations to meet carbon emissions targets. And whilst voters are keen on the benefits of these targets, they are less keen on the impact and burdens that they can have on their own lives.

Unfortunately for governments it is easier and politically less risky to place those burdens on business.

This may well lead to iniquitous outcomes. Why burden the relatively efficient distribution networks of wine and spirit wholesalers with regulations, when the very inefficient shopping miles of UK consumers have a greater impact and could be more effectively reduced?

Because when it comes to the carbon emissions debate what is effective isn't necessarily what's easy.

When you're analysing the real-politick of carbon emissions and the green debate, what ought to happen isn't necessarily most useful. What's most likely to happen is.