Bionic Planet: Your Guide to the New Reality

Earth. We broke it; we own it; and nothing is as it was: not the trees, not the seas – not the forests, farms, or fields – and not the global economy that depends on all of these. Bionic Planet is your guide to the Anthropocene, the new epoch defined by man's impact on Earth, and in each episode, we examine a different aspect of this new reality: sometimes financial, sometimes moral, but always practical.
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Bionic Planet: Your Guide to the New Reality

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Oct 7, 2016

On Thursday, 65 countries representing 83% of international aviation agreed to cap their greenhouse-gas emissions from international flights at 2020 levels from 2021 onward – in part by forcing airlines to offset emissions above that threshold, and MAYBE by funding programs that save forests and support sustainable agriculture around the world. A final decision on offset types, however, isn’t expected until 2018

Backgrond: The Paris Climate Agreement created a framework for keeping the global rise in temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial levels, but it left emissions from international flights in limbo – partly because their "international" nature made it hard to reach agreement on which countries to charge the emissions to.

That changed on Thursday, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN agency charged with coordinating aviation regulation, including environmental impact, agreed to freeze net aviation emissions at 2020 levels beginning in 2021, and to force airlines to offset emissions above that threshold.

The program, called “CORSIA” (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), will be phased in, with a voluntary pilot phase running from 2021 through 2023, then a second voluntary phase from 2024 through 2026, and a final phase, running from 2027 through 2035 that is mandatory for all countries except the very poor.

ICAO President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said that 65 countries had already signed on for the voluntary phase, and these countries together represent nearly 83 percent of total aviation miles, measured in "revenue tonne kilometers" (RTKs), which translate into one metric ton of load (human passengers or cargo) per kilometer traveled.

Includes Interviews with Dutch environmental attorney Jos Cozijnsen and Arjun Patney, policy director of the American Carbon Registry.

Oct 3, 2016

Part One of a multi-part series examining the ways small Kenyan farmers are teaming up with multinational agribusinesses to confront climate change by reshaping the countryside. In today's episode, we meet Prisca Mayende, who ratcheted up yields on her four-acre farm by planting trees. We also visit the Kaptama farmers' cooperative -- a key conduit in the link between subsistence farmers and local grocery stores.

Jul 2, 2016

The United Nations Environment Program says that resources are a factor in 40% of all organized armed conflicts, but only 15% of peace agreements even mention them.

Today, we examine the role that carbon finance – especially REDD+ (reducing emissions from degradation of forests, plus other land uses) – can play in helping (or, if bungled, hindering) the peace process by stifling the use of blood diamonds and other conflict resources.

Guests include:

Canadian Environmental Consultant Art Blundell

Liberian Environmental Campaigner Silas Siakor

Saw Frankie Abreu, Director of Myanmar’s Tenasserim River and Indigenous People’s Network (TRIP NET)

Colombian Vice Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Pablo Viera Samper

Kerstin Canby, Director of the Forest Policy, Trade, and Finance program at Forest Trends

Accompanying panel discussion:

Jun 14, 2016


In 2015, more than 150 countries endorsed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are 17 goals to end poverty, improve health, and tackle climate change. They're broken into 169 specific targets, and billions of dollars in finance are tied to them.

In this episode of Bionic Planet, we hear why business leaders like Unilever CEO Paul Polman are building their corporate strategies on the SDGs, and why governmental leaders like UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon and the Prime Ministers of both Norway (Erna Solberg) and Cote d’Voi (Daniel Duncan) see them as key to future development.

We also examine the interplay between the SDGs and carbon finance.

May 27, 2016

Companion article at

Hello, and greetings from Cologne, Germany, where we’re wrapping up two intense weeks that began a few dozen kilometers north of us, in the former German capitol of Bonn, where climate negotiators have begun the process of activating the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, that meant I got swamped, which led to an unplanned two-week hiatus on this podcast, and I do apologize for that – but if you’ve been following Ecosystem Marketplace, you know we haven’t been idle. Yesterday, we released our annual survey of the voluntary carbon markets, which takes stock of what individuals, corporations, and governments have been doing to offset their greenhouse-gas emissions until the Paris Agreement takes effect – which could happen as early as next year.


Earth. We broke it. We own it – and nothing is as it was: not the trees, not the seas, not the forests farms or fields, and not the global economy that depends on all of these. But we can restore it – make it better than it is – more resilient – more sustainable. But how? Technology? Geoengineering? Are we doomed to live on a bionic planet, or is nature itself the answer? That’s the question we explore each week on Bionic Planet, a podcast of the Anthropocene – the new epoch defined by man’s impact on Earth. Today, our focus is voluntary carbon markets.

Green-minded companies use them to reduce their carbon footprints by offsetting those greenhouse-gas emissions that they aren’t able to eliminate by, say, re-tooling their factories or switching to renewable energy. Individuals use them as well – often to offset their travel emissions – as do governments.

New research from Ecosystem Marketplace shows that these three groups used voluntary carbon markets to reduce emissions by about 84 million tons of carbon dioxide last year alone, but the real story isn’t the volume – which is still too small to change the world – but rather, how those offsets are used in ever-more complex and effective emission-reduction strategies.

CLIP: Hamrick

That’s my Ecosystem Marketplace colleague Kelley Hamrick, who spent a good chunk of the last six months on the phone with thousands of carbon market participants cobbling together the latest “State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets” report, which is entitled “Raising Ambition” to reflect the ever-increasing emission-reduction targets embedded in the Paris Agreement.

You can download the report at (repeat)

Voluntary carbon markets provide a way for companies to reduce their overall emissions by, say, saving endangered forests, or planting trees, or financing the construction of wind farms. They’re not to be confused with “compliance markets”, which are imposed under a cap-and-trade regime like the one in California.

If you heard our two earlier episodes focused on the need to create a price on carbon, you know the goal of such a price is to force companies to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses they pump into the atmosphere. Voluntary markets are different – they’re not so much an “incentive” as they are an “enabling mechanism” – because companies and individuals that use them aren’t doing so to comply with the law, but to do the right thing.

In fact, our research shows that companies that buy offsets are usually also the ones that have already done the most to reduce their emissions internally – and they’re using offsets to get to zero net emissions – or at least try to. Offsetting, in other words, is almost never a stand-alone strategy, but rather one component in a larger, more involved emission-reduction approach.

I had a brief chat with Kelley right after she posted the report, and asked her how voluntary offsets usually fit into a company’s emission-reduction program.

CLIP: Hamrick


So, who are the buyers? Ultimately, they’re companies that want to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, but sometimes they’re brokers as well, and they can also be a new breed of consultancy that helps manage emission-reductions. Let’s meet some now.

CLIP: Intros

Did you hear what he said about price? If you heard our cost of episodes on the need for a price on carbon, you know that 3.3 dollars is nowhere near the “social cost of carbon” –or the  damages that carbon dioxide causes once it’s in the atmosphere.

Now, I know what I said before – about voluntary carbon offsets being an enabling mechanism more than an incentive, and that’s true, but one way they enable companies to reduce is to create an “internal price” on carbon – a price companies can use to push greenhouse-gas emissions into the corporate consciousness. That just doesn’t happen at $3.3 per ton, so lots of companies buy low externally and then sell high internally – but that leaves another problem: most emission-reduction projects simply aren’t viable at $3.3 per ton.

Now, there are plenty of reasons the price is so low: it’s mostly because prices reflect political will, and political will has been pretty pathetic until last year, but it’s also because the offsets sold last year were created earlier, so there was an oversupply, and it’s because larger transactions can get away with a lower price. Ultimately, however, a price this low just isn’t sustainable – but there’s a sense that will be changing after Paris, in part because there are so many other initiatives underway outside of and tangential to the Paris Agreement.

CLIP: William Theisen EcoAct – 1

So – sustainable development goals, science-based targets, and carbon pricing – we’ve covered carbon pricing a bit in our previous editions of Bionic Planet, and we’re far from finished with that rabbit hole, while we’ll be covering the sustainable development goals in the coming week, so if you’re not familiar with them, be sure to subscribe to Bionic Planet or check back soon.

CLIP: William Theisen EcoAct – 2

The gist is that more and more companies are responding to demands for carbon neutrality, and while many start out by just offsetting, they soon weave offsetting into a broader emission-reduction strategy.

CLIP: William Theisen EcoAct – 3

CLIP: Zubair


It’s a theme that emerged over and over again at Carbon Expo, but one often lost on most observers and the media: carbon offsetting isn’t a “distraction” as some like to say, and it isn’t a way for companies to “buy their way out” of their obligations. Instead, it’s a tool that helps get companies and customers and suppliers all pointing in the same direction, as Danielle Spiesmann of DHL makes clear.

CLIP: Daniele Start

DHL’s GoGreen initiative is worthy of an entire program, and if I have the bandwidth to deliver, I will, because it involves a complete restructuring of the company’s transport system, but one that uses carbon offsetting to drive awareness – and it’s hardly an exception. Companies like Unilever, Marks&Spencer, Microsoft, and General Motors have all used voluntary carbon markets to drive down emissions and raise awareness at the same time.

CLIP: Daniela 2


That about wraps up today’s show – but we’ll close with a segment we call:


We’ll always have Paris, as in the Paris Accord – which was woven throughout today’s program, so rather than do my usual breakdown of some obscure element, I’d like to introduce you to Laurence Tubiana, the French Climate Ambassador who may be the next head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Here is her summary of the two weeks of talks that just wrapped up in Bonn. It’s fairly dense, and if you don’t understand all of it, don’t worry – just keep listening to us, and soon it will all be quite clear.

We covered the Bonn talks in a bit more detail at

And, to download your copy of the State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets, visit

May 10, 2016

The US government estimates that every ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere generates at least $40 in damages by contributing to climate change, but the Swedish government says the figure is closer to 100 euros, and it charges a tax to reflect that. Our guest, Gernot Wagner, says both figures are way too low. Today, he explains how economists blend climate science with financial accounting to come up with a price on carbon.

Plus: What's more effective -- cap-and-trade, or a carbon tax? We offer a primer on that debate.

May 4, 2016

Tanzania's Hadza people have lived in tune with nature for 40,000 years, but now they face their greatest challenge. Here's how they're both adapting to and combating climate change -- and how we can all learn from them.

Includes interviews with tribal leader Richard Baalow, Tanzanian legal expert Edward Letaika, and environmentalists Marc Baker of Carbon Tanzania, Matt Brown of The Nature Conservancy, and Gus Silva-Chavez of Forest Trends.

We also examine the evolving nature of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and in the voluntary carbon market.

Apr 22, 2016

The Argument For a Price on Carbon: Part One.

Featuring  Harvard Economist and "Climate Shock" co-author Gernot Wagner, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chilean President  Michelle Bachelet, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, as well as a special appearance by the ghost of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman.