Europe's biggest chemicals company, BASF, has put forward plans to improve further its environmental and safety standards, with the objective of cutting emissions of air pollutants by 40 per cent and greenhouse gases by 10 per cent by 2012.
The announcement follows hard on the heels of the European Parliament's approval, for the first time, of an international trading system to meet the emission targets set out under the Kyoto Protocol. Under Kyoto the EU pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent by 2012.
The new bill establishes an EU-wide market for rights to emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas scientists blame for global warming. Companies will be allowed to buy and sell the difference between the pollution they produce and their limit set by member countries. At the moment, chemical companies are not included in the list of those industries that can participate in the scheme, but the Parliament has adopted various amendments that could bring chemicals into the frame in the future.
BASF's commitment, detailed in the just-published Environment, Health & Safety 2002 report, shows that the group is prepared to meet, and exceed, the Kyoto requirements, even though at present this is purely voluntary. Moreover, the company has also pledged to cut its of organic substances and nitrogen to water by 60 per cent, with heavy metal emissions set to drop by 30 per cent.
"These goals signal our commitment to our customers, employees and other stakeholders. We want to show that BASF will continue to match its words on sustainable development with deeds," declared Eggert Voscherau, BASF's Industrial Relations Director.
Voscherau stressed the importance of voluntary initiatives by industry for environmental and consumer protection. "What we need is an environment that recognizes and promotes independent initiative by industry, and not even more laws and bureaucracy," he stated, referring to the EU debate on chemicals policy and emissions trading.
In direct reference to the Parliament's vote, Voscherau commented: "it appears as if priority is being given to putting in place a particularly complex emissions trading system - rather than on reducing harmful emissions to air."
While EU governments have ratified the Kyoto treaty, there is no agreement yet on how the targets can be met. Meanwhile, the USA, which produces one-third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, has refused to even ratify the treaty.
Meanwhile, BASF has also pledged to improve the information it provides on the chemicals it handles. Specifically, the company says it will provide "all relevant information" on chemical substances handled in volumes exceeding one metric ton per year by 2008.
Under proposed EU regulations, all chemicals manufactured within the EU at over one ton would be required to be tested and registered through a new Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) system.
Walter Seufert, president of the BASF's Environment, Safety & Energy division, said: "Based on the voluntary agreements of the German Chemical Industry Association, we have already systematically collected all relevant information in standardized data sets for the 2,600 substances we handle in volumes exceeding one metric ton per year in Europe. This is equivalent to approximately 90 percent of all substances that we handle worldwide."
In five years, he continued, BASF will have done the same for the remaining 10 per cent. The latter are mostly substances in the USA and Asia as well as products acquired due to portfolio changes.