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What's wrong with carbon 'offsets' and 'carbon trading'?

via Norm Dixon

These days, everyone professes concern about climate change. And with the advent of the Kyoto Protocol, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and carbon 'offsets', it looks like governments and corporations are at last starting to do something about the problem.

But are they? Or are these 'market approaches' merely delaying action and diverting resources away from positive solutions? This year, more and more front-page news stories and investigative TV documentaries have told us that the neoliberal 'carbon trading' approach to climate change just isn't working.

What's the problem? The Durban Group for Climate Justice's book, 'Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power', provides some answers.

Published by Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, Durban Group for Climate Justice and The Corner House

first published October 2006 | PDF

The main cause of global warming is rapidly increasing carbon dioxide emissions -- primarily the result of burning fossil fuels. Some responses to the crisis, however, are causing new and severe problems -- and may even increase global warming. This seems to be the case with carbon trading -- the main current international response to climate change and the centrepiece of the Kyoto Protocol.

Carbon trading has two parts. First, governments hand out free tradable rights to emit carbon dioxide to big industrial polluters, allowing them to make money from business as usual. Second, companies buy additional pollution credits from projects in the South that claim to emit less greenhouse gas than they would have without the investment. Most of the carbon credits being sold to industrialized countries come from polluting projects, such as schemes that burn methane from coal mines or waste dumps, which do little to wean the world off fossil fuels. Tree plantations claimed to absorb carbon dioxide, in addition, often drive people off their lands and destroy biological diversity without resulting in progress toward alternative energy systems.

This exhaustively-documented but highly-readable book takes a broad look at the social, political and environmental dimensions of carbon trading and investigates climate mitigation alternatives. It provides a short history of carbon trading and discusses a number of 'lessons unlearned'. Detailed case studies from ten Third World countries -- Guatemala, Ecuador, Uganda, Tanzania, Costa Rica, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Africa and Brazil -- expose the outcomes on the ground of various carbon 'offset' schemes.

The book concludes that the 'carbon trading' approach to the problem of rapid climate change is both ineffective and unjust. The bulk of fossil fuels must be left in the ground if climate chaos is to be avoided.

The full publication is available here in PDF format. To download individual chapters, follow the links below under 'Related Articles'. To order a paper copy, please contact The Corner House.

For those who want something shorter, we've just posted on The Corner House website a series of articles, interviews and slide shows exploring the background:

Carbon Offsets Not Welcome Here

Carry on Polluting

Kyoto: A False Consensus?

Pictures from the Emissions Market

Pictures from the Carbon 'Offset' Market

Aid, the Clean Development Mechanism, and Some Open Questions

Who are the Climate Leaders?

Interview in 'Com Ciencia' magazine

Relearning Humility in a Time of Climate Change

Trading Our Way into Trouble?

Carbon Trading and the World Rainforest Movement

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