Vol.21 No.158

Friday 15 October 2004    

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Opinion/Letters
Is Kyoto being bought by carbon trading bribes?

QUESTION TIME
PATRICK VAN RENSBURG

10/15/2004 3:03:02 AM (GMT +2)

Most environmentally-conscious people know that George W Bush is, apart from all else that is politically nasty about him, an eco-dissident in denial of global warming as a result of human activity, claiming it to be a function of nature only.


Environmentally aware people acknowledge that there are tumultuous, entirely natural forces at work in our universe and in the depths of our earth and sea, as well as in our skies that can wreak untold havoc. But they also acknowledge that human activity directly causes a wide range of environmental disturbances, malfunctions, destruction and deficiencies. Adoption of new technologies like genetic engineering and nano-technology should always be subject to the "precautionary principle",

Destructive human activity can be classified in terms of: deforestation, desertification, soil erosion; wildlife and fish depletion, the extinction of species, the loss of bio-diversity and the misuse of bio-technology; mineral and fuel depletion; pollution and toxic waste; nuclear radiation; the population explosion and its acceleration of environmental disorder.

Concern about such negative environmental impacts has resulted in several international conferences, one of the most important being that at Kyoto. One of Kyoto's outcomes is that quotas for permitted dangerous waste emissions are being fixed for various countries, although the US under Bush has ignored these. Lesser-developed countries had quotas that they are unlikely to fill. There are also "carbon bins" or "carbon sinks", like forests, which absorb harmful carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. Richer, industrialised countries are now "buying" the quotas that developing countries are not filling.

Last week, some thirty or so people representing civil society movements and activist organisations working with social and environmental justice issues and concerned about global warming and the accelerating spiral of weather changes, assembled in Durban to discuss "Commodifying Carbon: Consequences and Strategies".

Their concern is that market-based solutions such as carbon trading, [including trading involving carbon sinks,] that continue to be promoted and implemented by governments and corporations, are false solutions used as a way to escape responsibility for real reductions of greenhouse gases from fossil use and production.

They denounce carbon trading as requiring privatisation, or "commodification" of the atmosphere and of carbon in land, water and living things. They argue that market-based mechanisms have turned common resources such as water, and now air, in the form of carbon cycling capacity, into commodities, which can be expropriated by emitters.

They fear that market-based mechanisms for climate action enshrine existing inequities of resource use. They claim that current emissions-trading schemes such as the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme create excessive amounts of property rights in the earth's carbon-cycling capacity and award them to the industries which are already using it the most.

They argue that impacts from current extractive, fossil fuel and other "greenhouse" gas- producing industries are disproportionately felt by small island states, women, youth, coastal peoples, indigenous peoples, local communities, fisher folk, poor people, and elderly and marginalised communities. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects, by encouraging continued exploration for and extraction and burning of fossil fuels, sanction the continued exposure of these communities to health and other impacts.

CDM projects, they claim, also encourage high-emitting industries and companies in effect to take over land, water and air already used by communities for their own lives and livelihood.

Because CDM projects, they say, cannot be verified to be "compensating for" any given quantity of fossil fuel extraction and burning, they cannot be verified not to be helping to make climate change worse. If so, they are arguably therefore increasing the devastating, cumulative and synergistic impacts on communities affected by global warming and by hydrocarbon extraction, refining and burning.

Because of the verification problem mentioned above, no one in the CDM market is likely to be sure what he or she is buying.

The environmental activists accuse the World Bank of being, at present, a key promoter of these market-based, fake solutions, inter alia through the creation of carbon funds like the Prototype Carbon Fund, Bio Carbon Fund and Community Development Carbon Fund, at the same time as it is promoting, "on a far huger scale", the continued extraction and exploitation of fossil fuels.

For the activists, claims that the CDM contributes to poverty alleviation are unfounded. "Market-based mechanisms allow the very companies that are responsible for the climate crisis to use tiny-volume renewable-energy projects as 'green wash' for their business-as-usual promotion of fossil fuel exploitation".

The World Bank, they claim, has refused to phase out funding of new extractive and fossil fuel exploration as suggested in the Extractive Industries Review despite the exploration of minerals and fossil fuels already having reached record highs and ruination of new ecological and ethnological frontiers; the World Bank and industrialized country export credit guarantees continue to provide funding for fossil fuel and mineral extraction at a much larger scale than they fund renewable energy.

The gathering rejected market-based mechanisms as solutions to climate change. They affirmed, "drastic reductions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are inescapable if we are to avert climate crisis".

It would be interesting to know what quotas Botswana has and how we would deal with offers to buy them, if any. It would also be interesting to hear from the various accused polluters.

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