Carbon Markets: How not to save the planet


Upsetting the Offset: The Political Economy of Carbon Markets

Mayfly Books.

By Ioulia Fenton

Let’s say you live in a fairly rich country and you are actually quite well off. You use lots of paper in your job, drive a car, heat and air-condition your house, and regularly fly for work, vacation, and to see your family in another country. You know that this causes tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to be released into the atmosphere, which is driving climate change, and that if everyone in the world had your kind of a lifestyle then we’d need five planets, not one, to survive. So you decide that you want to do something about it. Even though you have started to recycle, have put energy saving light bulbs in your house, bought a Prius, and always carry your water bottle and coffee thermos flask, somehow you feel that this is not enough: the Carbon Footprint Calculator still tells you that your kind of life needs more than four planets.

You want to do more, but any bigger changes just seem like too much of a sacrifice: you like flying for work and holidays and you like a nice temperature in your home all year around. You decide that the best way is to invest in a project in Bolivia that plants eucalyptus trees that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. You are told by the green investments fund manager that this is an ‘economically efficient’ way to deal with global carbon emissions. This is because the differences in international prices mean that you can get a lot more carbon reductions for the same money invested in a poorer country than you could achieve if you invested the same amount in reducing your own carbon emissions in a rich country. You thus decide to offset your emissions against emissions reductions in Bolivia because it seems to make economic sense, it gets rid of the guilt you feel, and, as an added bonus, it won’t require you to give up any of the things you have come to love in your own comfortable life.

Now all this sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Many people argue that it is and during the last decade various international carbon markets have been set up to make the process of investing in emissions reductions—for all GHGs and not just carbon dioxide—easier for individuals, businesses, and entire nations. These have been accompanied by their sister mechanism called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that generates ‘carbon credits’ for easy trading. Countries and businesses that pollute less than their fair share can sell carbon credits to countries and entities that pollute more and need to offset. And projects like the eucalyptus farm get money from those wishing to buy carbon credits that allow them to continue with their lives as they are, or simply make a profit from the transaction.

So what could possibly go wrong with such a scheme? This is the topic of a 2009 book Upsetting the Offset: The Political Economy of Carbon Markets, a collection of essays that highlights many problems associated with carbon trading and related mechanisms. READ MORE HERE.

This review was written to coincide with the launch of SimPachamama, a didactic game about deforestation in the Amazon. Other articles published recently:

Can games contribute to academic research on land use and forestry?

Exactly How Do Trees Fight Climate Change?

5 Rainforest Ecosystem Services that Nourish People and Planet



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  1. Though late at reading this article, i would like INESAD to initiate some studies on the cultivation of Hemp crop. Hemp can be used for making paper most economically and is very friendly for the environment. It shall save millions of trees from being hacked down and forests would be preserved. Also, remarkably lesser bleaching chemicals are required for paper made from Hemp compared with made from wood. Lesser water is needed for Hemp crop.

    The rich would say Hemp is marijuana. But the 10 – 15 feet long stalks of Hemp cannot, and have never been used for making any hash. It is only the smaller 1 ft Hemp bushes that are used for marijuana.

    Use Hemp, reduce the carbon footprint, and save the planet.

    Best regards

  2. V. Balasubramanian

    This is how the rich try to reduce the GHGs and save the world from climate change. They want to buy everything with money, while they keep polluting the planet. What a farce! Who are they fooling? Cheers, Bala.


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