You are on page 1of 104


Carbon trading lies at the centre of global climate policy and is projected
to become one of the world’s largest commodities markets, yet it has a
disastrous track record since its adoption as part of the Kyoto Protocol.
Carbon Trading: how it works and why it fails outlines the limitations of an
approach to tackling climate change which redefines the problem to fit the
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
assumptions of neoliberal economics. It demonstrates that the EU Emissions
Trading Scheme, the world’s largest carbon market, has consistently failed Occasional Paper Series
to ´cap´ emissions, while the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
routinely favours environmentally ineffective and socially unjust projects.
This is illustrated with case studies of CDM projects in Brazil, Indonesia,
India and Thailand.

UN climate talks in Copenhagen are discussing ways to expand the trading

experiment, but the evidence suggests it should be abandoned. From subsidy
shifting to regulation, there is a plethora of ways forward without carbon
trading – but there are no short cuts around situated local knowledge and
political organising if climate change is to be addressed in a just and fair

Carbon Trading
Critical Currents is an
How it works
and why it fails
Occasional Paper Series
published by the
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
It is also available online

Printed copies may be obtained from

Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation,

Övre Slottsgatan 2
SE- 753 10 Uppsala, Sweden
phone: +46 (0)18-410 10 00
November 2009
critical currents no.7
November 2009

Carbon Trading
How it works and why it fails

Tamra Gilbertson and Oscar Reyes

Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation

Uppsala 2009
Critical Currents is an
Occasional Paper Series
published by the
The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
pays tribute to the memory of the second It is also available online at
Secretary General of the UN by searching
for and examining workable alternatives
for a socially and economically just, This issue of Critical Currents is published
ecologically sustainable, peaceful and in cooperation with Carbon Trade Watch
secure world. (, the Transna-
tional Institute ( and The Cor-
In the spirit of Dag Hammarskjöld’s ner House ( It
integrity, his readiness to challenge the is based on Carbon Trading: a critical conversa-
dominant powers and his passionate plea tion on climate change, privatization and power,
for the sovereignty of small nations and edited by Larry Lohmann and published as
their right to shape their own destiny, the Development Dialogue no. 47 in 2006.
Foundation seeks to examine mainstream
understanding of development and bring to Statements of fact or opinion
the debate alternative perspectives of often are those of the authors and
unheard voices. do not imply endorsement
by the Foundation.
By making possible the meeting of minds, Manuscripts for review
experiences and perspectives through the should be sent to
organising of seminars and dialogues,
the Foundation plays a catalysing role
in the identification of new issues and Series editor: Henning Melber
the formulation of new concepts, policy Editor: Larry Lohmann
proposals, strategies and work plans towards Coordination and
solutions. The Foundation seeks to be at the final text editing: Wendy Davies
cutting edge of the debates on development, Design & Production: Mattias Lasson
security and environment, thereby Printed by X-O Graf Tryckeri AB
continuously embarking on new themes ISSN 1654-4250
in close collaboration with a wide and Copyright on the text is with the
constantly expanding international network. authors and the Foundation.
The Copenhagen process must address the hits on our website.3 The huge demand also
reality of the larger eco-systems challenge we resulted in a second imprint, after well over
face. Healthy ecosystems are a precondition for 10,000 hard copies had been distributed. On
stabilising the climate system. But the current a more self-critical note, however, as nec-
negotiations are not addressing critical issues essary as the fundamental analysis was, the
related to the resilience of ecosystems and to sizeable volume of 350 pages contributed a
ecosystem services and are thus seriously flawed.1 considerable carbon footprint through the
paper and energy needed for its distribution.
During the autumn of 2006 the Dag Ham- In addition, while the book laid out con-
marskjöld Foundation, in collaboration with vincing arguments, it was not the most ef-
The Corner House and the Durban Group fective tool for those who needed a concise
for Climate Justice, published a pioneering introduction to the problem. The idea of
challenge to what had become the core of producing an updated shorter version there-
official international efforts to solve the ever fore emerged quite soon, though the project
more visible crisis concerning climate change required some time. Thanks to Oscar Reyes
and the urgent need to reduce emissions.2 and Tamra Gilbertson and with the support
Based to a large extent on the work of Larry of Larry Lohmann, we are now able to offer
Lohmann, the publication was at the fore- this briefer, updated input for the discus-
front of a necessary intervention to demystify sions around Copenhagen.
the dominant exit options on offer – which
were only ending in another cul de sac. At a time when carbon trading is still being
strongly promoted as the central solution to
Since then, public awareness has become climate change, we continue to stress that
more sensitised to the problems of treating it is, instead, part of the problem. But this
carbon trading as a ‘silver bullet’ for solving volume also does not hesitate to look for-
the climate crisis. Common sense should ward and thereby complements a parallel
already suggest that things are not so simple: effort looking into the challenges beyond
setting up a market in a new commodity is Copenhagen.4
bound to be an invitation to traders to focus
their ingenuity on profit-seeking even if the Meeting today’s climate challenges requires
results undermine climatic stability. a paradigm shift in our thinking and ap-
proaches. Market-based strategies have
Our publication soon became a standard failed. We need to demystify the claim that
reference book, and we registered record price incentives alone will fi x matters.

Henning Melber

1 Bo Ekman, Johan Rockström and Anders Wijk- 3 The combined total number of downloads from
man, Grasping the climate crisis: A provocation from the the sites of the Corner House and the Foundation
Tällberg Foundation, Stockholm: Tällberg Founda- amounted to over 820,000 by October 2009, i.e.
tion (undated, 2008/2009), p.17. within three years.
2 Carbon Trading: A critical conversation on climate change, 4 Ulrich Brand, Nicola Bullard, Edgardo Lander
privatisation and power (Development Dialogue, no. and Tadzio Müller (eds), Contours of Climate Justice:
48), Uppsala: The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Ideas for shaping new climate and energy politics (Critical
September 2006. Like all recent publications, this Currents, no. 6), Uppsala: Dag Hammarskjöld Foun-
volume is accessible for free download at the Foun- dation, November 2009.
dation’s website (

Special thanks to everyone who helped with Field research and Chapter 4: Marcelo
this project. Calazans, FASE, Brazil; Nishant Mate
and Soumitra Ghosh, NESPON and
Thanks to Joanna Cabello, Ricardo Carrerre, NFFPFW, India; Wiwied Widya Astuti and
Calyx Clagg, Tom Goldtooth, Niclas Mr. Kaka; Jikalihari, Sumatra, Indonesia;
Hällström, Nina Holland, Chris Lang, Nantiya Tangwisutijit, and The Nam Song
Marianne Maeckelbergh, Daniela Meirelles, Conservation Club, Thailand.
Winfried Overbeek, Pavement, Kittisak
Rattanakrajangsri, Pinelopi Sioni, and the
Durban Group for Climate Justice.

Review committee: Joanna Cabello, Carbon

Trade Watch; Marcelo Calazans, FASE,
Brazil; Ricardo Sequeiros Coelho,
Universidade do Porto, Portugal; Almuth
Ernsting, Biofuelwatch, UK; Justin Fong,
Moving Mountains, China; Soumitra Ghosh,
NESPON/NFFPFW, India; Tom Goldtooth,
Indigenous Environment Network;
Amaranta Herrero, Universitat Autònoma
de Barcelona; Jutta Kill, FERN, UK; Ivonne
Yanez, Oilwatch Sudamerica; Joe Zacune,
Friends of the Earth International.

4 Critical Currents no. 7

Chapter summary

Chapter 1 »
introduces carbon trading, how it works
and some of the actors involved.

Chapter 2 »
explores the origins and key actors involved
in building the architecture of emissions

Chapter 3 »
examines the performance of the EU ETS
and finds that it has generously rewarded
polluting companies while failing to reduce
emissions. Many of the scheme’s flaws, from
the overallocation of permits to pollute
onwards, are found to be fundamental to the
cap and trade approach more generally.

Chapter 4 »
outlines the performance of the CDM and
looks at four case studies of CDM projects
in Thailand, India, Indonesia and Brazil; it
argues that offsets projects, even those that
promote renewable energy, will not be a
solution to climate change.

Chapter 5 »
outlines what could work and ways
forward for political organising around
questions of climate change.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 5

6 Critical Currents no. 7
1 » Introduction

The headlines tell the story. ‘Billions wasted

Tamra Gilbertson
on UN climate programme’.1 ‘Truth about is a researcher with
Kyoto: huge profits, little carbon saved’.2 Carbon Trade Watch /
‘UN effort to curtail emissions in turmoil’.3 Transnational Institute
‘The Carbon Folly: Policymakers’ Favou- (TNI). She is a co-founder
rite Global Warming Fix Isn’t Working’.4 of the Durban Group for
‘European Union’s efforts to tackle climate Climate Justice.
change a failure’.5 ‘The great carbon credit
con: Why are we paying the Third World to
poison its environment?’6 Photo: Pinelopi Sioni
Oscar Reyes is a
Behind these headlines lies a tale of the researcher with
growing failure of the main tool that gov- Carbon Trade Watch /
ernments, fi nancial institutions and cor- Transnational Institute
porations have adopted to address climate (TNI). He was formerly TNI
change. This is carbon trading – a multi- Communications Officer
billion dollar scheme whose basic premise is and co-editor of Red
that polluters can pay someone else to clean Pepper magazine.
up their mess so that they don’t have to. Photo: Tamra Gilbertson

1 John Vidal, ‘Billions wasted on UN climate

programme’, The Guardian, 26 May 2008, p.1.
This issue of Critical Currents examines what
2 Nick Davies, ‘Truth about Kyoto: Huge Profits, carbon trading is and why it was adopted in
Little Carbon Saved’, The Guardian, 2 June 2007, p.1. the fi rst place. It tells the story of how, from
3 Jeff rey Ball, ‘UN Effort to Curtail Emissions in
its global beginnings as part of the Kyoto
Turmoil’, Wall Street Journal, 12 April 2008, p. A1.
4 Emily Flynn Vencat, ‘The Carbon Folly: Protocol in 1997, carbon trading has failed
Policymakers’ Favorite Global Warming Fix Isn’t to change the way we acquire and use ener-
Working’, Newsweek, 12 March 2007 gy, while short-circuiting demands for the
5 Channel 4 Evening News, London, lead story, 7
March 2007. fundamental reforms needed. In the process,
6 Nadine Gouri, ‘The great carbon credit con: it has rewarded polluters for continued pol-
Why are we paying the Third World to poison lution while at the same time causing social
its environment?’, Daily Mail, 1 June 2009; and environmental injustice.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 7

are failing badly, with large and accelerat-
Climate change: a genuine crisis ing global increases in greenhouse gas emis-
Nowadays, few people doubt that the climate sions in the decade since Kyoto, as well as a
is changing and that human activity is the threefold growth in emissions from fossil fu-
major cause. The evidence is ‘unequivocal’, els since the 1990s.11 This booklet will argue
according to the 2007 Fourth Assessment that the market-based solutions advocated by
Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on many politicians, celebrities, scientists and
Climate Change (IPCC), an assessment that large NGOs compound the problem.
synthesises the research of 2,500 scientists.7
The period from 1997 to 2008 includes the There has never been a lack of materials or
10 warmest years since global records began ingenuity for dealing with climate change.
in 1850, while average sea level rises are ac- Like many other social problems, global
celerating.8 The IPCC warns that if present warming is a crisis created by the actions of a
trends continue unchecked, temperatures minority of the world’s peoples – what Ra-
could rise by over 6 degrees Celsius and sea machandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil have
levels by up to 60 centimetres globally by called the omnivores, the development-aided
2100.9 This is a conservative estimate com- class of modern consumers.12 For the world’s
pared to more recent studies, which have majority, global warming remains a problem
shown that the geological record of ice melt for which they already have the solution: for-
was non-linear and responded more rap- going excessive use of fossil fuels. The recent
idly.10 The likely consequences of climate Western fashion for distancing responsibility
change vary from region to region, but in- for climate change, both spatially and tem-
clude widespread drought, desertification, porally, by attributing it to future car-hungry
flooding and glacial melt. Chinese or Indians, is a diversion possible
only under the assumption – shared by elites
This message now seems to be getting across. in North and South alike – that a society that
But global efforts to tackle climate change mandates over-consumption is the universal
human destiny.
7 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of Current global efforts to address climate
the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, IPCC, Geneva, change, however, look absurdly inadequate.
November 2007, p.1.
8 Goddard Institute for Space Studies, ‘Global
In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol saw 38 indus-
Temperature Trends: 2008 Annual Summation’, trialised countries commit themselves to cut
16 December 2008; greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 to a level
5.2 per cent lower than those of 1990. At that
9 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis - time, the IPCC suggested that there would
Summary for Policymakers, February 2007, p.6; http:// need to be a rapid 50 to 70 per cent emissions reduction if the world were to stand a chance
10 James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, of averting devastating climatic change. It
David Beerling, Robert Berner, Valerie Masson- has since revised its projection upwards.13
Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L.
Royer, James C. Zachos, ‘Target atmospheric CO2:
Where should humanity aim?’, Open Atmos. Sci. 11 For example, CO2 emissions rose by an average of
J., vol. 2, 2008, pp. 217-231. This study shows that 3.2 per cent between 2000 and 2005.
when temperatures increased to 2-3 degrees Celcius 12 Ramachandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil, Ecology
above today’s level, 3.5 million years ago, sea levels and Equity, Penguin, London, 1995.
rose not by the 59 centimetres predicted by the 13 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
IPCC but by 25 metres. IPCC Second Assessment: Climate Change 1995,
IPCC, Geneva, 1995.

8 Critical Currents no. 7

Several more recent studies have argued that rather than insisting on each country meet-
even the latest IPCC figures are an underesti- ing its own target. The ‘hidden hand’ of the
mate. For example, James Hansen of NASA has market would guide the process towards the
pointed out that the IPCC’s earlier calculation cuts that were the cheapest to make.
failed to take account of ‘slow feedback’ mech-
anisms that increase temperature rise caused by This loosened the lid that Kyoto itself had
greater greenhouse gas concentrations.14 More placed on industrialised countries’ emis-
generally, in their attempts to meet political sions. For example, the industrial collapse
demands that a single unit be devised through that took place in the former Soviet coun-
which the climate impact of one greenhouse tries meant that they were already emitting
gas can be compared simply with another, and far less than in 1990. This provided a ready
then bought and sold in the form of pollution supply of ‘hot air’ emissions units (as they
permits, scientists have downplayed the unpre- became known), releasing the pressure on
dictable, complex and non-linear impacts of the North to make cuts domestically. Other
climate change to render them easier for poli- loopholes quickly appeared too.16
cymakers and markets to digest.
Carbon trading
Making climate problems Carbon trading is a complex system which
fit market solutions sets itself a simple goal: to make it cheaper for
It was clear from the outset that the Kyoto Pro- companies and governments to meet emis-
tocol was inadequate. Shortly after the treaty sions reduction targets – although, as we will
was signed, a scientific journal pointed out that show, emissions trading is designed in such
30 Kyotos would be needed merely to stabilise a way that the targets can generally be met
the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in without actual reductions taking place.
the atmosphere at twice the level it stood at the
time of the Industrial Revolution.15 Carbon trading takes two main forms: ‘cap
and trade’ and ‘offsetting’.
But as a prerequisite for agreeing on even
such an inadequate ‘solution’, the United
States delegation then introduced into the
What is cap and trade?
Kyoto negotiations a series of carbon trad- Under a scheme called ‘cap and trade’, gov-
ing proposals that served to undermine even ernments or intergovernmental bodies like
the weak targets under discussion. the European Commission hand out licens-
es to pollute (or ‘carbon permits’) to major
The idea was to allow the industrialised
countries included in the treaty, if they did
not want to make reductions domestically, 16 These included the exclusion of international ship-
ping and aviation from emissions reduction targets.
to trade away these commitments for the Official UN statistics show that fuels sold for use
promise of emissions reductions in other in international aviation and international marine
countries. The important point, so the the- transportation increased by 65.9 and 18.4 per cent,
respectively in the period from 1990 to 2006. These
ory went, was to achieve an overall balance figures refer only to transport originating from or
arriving in Annex 1 countries (those with emis-
14 James Hansen et al., op. cit., supra, note 10. sions reductions targets). See UNFCCC, ‘National
15 David Malakoff, ‘Thirty Kyotos Needed to Control greenhouse gas inventory data for the period
Global Warming’, Science, 278, no. 2, 19 December 1990–2006’, November 2008, p.12; http://unfccc.
1997, p. 2048. int/resource/docs/2008/sbi/eng/12.pdf

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 9

industries. Instead of cleaning up its act, one In practice, the scheme has failed to incen-
polluter can then trade these permits with an- tivise emissions reductions. For example, a
other who might make ‘equivalent’ changes combination of industrial lobbying efforts
more cheaply. This is the approach underly- and measurement difficulties have ensured
ing the European Union’s Emissions Trading that the pollution rights granted to private
Scheme (EU ETS), the world’s largest carbon firms within cap and trade schemes are in
market, which was worth US$ 63 billion in many cases more generous than the polluters
2008 and continues to expand rapidly.17 need to cover their existing level of emissions.
This surplus of permits can then be sold to
The theory is that the availability of carbon other polluters so that they too might avoid
permits will gradually be reduced, ensuring reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
scarcity, so that the market retains its value
while at the same time forcing a reduc- To date, the vast majority of permits have
tion in the overall level of pollution. The been handed out for free (a practice known
cap part is supposed to do the work, envi- as ‘grandfathering’) in the EU ETS, and
ronmentally speaking, setting a legal limit the same is true for other cap and trade
on levels of permissible pollution within a schemes.18 The number of permits awarded
given time period. Each cap reduction is, in is calculated according to existing levels of
effect, a new regulatory measure introduced pollution, which means that those who have
by governments and/or international bodies polluted most in the past are rewarded with
to restrict pollution further. the greatest subsidy. This free gift of pollu-
tion rights to some of the worst industrial
The ‘trading’ (or ‘market-based’) component polluters amounts to one of the largest proj-
of such a scheme does not actually reduce any ects for the creation and regressive distribu-
emissions. It simply gives companies greater tion of property rights in history.19
room to manoeuvre in addressing the emis-
sions problem, for which reason carbon trad-
ing proposals are sometimes also referred 18 This is the case for the EU ETS until 2012. Al-
to as ‘flexible mechanisms’. Installations ex- though the EU and US have both claimed that
auctioning could provide a major revenue stream
ceeding their reduction commitments can to fi nance other measures to tackle climate change,
sell their surpluses to those who have failed this has not yet materialised. In the USA, President
to clean up their act adequately. Companies Obama initially budgeted for US$ 646 billion as a
result of auctioning 100 per cent of carbon permits,
that want to keep on polluting save money,
but as of September 2009 it is proposed that around
while in theory companies that are able to 85 per cent be allocated for free. See Jim Efstathiou
reduce beyond legal requirements will seize Jr. and Kim Chipman, ‘Carbon Market Backers
the chance to make money from selling their Split Over Obama Climate Plan’, Bloomberg, 19
March 2009;
spare credits. But this flexibility comes at a ws?pid=20601072&sid=aVzbV8Sc35PY.
cost – what is cheap in the short term is not The European Union also significantly watered
the same as what is effective in the long term down its auctioning plans for the third phase of the
EU ETS, with EU fi nance ministers vetoing calls
or environmentally and socially just. for the money to be ringfenced for climate-friendly
policies. The largest single public revenue stream
that remains has been designated for the develop-
17 World Bank, State and Trends of the Carbon Market ment of controversial ‘carbon capture and storage’
2009, World Bank, Washington DC, 2009, p.7. technologies.

10 Critical Currents no. 7


Although offsets are often presented as emis-

What are carbon offsets? sions reductions, they do not reduce emis-
The second type of carbon trading is offsetting. sions. Even in theory, they at most merely
Instead of cutting emissions at source, com- move ‘reductions’ to where it is cheapest to
panies, and sometimes international financial make them, which normally means a shift
institutions, governments and individuals, fi- from Northern to Southern countries. Pol-
nance ‘emissions-saving projects’ outside the lution continues at one location on the as-
capped area. The UN-administered Clean sumption that an equivalent emissions sav-
Development Mechanism (CDM) is the larg- ing will happen elsewhere. The projects
est such scheme, with almost 1,800 registered that count as ‘emissions savings’ range from
projects as of September 2009, and over 2,600 building hydro-electric dams to capturing
further projects awaiting approval.20 Based on methane from industrial livestock facilities.
current prices, the credits produced by ap-
proved schemes could generate over US$ 55 The carbon ‘savings’ are calculated accord-
billion by 2012.21 ing to how much less greenhouse gas is pre-
sumed to be entering the atmosphere than
19 There is also a question of North-South distribution would have been the case in the absence of
at stake here. Cap and trade schemes currently exist the project. But even the World Bank of-
in Northern countries, where governments award ficials, accounting fi rms, fi nancial analysts,
the pollution rights to companies that operate within
their borders. For each year of its scheme, the EU has
brokers and carbon consultants involved in
awarded free emissions permits equating to almost devising these projects often admit privately
2 billion tonnes of emissions – between 17 and that no ways exist to demonstrate that it is
34 per cent of the world’s ‘carbon dump’. Loosely
translated, this means the EU and companies operat-
carbon fi nance that makes the project pos-
ing there are in on the fact that they over-pollute – sible.22 Researcher Dan Welch sums up the
with a carbon price at €30 per tonne, the equivalent difficulty: ‘Offsets are an imaginary com-
asset value would be approximately €60 billion. A
modity created by deducting what you hope
proposed cap and trade scheme in the USA, which
would cover around 85 per cent of its emissions, happens from what you guess would have
would generate an even larger asset value – to be happened.’23 Since carbon offsets replace a
split, most likely, between free passes for industry requirement to verify emissions reductions
and revenue for the US government.
It is worth noting, too, that this fundamental inequal- in one location with a set of stories about
ity in allocations is only marginally improved by what would have happened in an imagined
auctioning the revenues rather than ‘grandfathering’ future elsewhere, the net result tends to be
them. When the EU and US plan to auction carbon
rights and pay a proportion, the question remains: are an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
these their rights to sell? The defence that is typically
used in response to this charge is that a proportion of The use of ‘development’ and ‘poverty’
the auction revenue will be allocated for development
funding, which tends to come with ‘conditionalities’.
rhetoric to describe offsets also masks their
This is like owning a house with another person, fundamental injustice: offsets hand a new
selling it without their consent, then promising to revenue stream to some of the most highly
return a small part of the money as long as they agree
to spend it according to criteria you define.
20 UNEP Risoe CDM/JI Pipeline Analysis and Da- 22 Larry Lohmann, ‘Marketing and Making Carbon
tabase, 1 September 2009, Dumps: Commodification, Calculation and Coun-
overview.htm terfactuals in Climate Change Mitigation’, Science as
21 This is based on a UNEP Risoe September 2009 Culture, vol. 14, no. 3, September 2005, pp. 203-235.
estimate of 279 million Certified Emissions Reduc- 23 Dan Welch, ‘A Buyer’s Guide to Off sets’, Ethical
tions (CERs) issued by 2012, and assumes a CER price Consumer, no. 106, May/June 2007.
of US$ 20. CERs are the offset credits issued by the

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 11

polluting industries in the South, while ing the problem in this way suggests that it
simultaneously offering companies and is simply a market problem. New markets,
governments in the North a means to de- Stern insists, can repair what existing mar-
lay changing their own industrial practices kets broke. It is assumed that climate change
and energy usage. As we show in chapter 4, occurred because no price was put on car-
carbon offset projects have resulted in land bon, with the result that it was not valued
grabs and the repression of local communi- when economic decisions were made.
This approach suggests that the earth’s ca-
Voluntary offsets, which give consumers in pacity to regulate its climate can be treated
the global North a means to make a pay- as a measurable commodity. The problem
ment to assuage their guilt about consump- is that while commodity prices can do
tion, and companies the chance to present many things, one thing that they have never
a green face to the public, run into similar achieved is to solve problems that require
problems. Offsets on the voluntary mar- structural change in so many fundamental
ket exist outside UN regulation, but they areas of industry and agricultural practice. A
have similarly negative consequences on the market price for carbon, says Sussex Univer-
communities forced to endure them. In ad- sity’s Energy Group’s Jim Watson, ‘is a very
dition, these personal offsets individualise poor weapon in what is supposed to be a war
the response to climate change, distilling to save humanity’.26 In the 1970s, high price
the complexities of a systemic problem of rises did little to wean industrial societies off
how energy is produced and used, and how oil – and there is little reason to believe that
land is distributed, into a seemingly simple a carbon price can do so either.
question of authorising a small payment
with the click of a computer mouse.24 The problem is, firstly, that price signals are
uncertain – highly so in the case of exist-
ing carbon markets. Proponents of carbon
Putting a price on climate change trading argue that such markets could affect
These market-based approaches form a long-term infrastructure decisions if only a
key part of the architecture for how inter- stable price signal could be achieved. Yet
national fi nancial institutions and govern- carbon prices are inherently volatile. The
ments propose to address climate change. In commodity traded as ‘carbon’ does not ac-
the words of the UK Government’s influen- tually exist outside of the numbers flashed
tial Stern Review on the Economics of Climate up on trading screens or the registries held
Change, climate change is ‘the greatest mar- by administrators. But a single tradable unit
ket failure the world has ever seen’.25 Defi n- is needed in order to create a market, and
for this purpose a whole set of incommen-
24 Kevin Smith, The Carbon Neutral Myth: offset surable practices, undertaken at different
indulgences for your climate sins, Carbon Trade Watch/
Transnational Institute, Amsterdam, 2007. 26 Jeremy Lovell, ‘Carbon Price is Poor Weapon
25 Nicholas Stern et al., Stern Review on the Economics against Climate Change’, Reuters, 25 September
of Climate Change, HM Treasury, London, 2006, 2007.

12 Critical Currents no. 7

places and times – from making industrial That challenge consists mainly of initiat-
processes more efficient to capturing coal- ing a new historical pathway that leads away
mine methane and generating hydro-elec- from dependence on fossil fuels, which are
tric power – are treated as though they were by far the major contributor to human-
the same. caused climate change. Once taken out of
the ground and burned, coal, oil and gas
This makes putting a price on carbon large- add to the amount of carbon cycling be-
ly an arbitrary exercise and uncertain as pre- tween the atmosphere and the oceans, soil,
dicting a price of even the most mundane rock and vegetation. This transfer is, for hu-
commodity is at best guesswork. Currently, man purposes, irreversible: once mined and
traders may attempt to track carbon prices burned, fossil carbon cannot be locked away
merely by looking at energy prices, calcu- safely underground again in the form of new
lating the difference between coal and gas deposits of coal, oil or gas, or in the form of
prices or by speculating about future politi- carbonate rock, for millions of years.28
cal decisions. That is an unlikely recipe for The transfer is also unsustainable: there is
instituting the deep structural changes that simply not enough ‘space’’ in above-ground
the global warming problem demands. biological and geological systems to park
the huge mass of carbon that is coming out
of the ground safely without carbon diox-
The numbers game ide building up catastrophically in the air
Carbon trading has created a system where- and the seas. As biologist Tim Flannery puts
by different greenhouse gases are treated as it: ‘There is so much carbon buried in the
equivalent and quantifiable ‘things,’ opening world’s coal seams [alone] that, should it fi nd
them up to the possibility of exchange. An its way back to the surface, it would make
emissions cut in one place becomes ‘equiva- the planet hostile to life as we know it.’29
lent’ to, and thus exchangeable with, a cut
or a compensatory measure elsewhere. Most untapped coal, oil and gas, in other
At fi rst glace, this may seem uncontroversial. words, is going to have to stay in the ground.
As the World Bank puts it, ‘greenhouse gas- Accordingly, countries currently ‘locked
es mix uniformly in the atmosphere, which in’ to fossil fuels need instead to ‘lock in’
makes it possible to reduce carbon emissions to non-fossil energy, transport, agricultural
at any point on Earth and have the same and consumption regimes within at most a
effect’.27 Climate change is a global problem
rather than a local one, so it should not mat-
ter whether these reductions are made in
Brussels or Beijing. A moment’s reflection 28 M. Eby, K. Zickfeld, A. Montenegro, D. Archer,
will show, however, that, in producing such K. J. Meissner and A. J. Weaver, ‘Lifetime of
equivalences, carbon trading already drifts Anthropogenic Climate Change: Millennial Time
Scales of Potential CO2 and Surface Temperature
away from tackling climate change. Perturbations’, American Meteorological Society, vol.
22, no. 10, May 2009.
27 World Bank, Community Development Carbon Fund An- 29 Tim Flannery, ‘Monstrous Carbuncle’, London
nual Report 2004 World Bank, Washington, 2005, p.5. Review of Books, vol. 27, no. 1, 6 January 2005.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 13

few decades.30 Because this shift is structur- short-sighted conclusion for an organisation
al, the fi rst steps need to be undertaken im- whose work recognises the need for urgent
mediately to minimise future dangers and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
costs. It is possible to conceive of all manner of
climate disasters, it seems, but not to think
While carbon trading encourages ingenuity outside the box of the economic systems
in inventing measurable ‘equivalences’ be- that are contributing to their happening in
tween emissions of different types in differ- the fi rst place.
ent places, it does not select for innovations
that can initiate or sustain a historical trajec- The message of all this is clear. Industria-
tory away from fossil fuels (the effectiveness lised societies can continue to use up fos-
of which is less easy to measure). sil fuels until there are none left worth re-
covering. At the same time, they can create
new markets that make it possible to claim
Business as usual that others can clean up the mess, and that it
For both governments and many large will be economically ‘efficient’ for them to
corporations, the appeal of carbon trading do so. This is a market, politicians and busi-
schemes is that they give the appearance of ness leaders assure the public, in which you
addressing climate change but do not man- will be able to ‘pay’ the environmental costs
date an immediate start to structural change of continuing to drill oil by screwing in effi-
in existing energy practice, production or cient light bulbs, or for the costs of opening
consumption patterns. As The Guardian’s a new coal mine by burning the methane
Nick Davies has pointed out, carbon offset- that seeps out of the same mine.
ting is ‘an idea which flows not from en-
vironmentalists and climate scientists trying Yet as long as oil, coal and gas continues be-
to design a way to reverse global warming ing taken out of the ground, run through
but from politicians and business executives combustion chambers, and transferred to the
trying to meet the demands for action while active carbon pool in the air, oceans, veg-
preserving the commercial status quo’.31 etation and soil, the world will remain on a
path toward catastrophic climate change. It
But climate scientists can succumb to a sim- took millions of years for plants to extract
ilar logic. In its Fourth Assessment Report, the carbon from the atmosphere that makes
the IPCC assumes that an international car- up today’s coal, oil and gas deposits. It’s tak-
bon market will be a ‘foundation for future ing only a few centuries to burn it. Despite
mitigation efforts’.32 This is a remarkably all the schemes selling ways to capture car-
bon there is no environmentally sound or
30 Gregory C. Unruh, ‘Understanding Carbon Lock- quick method to safely restore the fossil fu-
In’, Energy Policy, no. 28, 2000, pp. 817-30. els and carbon deposits at the rate they have
31 Nick Davies, ‘The inconvenient truth about the been unleashed into the atmosphere.
carbon off set industry’, The Guardian, 16 June 2007,
32 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
op.cit., supra, note p.7.

14 Critical Currents no. 7

Carbon trading is aimed at the wrong target.
It is not directed at reorganising industrial
societies’ energy, transport and housing sys-
tems – starting today – so that they don’t
need coal, oil and gas. It is not contributing
to the de-industrialisation of agriculture or
the protection of forests through the recog-
nition of local and Indigenous Peoples’ ten-
ure rights or food sovereignty. Instead, it is
organised around keeping the wheels on the
fossil fuel industry for as long as possible.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 15

16 Critical Currents no. 7
2 » A brief history of carbon trading

It is not an exaggeration to brand the mecha- The system does not set a deadline by which
nisms of the Kyoto Protocol as ‘Made in the fossil fuel use will be mostly phased out. In-
USA.’ . . . The sensitivity of the Protocol to stead it starts by translating existing pollu-
the market was largely instigated by the negotiat- tion into a tradable commodity, the rights
ing positions of the USA. to which are allocated in accordance with a
limit set by states or intergovernmental agen-
Michael Zammit Cutajar, cies. The idea of the cap is that these limits are
former executive secretary, gradually lowered, although no clear time-
UN Framework Convention table is set, and the means by which public
on Climate Change, 2004 support will be mobilised for shrinking caps
is left unspecified. Within whatever overall
Over the past decade, carbon trading has constraints imposed, however, companies
emerged as the centrepiece of official efforts can choose either to buy a greater number
to address global warming. This chapter of rights to carry on polluting as before, or
tells the story of how corporations, financial to make efficiency savings. Those who make
institutions, academics, governments, United extra efficiency savings can sell their surplus
Nations agencies and some environmentalists pollution rights to those who do not meet
came to promote a neoliberal, market-based their targets.
approach to climate change emanating from
the United States. While this might sound like a neat theory,
carbon trading is both ineffective and unjust.
Redefining greenhouse gas emissions as a trad-
The market fix able commodity – ‘carbon’ – whose value lies
Carbon trading sets up a framework for in what it can be swapped for or what price it
dealing with greenhouse gases that secures can fetch, carbon trading significantly distorts
the property rights of heavy Northern fossil the framework through which we view the
fuel users over the world’s carbon-absorbing problem of tackling climate change, encour-
capacity while creating new opportunities aging the growth of an elaborate financial
for corporate profit through trade. system in which a broad range of industrial
and agricultural practices are rendered falsely

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 17

equivalent, while obscuring the social, politi- The economists and the early years
cal, technological and historical questions of
how rapidly shrinking caps are to be achieved. Although it is not possible to pinpoint a sin-
In addition, all actually-existing carbon trad- gle founder of carbon trading, many of the
ing schemes grant the largest number of rights theories from which it derives can be traced
free of charge to those who have been most back to the work of economists Ronald
responsible for pollution in the first place. Coase, George Stigler and, later, J. H. Dales
Instead of considering polluters culpable for – who provided a theoretical framework on
causing a past harm, or imposing a stricter the basis of which a market-based means to
limit upon them because they have already tackle pollution could be developed.1
used up their share of ‘atmospheric space’, car-
bon trading effectively rewards them for these Coase’s idea was that the right to pollute
past misdemeanours. is a factor of production just like the right
to use land. In both cases, the idea was that
exercising one’s right would naturally entail
The neoliberal context some losses to be suffered elsewhere.2 The
This market fix for global warming could not question becomes how significant those
have become dominant without being part of losses will be.
a longer historical wave of neoliberalism.
To fi nd out how best to distribute pollution,
Internationally, neoliberalism uses institu- Coase argued, you put it on the market to-
tions such as the World Bank, and the World gether with other commodities you’ve cre-
Trade Organization, along with various ated – like real estate, water, labour, rice,
treaties, to establish new forms of globally- silver, forests, jet planes and mobile phones.
centralised control over far-flung resources. You measure them all by the same yardstick
Attempting to integrate trading systems and treat them all in the same way.
worldwide, neoliberalism reorganises prop-
erty rights regimes and fights national regu- If the market is a perfect market with no
lation in an attempt to reduce the power of ‘transaction costs’ and is inhabited by prop-
national governments, labour unions and erly calculating, maximising economic
local communities over corporate activity. agents with perfect information, the theory
suggests that pollution will wind up being
Justifying neoliberalism is an ideology of used in the way that contributes
3 the most to
‘efficiency’ developed over decades, largely society’s ‘total product’.
in the think-tanks, academic economics de-
partments, international agencies and gov-
ernment ministries of the US and EU. The 1 George Stigler, The Theory of Price, McMillan, New
ideology revolves around the claim that so- York, 1987.
ciety as a whole will benefit if it ‘makes the 2 Ronald Coase, The Firm, the Market and the Law,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1988, p.155.
most’ out of whatever stuff is available to it. 3 Ronald Coase, ‘Looking for Results: Nobel
Laureate Ronald Coase on Rights, Resources and
Regulation’, Reason Magazine, January 1997, http://

18 Critical Currents no. 7

If that means a lot of pollution, so be it. A number of these early pioneers turned
There’s no need to worry that there will be their back on such theories when faced with
‘too much’ pollution, because if a society the messy reality of carbon trading. Thomas
got too polluted, you wouldn’t get the best Crocker stated, as the cap and trade scheme
value out of other goods – your labourers was passing through the US Congress in
might die, for example – and ‘total product’ summer 2009: ‘I’m skeptical that cap-and-
would decline. The perfect market will se- trade is the most effective way to go about
lect against that, automatically ‘optimising’ regulating carbon.’6 In devising a rationale
pollution so that there’s neither too little nor for pollution trading, Crocker now says, he
too much. never imagined that a complex pollution
problem with myriad sources could be dealt
On this basis, Coase concluded that pollution with under the one scheme, arguing that
dumps, as one ‘factor of production’ among ‘it is not clear... how you would enforce a
many, would automatically be bargained into permit system internationally.’ J. H. Dales
the hands of those who could produce the had previously expressed similar caution,
most wealth from them (or best ‘improve’ claiming that there were ‘lots of situations’
them, to use 17th century terminology), and in which the theory of emissions trading
thus the greatest good for society. That is, to would not apply.7
allocate property rights to public commons
will deliver a socially efficient use of resourc-
es, even when externalities are present.4
Sulphur dioxide trading
There had been some early, clumsy attempts
Coase’s successors, including the economists to implement cap and trade schemes for pol-
J. H. Dales and Thomas Crocker, modified lution by the US Environmental Protection
pollution trading theory further. While Agency (EPA), such as a scheme which al-
continuing to emphasise the importance of lowed trading of lead credits in gasoline.
allowing polluters formal rights to pollute, The most significant experience, howev-
they suggested that states would be better er, was the sulphur dioxide (SO2) trading
placed than an imaginary ‘perfect market’ scheme set up as part of US Clean Air Act
to set a cap on overall pollution levels.5 In Amendments in 1990.
this way, pollution trading became mainly a
way of fi nding the most cost-effective way The Clean Air Act intended to use trading
for businesses to reach an emissions goal that to make it cheaper to reduce SO2 emissions
had been set beforehand. by 10 million tonnes below 1980 levels, thus

4 Ronald Coase, ‘The Problem of Social Cost’, Jour-

nal of Law and Economics, no. 3, 1960, pp.1-44; R.
Coase, op. cit., supra, note 2. See also Deirdre Mc-
Closkey, ‘The so-called Coase Theorem’, Eastern
Economic Journal, vol. 24, no. 3, 1998, pp.367-371.
5 J. H. Dales, ‘Land, Water and Ownership’, Canadian 6 Jon Hilsenrathm, ‘Cap-and-Trade’s Unlikely Crit-
Journal of Economics, no. 1, November 1969, pp.791- ics: Its Creators’, Wall Street Journal, 13 August 2009.
804. 7 Ibid.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 19

reducing acid rain.8 That paved the way for cap for the subsequent four years.10
later US trading programmes in water pol-
lution, wetlands destruction, biodiversity Although this ‘over-compliance’ has been
depletion and so on. claimed as a success, this occurred for sev-
eral reasons that were not closely linked to
While Dales and other proponents of pollu- the programme itself. The utilities covered
tion trading had expected that permits would by the scheme anticipated high compliance
be auctioned, almost all of the SO2 allowances costs in the fi rst phase as a result of which
under the Clean Air Act – like those of later they installed scrubbers, an end-of-pipe
emissions markets – were simply distributed technology to remove SO2 from power plant
free of charge.9 Hence, the rights were, and exhaust streams. By 1995, however, pro-
still are, gravitating into the hands of those ductivity improvements in extraction and
who have the most power to appropriate transport meant that low-sulphur coal had
them and the most financial interest in do- become far more cheaply and readily avail-
ing so. Systems of pollution trading give new able in the US. Since this reduced emissions
commercial powers to those with access to in its own right, the result was an over-
legislation. So just as corporations lobby for supply of permits.11 A second, major factor
exemption from pollution regulations, they was a ‘substitution’ provision built into the
lobby to make sure emissions allowances Clean Air Act, which allowed companies to
amount to secure property rights. switch the factory specified in the legislation
for another of their choice ‘and receive al-
In common with other emissions trading locations of allowances based on the historic
schemes, the first phase of SO2 trading gener- emissions of those units instead’.12
ated a significant surplus of pollution permits
over and above what was needed for compli- The net result was that a large surplus of pol-
ance. It covered 263 of the largest coal-fired lution permits was generated which could
power stations in the US, which produced then be carried over (or ‘banked’ in the
emissions 39 per cent above the level the cap jargon) to the second phase of the scheme,
at 1995, and on average 23 per cent below the beginning in 2000, which came to include
2,262 electricity-generating units. This sur-
8 M. Bernstein, M. A. Farrell et al., ‘The Environ- plus, in addition to the emissions being set
ment and Economics – The Impact of Restricting systematically above the cap between 2000
the SO2 Allowance Market’, Energy Policy, vol. 22,
no. 9, pp.748-754, 1994; Drury, Belliveau, Kuhn and 2005, helped these other units to delay
and Bansal, ‘Pollution Trading and Environmental meeting their obligations to clean up SO2
Injustice: Los Angeles, Failed Experiment in Air pollution.
Quality Policy’, Duke Environmental Law and Policy
Forum, no. 45, 1999.
9 Ricardo Coelho, ‘Pollution for sale: made in the This goes some way towards explaining why
USA’, Presentation at the II Doctoral Meeting, the US Clean Air Act was significantly less
Université de Montpellier, 21 August 2009, p.8.
Only a small percentage of the allowances (3.1 per
cent in phase 1 and 2.8 per cent in phase 2) were
10 Lesley McAllister, ‘The Overallocation Problem
auctioned off. Each allowance permitted the release
in Cap-and-Trade: Moving Toward Stringency’,
of 1 tonne of sulphur dioxide into the air after 1995.
Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 2009, vol 39,
The price for each allowance was between US$ 122
no. 2, p.401. Available at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.
and US$ 450, much cheaper than paying for flue
gas scrubbers to remove sulphur dioxide from their
11 Ricardo Coelho, op. cit., supra, note 9.
12 Ibid.

20 Critical Currents no. 7

successful at reducing SO2 pollution than were far from simply applicable to the far
equivalent regulations elsewhere. SO2 emis- larger and more complex array of gases and
sions in the US had been reduced by 43.1 per industrial processes covered by carbon trad-
cent by the end of 2007, but over the same ing. SO2 emissions emanating from a rela-
period 25 members of the European Union tively small number of large fi xed sources
saw a decrease in emissions of 71 per cent.13 are far simpler to monitor than the complex
These reductions were achieved through reg- mix of gases and processes involved in emis-
ulation, rather than a cap and trade scheme.14 sions trading today. As Phil Clapp of the US
Beyond this, the lessons of sulphur trading National Environmental Trust points out:
‘Acid rain dealt with a specific number of
13 US EPA, data from ‘Acid Rain Program 2008 facilities in one industry that was already
Progress Report’, regulated… Global warming is not an issue
progress/interactivemapping.html; European En-
vironment Agency, ‘Air pollution from electricity-
that will be resolved by the passage of one
generating large combustion plants’, EEA Technical statute.’15 Another important difference be-
report No 4/2008, p.11. The data includes all cur- tween the two schemes is that SO2 trading
rent EU members except Romania and Bulgaria.
14 The relevant EU legislation – the Large Combus-
did not allow for the use of offsets.
tion Plants Directive (LCPD) – sets a non-tradable
limit on the level of SO2, with plants that ‘opt out’ In addition, as Ruth Greenspan Bell points
of the scheme required to close by 2015. This will out, pollution trading is at most only a tool
lead to the closures of numerous oil and coal-
fi red power stations – a more effective measure, to make more cost-effective an already ex-
in terms of reduced carbon emissions, than any isting commitment to cut pollution. Where
climate-specific policy to date. On the LCPD plant the basic commitment and regulatory pow-
closures, see Pete Harrison, ‘UK And Poland Top
Dirty Coal List, Closures Loom’, Reuters, 12 Febru- er doesn’t exist, the tool can do little.16 In
ary 2009: The the US, this commitment and regulatory
second piece of directly relevant EU legislation is power did exist. Sulfur dioxide trading was
the International Pollution Prevention and Control
(IPPC) Directive, which also sets energy efficiency not introduced to try to get polluting com-
requirements and pollution limits. Unfortunately, panies interested in controlling acid rain;
the application of the EU ETS has directly under- they were already required to. The situation
mined the co-benefits of this legislation for tackling
carbon emissions. As the European Environment
is different with global warming. Although
Agency points out, the IPPC ‘requires the defi ni- the countries engaged in the UN process
tion of both energy efficiency requirements and have formally agreed to control carbon, this
emission or concentration limits... These require-
ments could restrict emissions trading. For exam-
is not a strong or enforceable commitment
ple, operators of large sources might be obliged to in either North or South.
reduce their emissions (in order to comply with the
IPPC Directive) when it could be more economi-
cally efficient to increase emissions further and buy
additional allowances instead. Article 26 of the
Emissions Trading Directive therefore amends the
IPPC Directive so that permits shall not include 15 Michael Shellenburger and Ted Nordhaus, ‘Break
CO2 emission limits for installations which are Through: The Death of Environmentalism: Global
covered by the EU ETS.’ European Environment Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World’,
Agency (2008) ‘Application of the Emissions Trad- 2004, p.15, available at
ing Directive by EU Member States – reporting images/Death_of_Environementalism.pdf.
year 2007’, EEA Technical Report no. 3/2008, 16 Ruth Greenspan Bell, ‘Transforming The Dynam-
p.27. The EU is currently consulting on whether to ic’, Environmental Forum (US), May/June 2009.
revised the IPPC through the development of new
nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide trading schemes
– a further example of how the EU ETS is serving
to undermine existing environmental regulations.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 21

Climate trading Revolving doors
Despite these problems and significant dif- The case of the United Nations Conference
ferences, the sulphur trading example was, on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
perhaps disingenuously, heralded as a suc- starkly illustrates how many of the key ac-
cessful model for the tackling of greenhouse tors involved in the promotion of global
gas emissions from the early 1990s onwards. carbon trading later drew significant mate-
rial benefits from it.21
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD) and the United Na- Frank Joshua, head of greenhouse gas emis-
tions Conference on Trade and Development sions trading at UNCTAD from 1991 to 2000,
(UNCTAD) set out the terrain for interna- went on to become global director for emis-
tional negotiations.17 The OECD investigated sions trading services at Arthur Andersen,
the US SO2 emissions trading experience and the accountancy fi rm at the centre of the
considered the scope for international emissions Enron scandal, before joining NatSource, an
trading.18 UNCTAD, meanwhile, engaged in environmental services fi rm specialising in
an extensive work programme to promote a emissions trading.22 In the early 1990s, Josh-
global CO2 trading system. ua collaborated on an UNCTAD initiative
entitled ‘Building a Global CO2 Emissions
At the same time, the US-based NGO En- Trading System’ with Richard Sandor, a
vironmental Defense Fund (which is now former head of the Chicago Board of Trade,
called Environmental Defense) was an early and one of the originators of the interest
promoter of emissions trading, and published rate derivatives which were a precursor of
a 1991 study advocating emissions trading to the complex derivatives that contributed
protect the rainforest – a notion whose af- to the fi nancial crash of 2008. Sandor went
terlife can be seen in current market-based on to head UNCTAD’s working group on
proposals for Reducing Emissions from De- carbon market design.23 He later set up the
forestation and Degradation (REDD).19 (See Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), which
chapter 4). The authors of this paper were today commands a small but growing seg-
UNCTAD consultants at the time, and had ment of the carbon markets.
recent experience advising the US EPA on
sulphur trading.20 Alice LeBlanc, another key figure in the
UNCTAD initiative, was an employee of
Environmental Defense at the time. She
later joined Sandor at the Chicago Climate
17 Sebastian Oberthür and Hermann Ott, The Kyoto
Protocol: international climate policy for the 21st century, Exchange, before becoming head of the cli-
Springer, New York, 1999, p.188. mate change office of insurance fi rm AIG,
18 OECD, ‘Climate Change: Designing a Tradeable
Permit System’, OECD Observer, Paris, 1992.
19 Daniel Dudek and Alice LeBlanc, ‘Preserving Bra-
21 UNCTAD, ‘Global Greenhouse Emissions Trader’, 3
zil’s Tropical Forests Through Emissions Trading’,
December 1997:
Environmental Defense Fund report, 1991.
20 For short biographies, see ‘Alice LeBlanc’ at http://
22 Frank Joshua:
23 Larry Lohmann, ‘Uncertainty Markets and Carbon
change-at-aig-joins-karbone.html and ‘Daniel J
Markets: Variations on Polanyian Themes’, New
Dudek’ at
Political Economy, forthcoming, 2009, pp.10-11.

22 Critical Currents no. 7

where she devised the fi rm’s carbon market responsibilities’ in tackling climate change,
investment strategy.24 with the industrialised countries (identified
as Annex 1) obliged to shoulder the burden
Two more fundamental trends lie beneath of cleaning up a problem they had been dis-
these connections. First, they reflect the ex- proportionately responsible for creating.
tent to which the notion of ‘confl icts of in-
terest’ has fallen into obsolescence. Second, In 1994 developed countries made volun-
the interconnections hint at broader links tary commitments to reduce their green-
between the rule-setting process for carbon house gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.
markets and the agencies that established the It quickly became clear that there was little
derivatives markets that contributed to the chance that these targets would be adhered
financial crisis of 2008.25 to, however, and negotiations on legally
binding targets began at the fi rst Confer-
ence of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC
From Rio to Kyoto in Berlin in 1995.
Although emissions trading did not di-
rectly find its way into the text of the UN A UNFCCC Annex 1 Expert Group,
Framework Convention on Climate Change guided by the International Energy Agency
(UNFCCC), which was agreed at the Rio (IEA) and OECD, developed proposals for
Earth Summit in 1992, some of the neolib- industrialised nations within the UN pro-
eral assumptions underlying it were reflect- cess and became an important forum for the
ed in both the Convention’s defence of an elaboration of an emissions trading system
‘open economic system’ based on economic within the Kyoto Protocol.27
growth, and in the Summit’s overall recuper-
ation of multinational corporations as posi- As negotiations gathered pace for a follow-
tive agents of ecological change – ‘promoting on agreement to the Convention, the US
sustainable development through trade liber- government began to design a carbon trad-
alisation’, in the words of Agenda 21, another ing proposal, announcing in 1996 that this
of the Declarations agreed at Rio.26 kind of ‘flexibility’ would be ‘the key re-
quirement for accepting binding targets’.28
In addition, the UNFCCC noted that ‘the
largest share of historical and current global In December 1997, the third COP was held
emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in Kyoto, Japan, resulting in a Protocol
in developed countries’. As a result, countries that was to become the major pillar of in-
were felt to have ‘common but differentiated ternational climate policy. Although most

24 Carbon Control News, ‘Insurance Giant AIG

Poised To Issue Climate Change Strategy, ’ 5 April 27 Sebastian Oberthür and Hermann Ott, The Kyoto
2006. Protocol: international climate policy for the 21st century,
igb/show/494 Springer, 1999, p.188 The Annex I Expert Group still
25 For a more detailed analysis on this theme, see exists, and is promoting proposals for new ‘sectoral’
Larry Lohmann, op. cit., supra, note 23. carbon markets in advance of the COP15 global cli-
26 Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger, The Earth mate negotiations at Copenhagen in December 2009.
Brokers: Power, Politics and World Development, 28 Deborah Stowell, Climate Trading: Development of
Routledge, New York, 1995. See Agenda 21, ch.2, Greenhouse Gas Markets, Palgrave, Basingstoke,
section 1: 2005, pp.15-16.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 23

governments insisted that emissions reduc- Joint Implementation
tions should be made domestically by parties
to the agreement, the US delegation, led by Joint Implementation ( JI) is a UN offsetting
Vice President Al Gore, again insisted upon scheme that is similar to the Clean Develop-
‘flexibility’. As journalist George Monbiot ment Mechanism – the key difference being
recalls: that it involves projects hosted in countries
that already have binding targets for the re-
Gore demanded a series of loopholes big duction of their greenhouse gas emissions.
enough to drive a Hummer through. The
rich nations, he said, should be allowed to Most of the projects are in ‘transition
buy their cuts from other countries. When economies’ (Russia, Ukraine and Central
he won, the protocol created an exuberant and Eastern Europe), which tend to be the
global market in fake emissions cuts... He cheapest places to host them, although they
also insisted that rich nations could buy have also emerged in Germany, France and
nominal cuts from poor ones. Entrepre- New Zealand.
neurs in India and China have made bil-
lions by building factories whose primary By September 2009, the UN had registered
purpose is to produce greenhouse gases, so 214 JI projects. These tend to be larger in
that carbon traders in the rich world will scale than CDM projects, with the largest
pay to clean them up.29 proportion (34 per cent) accounted for by
methane gas reduction projects, which are
The most significant of these loopholes was mostly associated with coal mines.
the Clean Development Mechanism, a car-
bon offset mechanism which was included
at a late stage in the Kyoto negotiations.30
The origin of offsets
A second offsetting scheme, called Joint The idea of offsetting did not begin with
Implementation, was also included in the the Kyoto Protocol or with carbon trading.
Protocol. Early in the history of pollution trading,
governments and private fi rms sought ways
of injecting extra, inexpensive pollution
permits into the market, to make meeting
targets even easier than it would be under
simple cap and trade schemes.31 In 1976,
29 George Monbiot. ‘We’ve been suckered again by
the US. So far the Bali deal is worse than Kyoto’, the US EPA promulgated a policy allowing
The Guardian, 17 December 2007: http://www. major new pollution sources to be sited in locations where standards were not being
30 The CDM is not the only hole in the Kyoto Proto- attained as long as they obtained ‘offset’ pol-
col, however. As noted in chapter 1, the ability to lution credits generated from other projects
trade emissions between countries has resulted in that saved or reduced emissions.
a significant quantity of ‘hot air’ emissions in the
system – in particular, following the collapse of the
Soviet Union. Another significant hole is the exclu- 31 Richard A. Liroff, Reforming Air Pollution Regulation:
sion of international aviation and shipping from the The Toil and Trouble of EPA’s Bubble, Conservation
calculations underlying the Kyoto Protocol. Foundation, Washington, 1986, p.100.

24 Critical Currents no. 7

In order to become tradable for emissions Environmental Services and
allowances, offset credits had to be made Land Use Offsets 35
‘equivalent’ to emissions reductions. In the
1970s and 1980s, various US authorities and Costa Rica pioneered the development of
regulated corporations eager to build a pollu- Payments for Environmental Services (PSA
tion offset market tried to commensurate re- or pagos por servicios ambiamental) in the 1990s,
ducing pollution from industrial installations establishing a national plan to compensate
with buying up and scrapping old cars or by landowners to preserve forests and reforest
making material process substitutions else- ‘degraded’ lands, including tree plantations.
where.32 Environmentally, the experiment Landowners were given the opportunity to
failed. For example, entrepreneurs sold cred- sell the carbon storage capacity of forests on
its for destroying cars that in fact had already their territory to the national government,
been abandoned, while states lured industry which then sold these on to voluntary mar-
by providing it with offsets created through kets. The scheme was paid for by a 15 per
substitution processes that were already oc- cent consumer tax on fossil fuels which was
curring for non-environmental reasons.33 later reduced. Carbon trading ‘was expected
to provide significant funding through sales
Under one California smog trading pro- of certified tradable offsets. However, no
gramme, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air significant market for carbon abatement has
Quality Management District issued 5 tonnes emerged. The only sale has been to Norway,
per year of volatile organic compound pollu- which consisted of US$ 2 million in 1997 for
tion credits created by the decommissioning 200 million tonnes of carbon sequestration.’ 36
of B-52 bombers that had been based in the Further funding came through a World Bank
region. The credits were bought by com- loan and a Global Environmental Facility
panies such as Intel, Campbell’s Soup and (GEF) grant. Costa Rica went on to create
Aerojet, who were able to avoid installing Certified Tradable Offsets (CTOs) in 1998 to
pollution control equipment as a result. The ‘grow’ carbon from 500,000 hectares of forest,
credits arguably functioned to increase pol- setting in motion an unfinished debate on the
lution above what it would have been oth- value and legitimacy of ‘carbon sinks’.37
erwise, because the bombers had been slated
for destruction anyway under the terms of
the START treaty. Because companies car- 35 See Larry Lohmann, ‘Democracy or Carbocracy?
ried on polluting, the B-52s in effect contin- Intellectual Corruption and the Future of the
Climate Debate’, The Corner House briefi ng 24,
ued to ‘pollute from the grave’.34 Such credits October 2001.
quickly earned the sobriquet ‘anyway tonnes’, 36 G. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Alexander Pfaff,
meaning that they represented actions that Juan Andres Robalino, and Judson P. Boom-
hower, ‘Costa Rica’s Payment for Environmental
would have happened anyway. Services Program: Intention, Implementation, and
Impact’, Conservation Biology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-
1739.2007.00751, 2007. The notion of ‘carbon
32 Drury et al. op. cit., supra, note 8; Liroff, op. cit., supra, note sequestration’ (or ‘sinks’) was already established
31. as part of the UNFCCC. See ‘United Nations
33 Drury et al., ibid; Liroff, ibid., pp.16, 117. Framework Convention on Climate Change’, 1992,
34 Drury et. al. op. cit., supra, note 8; Liroff, op, cit., article 4.d.
supra, note 31, pp.16, 117. 37

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 25

These early experiences of offsetting in Costa Two-thirds of the LULUCF document
Rica resulted in a push for the inclusion of authors and editors were from the North.
tradable carbon sequestration offsets or car- Many of these authors assumed that there
bon ‘sinks’ in UNFCCC legislation.38 Dur- were wide open ‘degraded’ lands in the
ing the Kyoto negotiating years in the 1990s South (but not in the North) which had no
Northern countries like the US, Canada better function than to be converted into
and Australia had a vested interest in getting plant growth to absorb CO2.42 Beyond the
‘sinks’ included in any climate deal as a means obvious lack of evidence that short-cycle
to make their emissions targets cheaper and tree or plant growth locks in CO2 perma-
easier to attain. The Intergovernmental Panel nently, this displays a shocking lack of anal-
on Climate Change responded to the pres- ysis regarding social mechanisms of defores-
sure with a 377-page review on land use and tation, commons regimes, social resistance,
land use change, released in May 2000 as development systems and local history. Tell-
‘Land Use and Land Use Change and Forest- ingly, there were no Indigenous Peoples’
ry’ (LULUCF).39 Many NGOs and govern- Organisations (IPOs) on the panel.
ments cautioned against using the biosphere
to create an international offsets market.40 Offsetting proposals went global in the
1990s as traders, economists, consultants,
The earlier pressure had paid off for the non-government organisations and UN
Northern elites. The LULUCF report out- technocrats began to set up institutions
lined how credits could be generated from through which offset credits could be mixed
‘sinks’.41 At the contentious COP 6 in The with the permits on which cap and trade
Hague in November 2000, one of the major would be based. Whereas earlier projects
controversies concerned the technical possi- had sought mainly to replace one type of
bility of countries claiming carbon credits for pollution reduction with an ‘emissions sav-
‘additional land and forest activities’ within
their borders as part of their Kyoto Protocol 42 In this context, the term ‘degraded lands’ is a
‘reduction’ commitments. The concept of descendant of the colonial-era administrative term
carbon sequestration was accepted, but the ‘waste’, used to signify what were in fact common
lands under intense and varied use. For the deploy-
ability to trade credits from the environmen-
ment of this term in the British Raj, see, for ex-
tal service of ‘avoided deforestation’ was not. ample, R. A Houghton,et al., ‘Current Land Cover
in the Tropics and its Potential for Sequestering
Carbon’, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, vol. 7, no. 2,
1993, pp.305-320; R. Dixon et al. (eds) Assessment of
38 G. Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, et. al. op cit., supra, Promising Forest Management Practices and Technolo-
note 36. gies for Enhancing the Conservation and Sequestration
39 R. T. Watson, I.,Noble, B. Bolin et al. (eds), Land of Atmospheric Carbon and their Costs at Site Level,
Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (a Special Report Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, 1991;
of the IPCC), Cambridge University Press, Cam- A. Grainger, ‘Modelling the Impact of Alternative
bridge, 2000. Afforestation Strategies to Reduce Carbon Dioxide
40 The German Advisory Council on Global Change, Emissions’, in Proceedings of the Conference on Tropical
‘The accounting of Biological Sinks and Sources Forestry Response Options to Global Climate Change,
under the Kyoto Protocol – A step Forward or 1990; and M. Trexler and C. Haugen, Keeping it
Backwards for Global Environmental Protection?’, Green: Tropical Forestry Opportunities for Mitigating
Bremerhaven, EBGU, 1998, p.39. Climate Change, World Resources Institute, Wash-
41 R. T. Watson et al., op. cit., supra, note 39, p.181. ington, 1995.

26 Critical Currents no. 7

ing’ made elsewhere, these new schemes ex- The G-77 and China grouping of develop-
tended the logic of offsetting to include the ing countries initially contested this inter-
displacement of claimed reductions from pretation, with many countries expressing
one country to another. concern at what they saw as a neocolonialist
measure that would allow developed coun-
The basic economic idea was to find the tries to avoid their domestic and historic
cheapest location to tackle the climate responsibilities to tackle climate change.46
change problem, irrespective of where it had Nevertheless, pressure from Northern
been caused. Larry Summers, the current countries and the openness of a few Central
president of the White House Economic American countries to such schemes led to
Council, infamously elaborated upon this in an agreement at the 1995 Berlin COP to
a 1991 memo sent while he was chief econ- start piloting ‘activities implemented joint-
omist of the World Bank. ‘The economic ly’ between industrialised and developing
logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in countries.
the lowest wage country is impeccable, and
we should face up to it,’ Summers said. ‘Un-
derpopulated countries in Africa are vastly
The Kyoto surprise
underpolluted.’43 The Brazilian government claimed that
these new schemes amounted to ‘a reinter-
In 1992, the World Bank and the govern- pretation of the concept of “Joint Imple-
ment of Norway began to co-fi nance a se- mentation” by developed countries as a
ries of Joint Implementation arrangements means to avoid “the strict fulfi lment of their
involving ‘carbon offset generation’. The targets”’.47 As a parallel proposal, it put for-
Global Environment Facility, which was ward the idea of a Clean Development Fund
initiated by the Bank in 1991 and subse- (CDF) which would penalise developed
quently adopted as the financial mechanism countries that exceeded their targets in or-
for the UNFCCC, also began to research der to finance clean energy in the South for
methodologies for certifying carbon off- climate change mitigation (90 per cent) and
sets.44 These JI proposals elaborated on a adaptation projects (10 per cent).
relatively obscure piece of wording in the
Convention agreed at the Rio Earth Sum- However, at the initiative of the US and
mit, which stated that measures taken by amid internal disagreements within the
developed countries to cut their greenhouse G-77 and China group, this was transformed
gas emissions to 1990 levels could be taken late into the Kyoto negotiations into the
‘individually or jointly’.45 Clean Development Mechanism. The new
scheme laid the groundwork for projects in
43 Patrick Bond, ‘The World Bank in the Time of Chol- developing countries to create credits that
era’, Z Net Commentary, 13 April 2001. http://www. can be purchased and utilised by developed
44 World Bank, The World Bank and the Environment,
Washington, IBRD/World Bank, Washington, 46 Joyeeta Gupta, Our Simmering Planet: What to do
1993, p.118. about global warming? Zed Books, 2001, p.65.
45 United Nations, United Nations Framework Conven- 47 Brazilian position on Activities Implemented
tion on Climate Change, 1992, Article 4.2(b). Jointly (1996-7), cited in Gupta, ibid., p.66.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 27

countries to meet their emission reduc- The European Commission, which has re-
tion obligations. The fund was transformed sponsibility for proposing European Union
into a trading mechanism, fi nes were trans- legislation, fi rst discussed the emissions trad-
formed into prices, and a judicial system was ing scheme as part of its post-Kyoto strategy
transformed into a market. in 1998. Consultations on the scheme began
in March 2000.51
The EU, trying to maintain some legitima-
cy, cautioned that ‘flexibility must never be- While many corporate and corporate-backed
come a backdoor through which rich coun- groups were still pouring millions of dollars
tries can get away by paying other countries into disinformation campaigns to cast doubt
instead of doing their homework’.48 on whether climate change was happening,
a self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ wing of big
However, the US later claimed during ne- business was positioning itself to influence
gotiations in The Hague in 2000 that any the rules of this new trading regime.52
limit on the use of flexible mechanisms –
as the G-77 and China group and the EU In 1999, a number of UK companies formed
were requesting – would lead to unaccept- an ‘Emissions Trading Group’ to develop
ably high domestic costs.49 Later in 2001 the a voluntary scheme as an alternative to car-
Bush administration, shortly after coming bon tax proposals. The point was to develop
into power, confi rmed a unilateral decision non-tax alternative to save industry money.
to abandon its Kyoto targets altogether.50 In Denmark, power companies ran a proto-
type for a small national emissions scheme in
1999, which proved a failure.53 Undeterred,
The origins of the EU Norwegian business adopted a similar scheme
Emissions Trading Scheme while, elsewhere, some companies began to
In response to the US walking away from experiment internally with emissions trading.
Kyoto, the EU strengthened its support for BP and Shell were among the leading actors,
emissions trading and went about designing with BP in particular using its experiences to
an EU-wide scheme that became the EU set the policy agenda for emissions trading –
ETS, now being used as a model for other first in the UK, and then at an EU level.54
trading systems (see chapter 3).

51 Marcel Braun, ‘The evolution of emissions trading

48 Statement by Ritt Bjerregaard after a September in the European Union – The role of policy net-
1998 informal meeting in Japan, quoted in Loren works, knowledge and policy entrepreneurs’, Rup-
Cass, ‘Norm Entrapment and Preference Change: precht Consult, Forschung und Beratung GmbH,
The Evolution of the European Union Position on Cologne, Germany, 2008, p.2.
International Emissions Trading’, Global Environ- 52 On corporate lobbying as a form of climate change
mental Politics, May 2005, Vol. 5, No. 2, p.52. denial, see Larry Lohmann, Carbon Trading: a critical
49 Norman J. Vig and Michael G. Faure, ‘Green Gi- conversation on climate change, privatization and power,
ants? Environmental Policies of the United States Development Dialogue, No. 48, Dag Hammarskjöld
and the European Union’, Massachusetts Institute for Centre, Uppsala, 2006, pp.41-42.
Technology, 2004, p.349. 53 Braun, op.cit., supra, note 51.
50 Vig and Faure, ibid. 54 Ibid.

28 Critical Currents no. 7

Environmental Defense was involved once This corporate influence had a significant
again, this time forming a partnership with impact on how the rules of the EU ETS
BP. Instead of indulging in pure climate were ultimately set – with European indus-
change ‘denial’, BP acted on the assumption try associations successfully lobbying in fa-
that its long-term interests would be better vour of a free handout of credits (or ‘grand-
served by a trading scheme as a cheap policy fathering’) at the outset of the scheme.58 It
alternative to regulation – and one which did also resulted in certain sectors, including the
not impinge too heavily on its core fi nancial chemical industry and aluminium, being
interests. With the aid of Environmental excluded from the scheme’s fi rst phase.59
Defense, and with the vocal endorsement of
BP CEO John Browne, the company set up By October 2003 the European Emissions
an internal trading system for its ‘non-ex- Trading Directive was passed into law, with
tractive emissions’ – that is, emissions other the scheme coming into effect on 1 Janu-
than those resulting from either extracting ary 2005.60 Since then, the EU ETS has be-
oil from the ground or burning that oil.55 come the largest carbon trading scheme in
A pilot scheme began in autumn 1998, with the world.
the full system in operation from 2000. BP’s
goal of a 1 per cent emissions reduction was
easily met, since an over-optimistic calcula-
tion of the growth of BP’s business meant
that allowances were over-allocated.56 A
tighter cap of 10 per cent was made for 2001,
which was achieved largely through reduc-
tions in natural-gas venting and flaring. The
company heralded the scheme as a success –
with the previously flared gas now available
for sale, and generating an additional US$
650 million in revenue.57

55 John Browne has subsequently revised his judgment

of emissions trading. In March 2009, he told The
Observer newspaper: ‘My view has shifted over time.
Pinning all your hopes on the European Union
ETS and carbon trading is wrong.’ See Tim Webb
and Terry Macalister, ‘Carbon trading wrong, says
Lord Browne’, The Observer, 8 March 2009. http://
56 D. Mackenzie, ‘Making Things the Same: Gases,
Emission Rights and the Politics of Carbon Mar- 58 See P. Markussen and G. T. Svendsen, ‘Industry
kets’, February. Available at: lobbying and the political economy of GHG trade
uk/staff /sociology/mackenzie_donald ; accessed 5 in the European Union’ Energy Policy, no. 33, 2005,
June 2008. pp.245–255.
57 D. Victor and J. House, ‘BP’s Emissions Trading 59 Ibid.
Scheme’, Energy Policy, no. 34, 2006, pp.2100-2112. 60 Braun, op. cit., supra, note 51.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 29

3 » When the cap does not fit
– Cap and trade and the failure of the
EU Emissions Trading Scheme

The European Union Emissions Trading The EU ETS has contributed significantly
Scheme (EU ETS) is the world’s largest to a process of shifting responsibility out-
carbon trading scheme, and the longest es- side of Europe’s borders for the historical
tablished cap and trade carbon market.1 It legacy of creating climate change. Cap and
also serves as a model for similar cap and trade presents itself as a system designed to
trade schemes that are proposed in the USA, make it cheaper for corporations to reduce
Australia and other industrialised nations.2 their carbon emissions, the idea being that
For these reasons, it is the main focus of governments give out a limited number of
this chapter, the aim of which is to demys- permits to pollute; the scarcity of such per-
tify claims that emissions trading is work- mits should encourage their price to rise;
ing now or will improve with age. The EU and the resulting additional cost to industry
ETS also has a considerable bearing on how and power producers should then encourage
the global carbon trade works and is shaping them to pollute less. The empirical evidence
up for the decades ahead. For each year of presented here, however, suggests that the
its operation, the EU ETS has continued to incentives created by the scheme work very
enclose and privatise the global atmospheric differently – awarding profits to polluters
commons – awarding property rights to pol- and encouraging continued investment in
luting companies based in the industrialised fossil fuel-based technologies while disad-
nations at the expense of the South. vantaging industry focused on transition
away from fossil fuels. This is not an arbi-
trary product of misapplied rules, we will
1 World Bank Report, ‘State and Trends of the Carbon
Market 2009’, World Bank, Washington DC, 2009. show, but a product of how these markets
2 The exact number was 11,359 in 2008, 213 fewer reinforce existing power relations and hia-
than in 2007 as a result of some smaller installations tuses in economic decision-making.
being withdrawn from the scheme. Norway, Lich-
tenstein and Iceland (which are not EU members)
joined the EU ETS in 2008, but no installations in
Norway yet report as part of the scheme. See Euro-
Shifting the burden
pean Commission (DG Environment), ‘Emissions
trading: EU ETS emissions fall 3% in 2008’, 15 May The basic commodity traded within the EU
2009, ETS – carbon permits known as European
do?reference=IP/09/794&format=HTML&aged=0 Union Allowances (EUAs) – are allocated

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 31

through political intervention. The EU nificant shift in capacity from coal to gas in
ETS covers approximately 11,500 power sta- the early 1990s after most of the country’s
tions, factories and refi neries in 30 countries coal mines were closed, while in the case
which include the 27 EU member states, of Germany, the most significant drop in
plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. emissions came about through the closure of
These account for almost half of the EU’s industry in the former East Germany after
CO2 emissions, covering most of the largest the country’s unification in 1990.4
single, static emissions sources, but exclud-
ing direct emissions from road transport, Moreover, the inclusion of the 12 Central and
aviation, shipping, agriculture and forestry.3 Eastern Europe countries that have joined the
EU since the original Burden Sharing Agree-
The starting point for this allocation pro- ment was made have considerably eased the
cess was an agreement within the EU to commitments required of Western European
ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which set 1990 states under the EU ETS. This bloc of coun-
as the ‘baseline’ against which emissions are tries has considerably overachieved on its
compared. The original 15 EU members, in Kyoto targets (which take 1990 as a baseline
Western Europe, were expected to reduce year) as a result of the economic collapse and
their greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent industrial restructuring that took place after
compared to 1990 levels by 2012. the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. The
EU ETS serves to re-distribute this surplus
At the outset, the expectation for each EU (commonly called ‘hot air’, since it does not
country was re-adjusted according to a Bur- represent a reduction on the basis of pro-
den Sharing Agreement, which allowed some active policy adjustments to tackle climate
countries to continue increasing their emis- change), making it easier for countries in
sions – by up to 27 per cent in the case of Por- Western Europe, which have increased their
tugal – while others were given stricter limits,
most notably the UK and Germany, which are 4 The claims made in UN statistics on carbon emis-
the two largest economies within the EU. sions do not accurately reflect the full impact of a
country’s emissions. Setting aside the considerable
‘outsourcing’ of emissions achieved by production
Burden sharing is usually presented by the elsewhere (e.g. in China for a UK consumer mar-
EU as a redistribution of obligations to help ket), there are numbers of other holes. In 2005, for
example, the UK government reported emissions of
poorer countries grow their GDP, while the
656 million tonnes of CO2 to the UN. However, its
richer states bear the brunt of reduction re- own national environmental accounts showed emis-
quirements. The ‘tough’ obligations on the sions for that year of 733 million tonnes of CO2. The
UK and Germany take advantage of consid- main difference lies in the fact that UN data excludes
aviation and shipping, which have been amongst the
erable reductions that were achieved before fastest growing sources of UK CO2 emissions. See
the start of the EU ETS, however. In the John Vidal, ‘Government figures hide scale of CO2
case of the UK, the power sector saw a sig- emissions, says report’, The Guardian, 17 March 2008.
A secondary factor in the German case has been a
more proactive renewable energy policy, in particu-
3 EU Commission (DG Environment),‘Questions lar through the use of ‘feed in’ tariff s. See European
& Answers on Emissions Trading and National Environment Agency, Greenhouse Gas Emission
Allocation Plans’, 8 March 2005, Trends and Projections 2008, EEA, Copenhagen, 2008;
rapid/ Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner The Wrong Trousers:
5/84&format=HTML&aged=1&language=EN&gu Radically Rethinking Climate Policy, London School
iLanguage=en of Economics, London, 2007, p.16.

32 Critical Currents no. 7

emissions, to make the on-paper ‘reductions’ scheme more coherent, which should make
required of them. it more effective. However, greater consis-
tency is not necessarily a marker of greater
environmental effectiveness.6
Baseline bingo
The overall cap is only the start of the EU Despite the variations, a few trends in how
ETS allocation process. It sets the scale of the emissions allowances are allocated have been
commitments to be made, but says little about clear from the outset. As Jos Debelke, depu-
how that will be achieved in practice. The ty director general of the EU’s Directorate
next, and most significant, step of the process General for Environment, which has overall
is for each country to agree on a National responsibility for administering the scheme,
Allocation Plan (NAP). These Plans allocate puts it, ‘the basic principle has...been to allo-
targets for all of the individual power plants, cate free allowances based on historical emis-
factories and other industrial sites included in sions, with the negative effect of favoring less
the scheme, which add up to an overall ‘cap’ efficient facilities.’7 In other words, the largest
for heavy polluters in each country. allocations have gone to what have histori-
cally been the worst polluters.
The method chosen for allocating emis-
sions varies considerably between countries, A second key trend has been a more stringent
and is currently agreed through a complex allocation of allowances in the power gen-
negotiation among the European Commis- eration sector than for the other industries
sion, the executive branch of the Europe- covered by the scheme. The rationale for this
an Union, and its member governments.5 is that energy companies can pass any cost in-
However, in the third phase of the scheme, curred for the scheme on to their consumers,
which runs from 2013 to 2020, this will whereas other industries may face increased
be replaced by an overall EU-wide alloca- international competition from outside the
tion. Proponents argue that this makes the EU if it imposes greater costs upon them.
This cost ‘pass-through,’ as we shall see, has
5 The Commission applies the rules governing the EU actually proven to be highly profitable for the
ETS, but these rules themselves are agreed through a power companies. The flip side of the coin is
legislative process involving the European Parlia-
ment and Council (the latter being the representative
that the allocations for other industries have
of national governments within the EU system). been far more lax – awarding them more
Once these are agreed, they need to be passed into permits than they need to cover their ac-
European legislation. The Burden Sharing Agree-
tual emissions, and the ability to profit from
ment that saw the EU agree, collectively, to ratify
the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 2002. The Direc- selling this surplus. This is symptomatic of a
tive that established the EU ETS was agreed in 2003.
A further Linking Directive was passed in 2004.
This was subsequently revised, with a new Directive 6 See Belen Balanya Ann,Doherty,, Olivier Hoede-
agreed in December 2008 as part of a broader EU mann, Adam Ma’anit and Erik Wesselius, Europe
Climate and Energy Package. See European Union, INC: Regional and Global Restructuring and the Rise of
‘Directive of the European Parliament and of the Corporate Power, Pluto Press, London, 2004.
Council amending Directive 2003/87/EC so as to 7 Jos Debelke, ‘Written statement to Hearing by the
improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission Senate Committee on Finance on “Auctioning
allowance trading scheme of the Community’, 26 under Cap and Trade: Design, Participation and
March 2009, Distribution of Revenues”’, 7 May 2009, p.6.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 33

third key trend – an overall surplus of permits tions) and the actual (verified) emissions for
within the scheme, exacerbated by the ability the fi rst phase of the EU ETS.11
to use large numbers of carbon offsets, which
has further inflated its ‘cap’ on emissions. Overallocation in EU Emissions Trading phase 1
2005 2006 2007 Total
Allocation 2096.4 2071.8 2153.1 6333
Throwing their caps over the mills Verified emissions 2014 2035.6 2164.7 6121.9
There is clear evidence in the fi rst phase of Over allocation 82.4 36.1 11.6 130.1
the EU ETS that too many emissions per- % Over allocation 4.1 1.8 0.5 2.1
mits were handed out across the five sec- Source: EU Community Independent Transaction Log. Emis-
tors covered by the scheme: power and heat sions figures in 0000s MtCO2 e
generation, oil refi neries, metals, pulp and
paper, and energy-intensive industry (in- The table clearly shows that the EU ETS
cluding cement and lime sectors). consistently allocated more permits to pol-
lute than the actual level of pollution taking
When the fi rst emissions data for the scheme place in its fi rst phase. At the end of phase
was released in April 2006, it showed an 1, emitters had been permitted to emit 130
overallocation of 4 per cent.8 The price of million tonnes more CO2 than they actually
carbon permits collapsed as a result and nev- did, a surplus of 2.1 per cent.
er recovered. From a peak of around €30,
the price slid below €10 in April 2006, and The EU’s own explanation of the fi rst phase
below €1 in the spring of 2007.9 of the scheme seeks to present failure as suc-
cess, claiming: ‘The first trading period suc-
As the UK Parliament’s Environmental Au- cessfully established the free trading of emis-
dit Committee reported in October 2007: sion allowances across the EU, put in place
‘[M]ost observers believe that too many al- the necessary infrastructure and developed a
lowances to emit carbon have been allocated dynamic carbon market.’12 But even the EU
in phase 1, meaning there is overall little or acknowledges, understatedly, the failure to
no incentive for fi rms to cut back on their reduce emissions, which it explains away in
emissions, and thus that the entirety of this the following terms:
phase is likely to be ineffective in driving
down emissions.’10 The environmental benefit of the first
Nor was it just the first year of the scheme phase may be limited due to excessive al-
that was overallocated. The following table location of allowances in some Member
uses EU data to compare the caps (alloca- States and some sectors, due mainly to a

8 European Environment Agency, Application of the 11 Community Independent Transactions Log, http://
Emissions Trading Directive by EU Member States – report-
ing year 2008, EEA, Copenhagen, January 2009, p.14. en.htm. Each number is calculated on the basis of the
9 Ibid. exact figure, but the table displays rounded figures.
10 Environmental Audit Committee, ‘Eighth Report: 12 EU Commission (DG Environment), ‘Questions
Impacts of Phase I on UK emissions’, 16 October and Answers on the revised EU Emissions Trading
2007, System’, 18 December 2008,

34 Critical Currents no. 7

reliance on emission projections before shows how this interaction played out – with
verified emissions data became available companies affected by the scheme claiming
under the EU ETS. When the publication that it would adversely affect their ‘competi-
of verified emissions data for 2005 high- tiveness’ – an argument that had a receptive
lighted this ‘overallocation’, the market audience at the ministries responsible for al-
reacted as would be expected by lowering locating permits.16
the market price of allowances.13

Was the initial overallocation in the EU

What’s wrong with banking?
ETS merely a technical hiccup resulting Various advocates of emissions trading have
from a lack of available data? A comparison claimed that the price volatility within the
with other emissions trading schemes casts fi rst phase of the EU ETS was exacerbat-
serious doubt on this view, with the experi- ed by the fact that the credits could not be
ence of the United States Acid Rain Pro- banked for use in the second phase.17 True,
gram, the Los Angeles Region Clean Air EUAs’ limited shelf life reduced their value,
Market (RECLAIM), the Chicago Emis- yet had banking been allowed in the fi rst
sions Reduction Market System (ERMS) phase of the EU ETS, the carrying over
and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative of an excess 211 million allowances would
all showing a similar level of generosity to have kept bogus ‘reductions’ in the system
polluters at the outset.14 for years to come. Despite this obvious
drawback, the EU has lifted the restrictions
A more plausible explanation of the gener- on banking in subsequent phases of the EU
ous allocation of permits to polluters over ETS. The proposed Waxman-Markey cap
and above their actual levels of pollution can and trade scheme in the US also allows the
be found when the corporate influence on banking of credits.18
the allocation process is factored in. As the
economist John Kay, writing in the Finan- 16 European Union, ‘Directive 2003/87/EC of the
cial Times, put it, ‘when a market is created European Parliament and of the Council of 13
through political action rather than emerg- October 2003 establishing a scheme for green-
house gas emission allowance trading within
ing spontaneously from the needs of buyers the Community and amending Council Direc-
and sellers, business will seek to influence tive 96/61/EC’, October 2003, article 7, http://
market design for commercial advantage’.15
do?uri=CELEX:32003L0087:EN:NOT. Article 7
The record of the fi rst phase of the EU ETS emphasises the avoidance of ‘distortions in com-
petition’ as a key criterion to be considered when
deciding upon how permits should be allocated.
13 Ibid. 17 A. Denny Ellerman and Paul L. Joskow, The Euro-
14 Lesley McAllister, ‘The Overallocation Problem pean Union’s Emissions Trading System in Perspective,
in Cap-and-Trade: Moving Toward Stringency’, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Cam-
Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, San Diego bridge MA, May 2008, p.41.
Legal Studies Paper No. 08-076, 2008, http://ssrn. 18 American Clean Energy and Security Act, Washington,
com/abstract=1276405; Michael Grubb, ‘Reinforc- 16 May 2009, p.431,
ing carbon markets under uncertainty’, Climate gov/Press_111/20090515/hr2454.pdf. Unlimited
Strategies, Cambridge, 4 March 2009, p.1. banking is established as a basic principle, although
15 John Kay, ‘Why the key to carbon trading is to the legislation leaves open the possibility that the
keep it simple’, Financial Times, 9 May 2006, http:// regulator of the scheme can set limits to establish when a credit ‘expires.’

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 35

The capacity to bank credits is also a prob- Windfall profits
lem in relation to the Kyoto Protocol.
Through a combination of ‘hot air’ credits A further major criticism levelled at the first
– post-1990 reductions from Ukraine, Rus- phase of the EU ETS is that it generated huge
sia, Central and Eastern Europe – and the ‘windfall profits’ for power producers, helping
US non-ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, them to make large unearned financial gains
there is likely to be a significant surplus of as a result of flaws in the rules rather than any
Assigned Amount Units (AAUs, Kyoto re- proactive measures taken to reduce emissions
duction units) by 2012. The banking of such through structural changes. Exact figures for
credits would represent a serious loophole the whole scheme are difficult to ascertain,
in any post-2012 global climate agreement, since they would require a far higher degree
allowing historical reductions as a result of of transparency in financial reporting by en-
economic decline and restructuring in the ergy companies than is currently the case,
former Soviet bloc to be counted as equiva- but various estimates have been made.21
lent to future domestic actions by the rich,
industrialised nations.19 An inquiry by the UK Parliament’s Envi-
ronmental Audit Committee found that ‘[it
The widespread use of banking clearly sig- is widely accepted that UK power generators
nals the ‘diametrically opposed motivations’ are likely to make substantial windfall prof-
of carbon trading, as Jutta Kill of the For- its from the EU ETS amounting to £500
est and European Union Resource Network million a year or more’.22 The German envi-
(FERN) explains: ‘The principles of trading ronment minister cited figures from his own
require good liquidity and thus advocate for ministry which showed that the four big-
banking, but the principle of reducing emis- gest power producers in his country – Eon,
sions would advocate against banking as it RWE, Vattenfall and EnBW – would reap
delays the transition [away from fossil fuels]. profits of between €6 billion and €8 billion
The fact that banking is expanding is a sign from the fi rst phase of the scheme.23 Even
that carbon trading is taking on a life of its Jos Debelke, deputy director general of the
own, decoupled from...the climate objective EU’s Directorate General for Environment,
used as the justification for setting it up.’20 acknowledges that ‘due to its ability to pass
on full costs, including the opportunity
costs of allowances that were received for
free, there were significant ‘windfall profits’
to the power sector.’24

21 J. Sijm, K. Neuhoff and Y. Chen, ‘CO2 cost pass-

through and windfall profits in the power sector’,
Climate Policy, vol. 6, no. 1, 2006, pp.49-72. Empirical
19 EU Commission (DG Environment), ‘Towards
studies on Germany and The Netherlands show oppor-
a comprehensive climate change agreement in
tunity cost pass-through rates vary between 60 per cent
Copenhagen – Extensive background information
and 100 per cent for the wholesale electricity market.
and analysis, Part 2’, Brussels, January 2009, p.23.
22 UK Department for Food, Environment and Rural
Russia is currently 29 per cent above its Kyoto Pro-
Affairs, ‘Government Response to the Environmental
tocol target, while Ukraine was 55 per cent over its
Audit Committee Fourth Report of Session 2004-5’,
target, according to 2005 data (both countries had a
0 per cent reduction target on 1990 levels).
23 Kevin Smith, ‘Profiting From Pollution: the G8 and
20 Personal communication, 14 September 2009.
climate change’, Red Pepper, June 2007.
24 Jos Debelke, op. cit., supra, note 7.

36 Critical Currents no. 7

At fi rst glance, this seems somewhat con- profits at the expense of their customers –
tradictory and cryptic. How can polluters including other sectors in the EU ETS’.26
profit when the value of the credits in the
scheme fell to almost nothing? And what are It may be assumed that this ‘pass-through’
‘opportunity costs’ anyway? profiteering would at least have one posi-
tive environmental side effect – increasing
The answer lies in how energy companies the electricity prices for industrial users, and
account for the costs of the EU ETS. The so helping to limit their output. This has
costs that are indirectly passed on to consum- not tended to be the result, however. For
ers through an increase in wholesale energy the most part, costs are passed through to
prices do not reflect what carbon credits actu- households and small consumers, whilst the
ally cost, but rather what the companies as- bargaining power of the larger industrial us-
sume they could cost. This leaves considerable ers ensures that they are relatively insulated.
scope for overestimates: first, by assuming a These industries are also generously com-
larger than necessary need to buy permits or pensated in other ways by the EU ETS, as
credits; second, by assuming that there will the Carbon Trust points out: ‘[T]he tenden-
be a high carbon price; and third, by assum- cy to give energy intensive sectors almost
ing the costs of replacing EUAs, irrespective everything they project they need, in an at-
of their actual use of offset credits which have tempt to compensate for this [pass-through
consistently commanded lower prices. Yet if cost], weakens the incentive effect.’ 27
these assumptions turn out to be over-gen-
erous, the surplus is more often pocketed as
profit than returned to the consumer.
Playing at the margins
Despite all of these fundamental failings, it
The ‘opportunity cost’ of the EU ETS re- has nevertheless been claimed that the EU
fers to an economic calculation that is made ETS did result in a few emissions reductions.
once carbon has been registered as an asset This argument is based on data showing that
on the company’s books. Irrespective of the the power sector as a whole needed to pur-
fact that most carbon permits were given out chase some credits, and that a few countries,
for free, the power companies treat them as most notably the UK, had a deficit of permits
having monetary worth.25 They then seek across the whole 2005-2007 period.28 But it is
to maximise the value of these permits – so actually quite misleading to aggregate the re-
while the cost passed on to consumers ap- sults in this way, because the overall shortfall
proximates to the cost of reducing emissions of permits is explained away by a handful of
in accordance with a cap, what the com- large coal-fired power stations which needed
pany actually does is whatever it considers to buy additional pollution rights, while the
to be cheapest – which may be to buy EU vast majority of individual installations had a
ETS permits from other installations in the surplus of permits.
scheme, or buy offset credits instead. By this
means, power companies ‘generate large net 26 The Carbon Trust, EU ETS Phase II allocation:
implications and lessons, London, May 2007, p.12.
25 A. Denny Ellerman and Paul L. Joskow, op.cit., su- 27 Ibid.
pra, note 17, p.16. Windfall profits in part arise from 28 Frank Convery, Christian De Perthuis and A. Denny
the difference between an ‘opportunity’ cost (the Ellerman, ‘The European Carbon Market in Action:
price permits might be sold for) and an ‘acquisition’ lessons from the fi rst trading period’, MIT Working
cost (what the company paid for the permits, which Paper, March 2008, pp.30-32.
is typically zero at present). change/www/ECM_InterimRpt_March08.pdf

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 37

Proponents of the EU ETS argue that flex- or purchase extra allowances. They univer-
ibility in transfers of permits across national sally chose the latter route. For example,
boundaries within the EU and between dif- ‘the surrender data for one of the coal-fired
ferent sectors is the fundamental strength of power plants in the UK that was most short
the scheme, providing the ‘flexibility’ for re- of allowances show that it acquired permits
ductions to be achieved at the lowest cost. In from long installations in 19 of the 24 other
practice, though, this has offered an ‘escape EU Member States’.30
hatch’ for companies in the wealthier nations
to avoid making any reductions by buying The Lithuanian surplus also conceals an in-
permits that are overallocated elsewhere. structive story. The EU demanded the clo-
sure of Ignalina, a nuclear power plant with
The effect was relatively understated in a similar design to Chernobyl, for safety
the fi rst phase of the EU ETS, because the reasons. Lithuania responded by claiming
whole scheme was overallocated, but there that the replacement power generation ca-
was still a significant proportion of cross- pacity would come from dirty coal plants
border trade. The UK was the largest im- instead, and that it should therefore gain
porter, with a net import of 17 per cent of extra allowances.31 By overstating the CO2
its EUA permits, while Lithuania was a net emissions increases that would result from
exporter of 33 per cent of its surplus to other the closure of Ignalina, Lithuania gained a
countries.29 large surplus of permits, which were then
sold on and treated as ‘emissions reductions’
In the UK case, the ‘shortfall’ of permits in the UK and other countries.32
amounted to a few of the largest and dirtiest
power stations needing to reduce emissions This problem was compounded by a more
general overallocation, as the Lithuanian
National Audit Office concluded: ‘In Lithu-
29 R. Trotignon and A. Denny Ellerman, ‘Com- ania only 3 installations out of 93 emitted
pliance Behavior in the EU-ETS: Cross Border
Trading, Banking and Borrowing’, 2008, p.9, web. more CO2 than they received allowances in 2005. Such a situation formed an attitude of
pers/2008-012.pdf . The UK Parliament’s Environ- Lithuanian enterprises towards the emissions
mental Audit Committee has pointed out clearly
the misleading reporting that follows from this: ‘A
trading scheme as some kind of European
Defra [Department for Environmernt, Food and Union Assistance, not as an obligation.’33
Rural Aff airs] press release from January 2007, for
instance, reported that actual emissions for the
whole of the UK were 554.2 MtCO2 in 2005, some 30 Convery et al., op. cit., supra, note 28, p.12.
6.4 per cent down on 1990 levels; but that “Adjusted 31 Ignalina operates two units, one of which was
for emissions trading, UK CO2 emissions in 2005 scheduled for closure between 2005 and 2007, and a
were about 527 million tonnes – approximately second scheduled for closure by the end of 2009.
11 per cent lower than 1990 levels.” To reflect the 32 Lithuania saw the opportunity for an even larger
impacts of the EU ETS in this case, then, the Gov- loophole in the second phase of the scheme, arguing
ernment has subtracted 27 MtCO2 from the actual that a special ‘reserve’ be allocated for this closure.
figures for emissions from the UK for that year. The EU Commission challenged this aspect of the
Our fi rst concern here is that buying emissions Lithuanian NAP. In response, Lithuania has taken
credits from other countries does not necessarily the EU Commission to the European Court.
translate into cutting emissions – whether in those 33 National Audit Office of the Republic of Lithuania,
countries, or in fact anywhere.’ See Environmental ‘Evaluation of the allocation and trading scheme
Audit Committee, op. cit., supra, note 10. of greenhouse gas emissions allowances’, October
2007, p.11.

38 Critical Currents no. 7

Phase 2: surviving the crash test emissions, making it hard to overstate levels
again. But the underlying susceptibility to
The most common way to insulate optimis- industry lobbying remains backed up by the
tic assumptions about emissions trading from ‘national interest’ that EU governments per-
the dismal failure that was the first phase of ceive in setting their caps as low as possible.
the EU ETS is to present it as simply a ‘trial’
or a ‘learning by doing’ phase, with subse- Most EU countries continued to allocate al-
quent adjustments assuring that its limita- lowances based on historic emissions, dis-
tions will not be repeated.34 Supporters of the proportionately rewarding heavy polluters,
scheme claim that caps are now far tighter while even larger profits are projected from
– although, as we will show, this claim is dis- the ‘pass-through’ of costs in the power sec-
ingenuous because the volume of offset cred- tor than in the fi rst phase.35 Research by
its that can be traded within the scheme is market analysts Point Carbon and WWF,
so great that it actually requires no domestic for example, calculated that the likely
emissions reductions to take place. ‘windfall’ profits made by power compa-
nies in phase 2 could be between €23 billion
Stress is laid on the fact that a market was es- and €71 billion.36 They also found that these
tablished, while brushing over the awkward profits tend to be concentrated in ‘countries
fact that it failed to reduce any emissions. with emissions intensive (coal) plants setting
But if you run a crash test and the vehicle the price the majority of the time’, because
collapses in a heap, it is generally unwise this implies an assumption that the ‘nor-
to declare this a success and try to drive a mal’ state of affairs is to pollute a lot, and
larger vehicle faster the next time out. This so sets a very loose standard against which
is however precisely what is happening with all other activity is judged. As a result, the
the second phase of the EU ETS. Running scheme encourages a continued reliance on
from 2008 to 2012, the scheme involves five coal in precisely the countries where proac-
new countries, and some additional sectors tive structural changes in energy production
– including glass, mineral wool, integrated
steelworks and offshore oil and gas flaring.
35 Karsten Neuhoff, Markus Åhman, Regina Betz,
France, The Netherlands and Norway have
Johanna Cludius, Federico Ferrario, Kristina
also included nitrous oxide (N2O), a green- Holmgren, Gabriella Pal, Michael Grubb, Felix
house gas not considered in the first phase of Matthes, Karoline Rogge, Misato Sato, Joachim
the ETS, in their allocation plans. Schleich, Andreas Tuerk, Claudia Kettner, Neil
Walker, ‘Implications of announced phase II
national allocation plans for the EU ETS’, Climate
Policy, no. 6, 2006, pp.411-422.
Same trick, different phase 36 Point Carbon, WWF, EU ETS Phase II – The
potential and scale of windfall profits in the power sector,
It is true that some of the early tricks to March 2008, http://assets
help polluters avoid their obligations can- point_carbon_wwf_windfall_profits_mar08_fi-
not be repeated. Better data now exists on nal_report_1.pdf. A further report by Ofgem, the
UK government regulator, suggested that UK
power companies alone would gain GBP 9 billion
34 A. Denny Ellerman and Paul L. Joskow, op.cit., in windfall profits from the scheme; see National
supra, note 17; and Commission Draft Directive Jan Audit Office, European Union Emissions Trading
2008. Scheme, NAO, London, March 2009, p.47.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 39

should be made most rapidly to avert dan- The UK, meanwhile, chose to define ‘new
gerous climate change.37 Far from setting a entrants’ to include ‘installation modifica-
carbon price that makes coal uncompetitive, tions to enhance the recovery of offshore oil
then, the EU ETS is supporting a continued and gas reserves’.41 One of the largest ‘new’
reliance upon it as a power source. entrants to date is the Fawley Power Sta-
tion, which was allocated 3,340,309 permits
in 2008 for the second phase of the scheme.42
New entrants The station, which opened in the 1960s,
New Entrant Reserves (NERs) within the runs on heavy fuel oil – and verified emis-
EU ETS are supposed to ensure that instal- sions data show that it has received a massive
lations entering the scheme for the first time overallocation.43
are not disproportionately affected by it.
However, the allocations for new entrants
actually allow for significant growth in emis-
sions and expansions in fossil fuel extraction.
Carbon crunch
A study by the UK Carbon Trust found that The fundamental problem of ‘overalloca-
the NERs of The Netherlands, Belgium and tion’ remains, and has been exacerbated by
France in the second phase of the EU ETS the fi nancial crisis. In May 2009, the EU
would allow them to expand their emissions reported that emissions for sectors covered
beyond their Kyoto Protocol targets.38 by the scheme were ‘3.06 per cent low-
er than the 2007 level’, claiming that this
The allocation of free allowances to new en- was ‘partly due to businesses taking mea-
trants offers a subsidy to polluters that cleaner sures to cut their emissions in response to
energy sources cannot access. The rules set the strong carbon price that prevailed until
out in some NAPs exacerbate this problem
– most notably, in Germany, which offers
‘technology-specific’ allowances that give 41 UK Department for Business, Enterprise and Reg-
new coal power stations about twice as many ulatory Reform (BERR) ‘New Entrant Reserve
as gas, and further adds a ‘load factor’ correc- (NER) for Phase 1 of the EU ETS (2005- 2007) –
Q&A’, les/fi le27005.pdf, p.1.
tion, meaning that the most polluting plants
42 See UK Environment Agency, EU Emissions Trading
(lignite) are granted an additional 10 per cent Scheme: Summary Report on Applications to the New
more allowances than less greenhouse gas in- Entrant Reserve for Phase II of the Scheme (2008 – 2012),
tensive means of fossil fuel based energy pro- 3 August 2009.
duction.39 The UK Carbon Trust has warned:
‘This implicit subsidy creates perverse incen- Phase_II_NER_Report.pdf+fawley+Summary+
tives to construct new, high emitting facili- Report+on+Applications+to+the+New+Entrant+
ties that would last for decades.’40 +2012)&hl=en&gl=uk
43 The EU’s official ETS data source, the Community
Independent Transaction Log lists an allocation of
37 Ibid., p.2. 706,633 for 2008, compared to verified emisisons
38 The Carbon Trust, ‘EU ETS hits crunch time’, 7 of 199,913 – see European Commission, ‘2008
November 2006, Compliance Data (extract from CITL 12/06/2009
News/presscentre/2006/071106_euets.htm incl. VE for Bulgaria)’,
39 The Carbon Trust, op. cit., supra note 26, p.14. ronment/climat/emission/pdf/vesu2008public.xls
40 Ibid., p.3.

40 Critical Currents no. 7

the economic downturn started’.44 A closer Offsetting as overallocation
examination of the numbers shows this to
be disingenuous. The EU’s figures show an The economic circumstances surrounding
overall reduction in emissions of around 50 the price collapse in early 2009 should not
million tonnes, but these figures were in- distract from the more fundamental prob-
flated by over 80 million tonnes of CDM lems of overallocation that remain. As the
(and a few JI) credits. In other words, more UK’s National Audit Office found, ‘The
than the entire claimed ‘reduction’ was cov- maximum level of allowable emissions with-
ered by carbon offsets generated by projects in the EU is higher than the cap’ once offset
outside of Europe. credits are taken into account.46 According
to Michael Wara of Stanford University,
The repeated failure of the scheme was ex- ‘European-based polluters are likely to buy
acerbated by the economic downturn. A so many permits from carbon-reduction
price collapse in early 2009 was triggered projects based outside the trade bloc that in-
by the expectation that the number of per- dustries will have emitted roughly 1 percent
mits would again exceed the need to reduce more in 2008 than they did in 1990.’47
emissions. EUA prices peaked at €31 in the
summer of 2008, then crashed to €8 in Feb- As we will see in more detail in chapter 4,
ruary 2009 before recovering slightly (to the claimed reductions achieved by these
around €14 in September 2009). offsets are routinely based on unprovable
hypothetical scenarios and take little ac-
What happened, in essence, was that allo- count of the negative social or environ-
cations for the second phase of the scheme mental impacts of the development model
were made on the assumption that Euro- within which they are embedded.
pean economies would keep growing. The
recession has reduced output and power Once again, the problem starts with the al-
consumption, leaving companies with a location of permits themselves. The UK’s
surplus of permits. Since these were mainly National Audit Office calculates that ‘in re-
given out for free, the net effect is directly lation to 2005 verified emissions, the maxi-
opposite to the scheme’s intention: polluting mum use of project credits in phase 2 as set
industries are offered a lifeline in the form out in approved National Allocation Plans
of the option of cashing in their unwanted would result in an increase in emissions of
permits, while the supposed ‘price signal’ seven per cent’.48
that is meant to change their polluting ways
has been neutered.45 46 UK National Audit Office, op. cit., supra, note 36,
p.19. Other policy measures can also infl ate the cap
for EU ETS sectors. For example, The Netherlands
44 EU Commission (DG Environment), ‘Emissions
argued that it would meet a significant proportion
trading: EU ETS emissions fall 3 % in 2008’, 18
of its reductions by increasing the proportion of
May 2009,
biofuels used in road transport.
47 James Kanter, ‘Do Carbon Off sets Cause Emis-
sions to Rise?’, New York Times, 8 May 2009, http://
45 The option to ‘bank’ permits means that some
traders will see an advantage in buying at the
bon-off sets -cause-emissions-to-rise/#more-8281
current low prices, even if there are relatively few
48 UK National Audit Office, op. cit., supra, note 36, p.19.
companies who need to buy to meet the present
requirements of the cap.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 41

Officially, EU rules state that each country more reductions to be imported than the
should demonstrate that its plans to purchase level of the cap itself.51 Having drawn this
CDM or JI credits is consistent with the prin- conclusion, the EU nevertheless concluded
ciple that the majority is ‘supplemental to do- that ‘the general importance of promoting
mestic action’ rather than simply replacing it the international carbon market’ was more
outright. They also state that a high govern- important than the environmental integrity
ment purchase of CDM and JI credits should of the scheme, and granted Dutch com-
be taken into account when establishing the panies the right to purchase further offset
rules for individual installations within the credits (up to a limit of 10 per cent of their
country. However, these criteria were rou- emissions) anyway.52
tinely flouted by both EU governments and
the EU itself in agreeing National Allocation As a result, the Dutch government has
Plans for phase 2 of the scheme. achieved a ‘reduction target’ that allows emis-
sions within The Netherlands to continue
Take the example of The Netherlands, increasing. This was achieved in three stages.
which is one of the most active government First, the Dutch government has planned to
purchasers of CDM credits within the EU.49 cover the whole of its emissions reduction
In its NAP for 2008-2012, The Netherlands commitment by purchasing offset credits.
stated its intention to purchase 20 million Second, it then allows Dutch-based compa-
tonnes of offset credits every year towards its nies to buy offset credits too. Third, the limit
reduction target.50 This would be equivalent for offset purchases by these companies is 10
to outsourcing all of its emissions reductions per cent, but the Dutch reduction commit-
commitments during that period. ment for the 2008-2012 period is only 6 per
cent.53 The Dutch case is by no means an iso-
Further guidance on NAPs states that the lated example, and shows how the ‘caps’ in
level of government purchases of Kyoto phase 2 remain so loose that emissions within
credits should be taken into account when Europe could continue to increase. Given the
setting the rules governing individual instal- circumstances of the economic downturn, it
lations. In its response to the Dutch NAP, also allows for the possibility that a surplus of
the EU calculated that The Netherlands had permits and credits that enter the scheme in
reached the maximum level allowed, and phase 2 could be ‘banked’ to ensure that the
that were Dutch-based companies allowed EU’s post-2012 targets far easier to attain.
to buy further offsets this would allow for
51 European Commission (DG Environment), ‘Com-
49 There is a notable confl ict of interest here, as the mission Decision of 16 January 2007 concerning the
head of CDM purchasing at the Dutch Ministry of national allocation plan for the allocation of greenhouse
Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment gas emission allowances notified by The Netherlands
(VROM), Lex De Jonge, is also the head of the in accordance with Directive 2003/87/EC of the Euro-
CDM Executive Board which is responsible for pean Parliament and of the Council’, p.15.
issuing credits. 52 Ibid.
50 The Netherlands’ Ministry for Economic Affairs 53 The ‘10 per cent threshold’ specifies the volume of
and Ministry for Housing, Spatial Planning and emissions that can be exchanged for off sets. While
the Environment (VROM), ‘Netherlands national figures vary greatly per installation, this is higher
allocation plan for greenhouse gas allowances 2008- than the average 6 per cent reduction required
2012’, p.10. across The Netherlands.

42 Critical Currents no. 7

All shall have prizes a subsidy stream for highly polluting industry.
The example of ArcelorMittal, the world’s
Underlying the overall surplus of permits, largest steelmaker and the holder of the great-
there remain significant differences between est surplus of EU ETS permits, is instructive.
sectors regarding the generosity of alloca- The EU’s own data on emissions showed that
tions. The UK National Allocation Plan ArcelorMittal’s verified emissions increased
provides a clear example, explaining that ‘[t] by 6.7 per cent in 2006 and by 15.5 per cent
he reduction in allowances against business in 2007, with a downward trend of -8.4 per
as usual will be borne entirely by the Large cent in 2008 due to the economic crisis. Yet
Electricity Producers...[since] this sector is whether its emissions increased or decreased,
relatively insulated from international com- the fact that it was awarded massively more
petition and can pass on the cost of carbon permits than it would have needed even to
to consumers’.54 A similar pattern of alloca- begin reducing emissions remained a con-
tion can be observed across all 27 EU states. stant: a 36.9 per cent overallocation in 2005,
The fl ip side of this is that every other sector 26.9 per cent in 2006, 25 per cent in 2007 and
gets a virtually free ride. 31.7 per cent in 2008.56

It makes more sense, then, to view the EU The main economic benefit here is more
ETS as two parallel schemes: one that en- straightforwardly linked to the price at
courages the power sector to buy extra al- which EUAs sell, since ArcelorMittal has
lowances – which, as we have seen, passes no use for this excess of permits to abate its
the notional cost on to consumers to gener- own emissions and is unlikely to do so at
ate large profits for the energy companies any point soon. Corporate Europe Obser-
– and another that awards a large surplus of vatory analysed this data, relating the sur-
free permits to heavy industry, requiring no pluses to actual EUA prices, and found that
emissions reductions but allowing them to the company is likely to have made over €2
sell permits back to the power sector to gen- billion in profits from the EU ETS between
erate large profits.55 2005 and 2008, with over €500 million of
this achieved in 2008 alone – yet has needed
With the majority of permits still allocated to make no proactive changes to its emis-
for free, the EU ETS is effectively providing sions to do so.57

54 UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural The contrast between ArcelorMittal’s allo-
Aff airs (DEFRA), EU Emissions Trading Scheme, cation and its emissions in 2009 is certain to
Approved Phase II National Allocation Plan 2008-2012
p.11. The production of the UK’s NAP was the be even more stark, with the company mak-
responsibility of DEFRA in consultation with the ing temporary plant closures across much of
Department of Trade and Industry. Europe. Such closures, which hurt the com-
55 In 2008, the power sector was the major purchaser
of credits, while steel, iron ore, pig iron, paper, pany’s workers to protect its shareholders,
cement, glass and ceramic products remained con-
siderably overallocated – by 28 per cent in the case 56 D. Leloup, ‘Analysis of ArcelorMittal EU ETS
of ceramics, pig iron and steel. European Environ- Data’, 16 May 2009,
ment Agency, ‘European Union Emissions Trading com/ccc?key=pl52s4qQrteOKP6f Vq6vYFg
Scheme (EU ETS) data viewer’, 57 Corporate Europe Observatory, ‘Steel idol with green feet of clay: ArcelorMittal, biggest profiteer
aspx?pivotid=473 of the EU Emission Trading Scheme’, May 2009.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 43

currently count within the EU ETS as a gestion that this should force greater reduc-
‘mitigation’ strategy, meaning that Arcelor- tions as well as pushing carbon prices up to
Mittal’s receives exactly the same number a level that would induce a shift towards
of permits for 2009 as it would if its plants low carbon technologies. Yet a closer look
were operating to full capacity. Yet, clearly, at how the rules are being set shows that sig-
a programme of temporary cutbacks does nificant loopholes remain with a number of
nothing to restructure the company’s output new ones introduced for the fi rst time. The
so that it might contribute to a cleaner, less banking of surplus credits from the second
fossil fuel-dependent future. phase; rule-waivers for sectors exposed to
international competition (or ‘carbon leak-
Here, again, a large part of the explanation age’ in the jargon); the ability to trade offset
lies with the fundamental susceptibility of credits widely in non-ETS sectors as part
carbon trading to the influence of corporate of a new Effort Sharing agreement; the in-
lobbyists. Strong steel lobbies had tilted the clusion of a series of new sectors, including
balance of permit allocations, persuading aviation; the broadening of the scheme to
governments to award more to steel compa- include the full range of greenhouse gases;
nies and less to utilities, an EU official told and the increasing complexity of the fi nan-
Reuters press agency.58 One industry analyst cial instruments, futures markets and deriv-
was more blunt in their assessment: ‘The atives through which carbon is traded – all
steel sector has received more permits than point towards the continued existence of
it should have... Steelmakers are using the massive holes in the cap.
EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS)
as a cash cow.’59
The third phase of the EU ETS is in signifi-
Phase 3: more of the same? cant trouble before it has even begun. The
In December 2008, the EU agreed signifi- ability to bank permits left unused in phase
cant changes to the EU ETS for the third 2 without limits means that phase 3 could
phase of the scheme, which runs from 2013 start with a significant surplus. Projections
to 2020. New rules set a formal limit on the based on 2008 data from the EU show that
use of offset credits; the NAPs have been industrial sectors have been massively over-
scrapped in favour of an EU-wide alloca- allocated – the cap having been set accord-
tion; and a far greater use of auctioning was ing to projected growth prior to the reces-
envisaged. sion. These assumptions are reflected in the
These changes have been promoted as a New Entrants Reserve, which is an alloca-
further tightening of the cap, with the sug- tion of permits set aside for installations that
are entering the scheme for the fi rst time.
58 Michael Szabo ‘EU steel reaps $1.5 bln benefit from This reserve covers new factories and power
carbon trade’ Reuters, 9 April 2009, http://www. stations, but also includes capacity increas- es at existing sites.60 With the economic
59 ‘EU mills selling carbon permits as production
falls’, Metal Bulletin, 27 April 2009, http://www. 60 UK Department for Business, Enterprise and
mills-selling-carbon-permits-as-production-falls. Regulatory Reform (BERR), op. cit., supra, note
html 41.

44 Critical Currents no. 7

downturn delaying such projects, this re- ropean Commission data and policy state-
serve now offers a significant surplus that ments, the NGO FERN calculated that the
can simply be rolled forward. An analysis actual emissions reduction required within
by Sandbag, a campaigning organisation in the EU between 2013 and 2020 is just 3.9 per
favour of the EU ETS but arguing for rule cent compared to 2005 levels, with nearly 60
changes within it, estimates that there could per cent of this figure coming from offset-
be up to 700 million surplus permits by the ting.63 As a result, the EU looks set to remain
end of phase 2 – equivalent to 14 times the a major driver of demand for the creation of
‘reduction’ claimed by the EU in 2008.61 If such projects.
companies decide to purchase offset credits
and ‘bank’ the surplus of credits for a later
phase of the scheme as well – which would
Linking the holes
currently be the cheapest option for compli- A formal limit on offsets is only as strong as
ance – this permit surplus could be supple- the weakest link in the chain of linked mar-
mented by over 900 million more surplus kets, and one of the key stated aims of EU
offset credits. The ‘bankability of permits climate policy is to connect its EU ETS with
and credits means that nearly 40% of Phase other carbon markets to form an OECD-
3 effort could be met by carry-over from wide carbon market by 2015. At present, EU
Phase 2’, concludes the Sandbag study. This rules exclude certain types of credits from
would mean that ‘the ETS will not require the scheme – including those from Land Use,
domestic emissions reductions for the next Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF),
seven years.’62 and from hydroelectricity projects that do
not comply with World Commission on
Dams guidelines. Yet, as an EU Parliament
Sharing the offsets
The inclusion of carbon offsets in the EU
ETS also remains a more general problem. 63 FERN, ‘Reducing Emissions or Playing with Num-
bers?’ EU Forest Watch, March 2009. This is broadly
Although the EU has set a formal limit of 50 consistent with an earlier estimate by the Climate
per cent on the use of CDM and JI credits Action Network Europe, which found that a 3.5 per
for the third phase of the scheme, this is a cent reduction would be required EU-wide by 2020,
with around two-thirds (65.7 per cent) able to be met
poor measure of the quantity of European by the purchase of offset credits outside the EU. See
emissions reductions that are likely to be CAN Europe, ‘Effort Sharing Proposal: Back-
outsourced, since the ability to bank credits ground Briefi ng’, 8 December 2008, http://www.
from phase 2 of the scheme can inflate this A further calculation by Greenpeace calculated the
number. In addition, new EU rules called overall reduction as being less than 3.5 per cent, and
the Effort Sharing Decision allow companies the proportion of offsets as 72 per cent. Greenpeace,
‘MEPs must exercise their democratic power and
operating in sectors outside of the EU ETS reject the EU’s ‘effort sharing’ law’, Brussels, 16
to make significant use of offsets to avoid December 2008,
making reductions domestically. Using Eu- content/eu-unit/press-centre/reports/MEPs-must-
exercise-democratic-power.doc. The net result is
to undermine significantly the EU’s claim that it
61 Anna Pearson and Bryony Worthington, EU ETS intends to reduce 20-30 per cent of its emissions by
S.O.S: Why the fl agship ‘EU Emissions Trading Policy’ 2020 (which, in turn, is already insufficient com-
needs rescuing Sandbag, London, July 2009, p.4. pared to the scale of reductions that climate science
62 Ibid., p.14. suggests is required):

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 45

report admits, the linking of carbon markets inclusion of offsets – allowing for 100 per
opens the way for credits formally excluded cent of reduction commitments to be met
from the EU scheme to enter it by the back by offsetting. The resulting surplus of cred-
door, ‘administrators would never be able its within the Australian scheme could then
to tell whether an incoming allowance has simply be sold on to the EU or US.66
maybe been freed up by use of an external
trading unit which they themselves would
not accept for compliance.’64
The carbon leakage myth
The new holes introduced as part of the
The Waxman-Markey American Clean EU’s Climate and Energy Package also in-
Energy and Security Act of 2009, which is clude a series of rule waivers for coal-depen-
progressing through the US Congress at the dent Central and Eastern European states;
time of writing (September 2009), would al- and for industrial producers who claim that
low for 2 billion tonnes of offsets per year, making emissions reductions would render
with up to 1.5 billion of these able to be their products uncompetitive.
generated by international projects. This
is roughly equivalent to 27 per cent of US Although the EU claims that the scheme
greenhouse gas emissions – which could will now be allocated predominantly by auc-
help the US to avoid domestic emissions re- tioning rather than free allocation (known
ductions until 2026. Were the US and EU as ‘grandfathering’), the remaining scope
markets to be joined up, this could open the for the free allocation of allowances remains
way for ranching and landfi ll projects, for significant. Initial results suggest that over
example, in the US to be rendered equiva- half of the 258 industrial sectors assessed so
lent to reductions made in the EU.65 far will be counted as at risk of significant
exposure to international competition, and
The potential linkage between the EU therefore eligible for free permits.67
scheme and a proposed Australian Carbon
Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) of- A further provision allows EU member
fers another example of how the EU’s 50 states to ‘temporarily compensate certain
per cent offset limit could easily be circum- installations... for costs related to green-
vented. The CPRS sets no threshold on the
66 An amendment proposed in the course of passing
the Australian scheme through the country’s Senate
64 Ralf Schüle and Wolfgang Sterk, ‘Options and Im-
illustrates one way that such a process might work –
plications of Linking the EU ETS with other Emis-
proposing the inclusion of controversial ‘soil-based
sions Trading Schemes’, March 2008, p.12, www.
carbon storage’ into the scheme, which could then
be exported as offsets to the US to generate revenues le=19802. The report authors sug-
additional government revenues of up to Aus$2 billion
gest that fi xed exchange rates or rule harmonisation
per year. Tom Arup, ‘Single-desk carbon trade “could
could avoid this problem, but the rules for currently
earn billions”’, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 2009. At
proposed and active schemes suggest that neither
the time of writing (September 2009), this particular
possibility is likely.
amendment has been blocked, and negotiations on the
65 Payal Parekh, ‘Waxman-Markey Bill: No Cuts un-
Australian scheme remain deadlocked.
til 2026’, International Rivers, 15 April 2009. http://
67 ‘Huge array of sectors to get free ETS allowances’,
ENDS Europe Daily, 8 May 2009; see also http://

46 Critical Currents no. 7

house gas emissions passed on in electricity main a relatively marginal factor in infra-
prices,’68 adding a potentially large source of structure investment decisions.72
new subsidies for some of the most polluting
industries. In the steel sector, the EU’s own evidence
suggests that ‘the economics of blast furnace
These concessions were introduced as a operation [favour] production close to where
means to avoid ‘carbon leakage’ – the risk raw materials are situated’.73 Insofar as there
that capping emissions in the EU could lead have been shifts in industrial production,
to net increases in emissions.69 If industry these have tended to favour port locations
decides to relocate from the EU to countries for cheaper access to materials mined in the
like India and China where there is no cap South, rather than a shift to facilities outside
– so the argument runs – the net effect will of Europe itself.74
be to increase emissions, since the energy
intensity of industrial production in those While there has been a long-term trend to-
countries tends to be higher. wards relocating industry from the EU to
the South, this has been driven by the lib-
Even though ‘leakage’ could in theory be- eralisation of international trade, and reduc-
come a problem, the level of concern within tions in the marginal cost of international
EU policy and lobby circles is out of kilter aviation and shipping – in which the con-
with the extent of the problem – whilst ig- tinued availability of unsustainably cheap
noring the most salient factors affecting in- fossil fuels has remained a key factor.75
dustrial outsourcing decisions.
The main function of the ‘leakage’ argument
Producers of steel, cement and aluminium has been to enable heavy industry to introduce
are among those lobbying most heavily on significant loopholes in both the stringency
the ‘leakage’ question, yet a 2008 Interna- of the caps and the allocation of free emis-
tional Energy Agency study found that ‘[t] sions permits. In the third phase of the EU
he EU emissions trading scheme (EU-ETS) ETS, this included a coordinated campaign
has not, so far, triggered observable carbon
leakage’ in these sectors.70 This fi nding was 72 This relative insignificance results from a combina-
backed up by a further study of the fi rst tion of low prices and volatility, a pattern that is
unlikely to change because the underlying com-
phase of the EU ETS, which found no evi- modity – ‘carbon’ – is itself highly unstable. Indeed,
dence ‘demonstrating a correlation between this volatility may grow worse under phase 3 of
European carbon prices and a loss of com- the EU ETS as non-CO2 gases enter the system in
increased numbers, and new, more complex carbon
petitiveness’ in the cement, refi ning, iron derivatives continue to emerge.
and steel, paper and pulp, petrochemicals, 73 EU Commission (DG Energy and Transport), The
glass, or aluminium sectors.71 Such a pattern Market for Solid Fuels in the EU in 2004-2006 and
Trends in 2007, Brussels, 2008, p.16, http://eur-lex.
is likely to continue, since carbon prices re-
74 This is the strategy favoured by ArcelorMittal, for
68 European Union, 2009, op. cit., supra, note 4, Article 27.
example, which has focused new investments at
69 Juua Renaud, Climate policy and carbon leakage: im-
coastal locations. See http://www.arcelormittal.
pacts of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme
on Aluminium, OECD/IEA, Paris, 2008 p.2.
75 Vaclav Smil, Energy at the Crossroads: Global Perspec-
70 Juua Reinaud, Issues behind Competitiveness and Car-
tives and Uncertainties, MIT, London, 2003
bon Leakage, OECD/IEA October, Paris, 2008, p.4.
71 Convery et al., op. cit., supra, note 28, p.21.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 47

from most key sectors of European industry.76 What lies at the root of the ‘leakage’ argu-
‘The real agenda of companies like Mittal/ ment is an idealised conception of ‘free com-
Arcelor and Lafarge is to get completely off petition’ that is out of kilter with how cor-
the hook from EU climate change efforts,’ porations (or, indeed, national economies)
says Green MEP Claude Turmes.77 actually behave. Yet it is strongest in sectors
where competition itself is weak – including
Nor is this a line of attack that is restricted to in cement, steel and petrochemicals, where
the EU. Industry lobbyists in Australia have a few major transnational companies domi-
been shown to be similarly disingenuous in nate the market. In sum, the leakage argu-
their claims about carbon leakage.78 In the ment has been used as a coordinated effort
US lobbyists have also used arguments about to ensure that the ‘cap’ on carbon emissions
‘leakage’ and, more straightforwardly, a loss of remains full of holes.80
‘international competitiveness’ to win a string
of concessions in the Waxman-Markey Bill.79
76 The Key Stakeholders Alliance for EU ETS Review, The inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS
‘Lowering Production is no Benefit for the Environ- from 2012 represents a further significant
ment, says European Industry’, Brussels, 21 May 2007. expansion of the scheme. The EU incorpo-
The group consisted of lobbies from CEFIC (chemical
industry), CEMBUREAU (cement), CEPI (paper), rated aviation in the EU ETS with a baseline
CERAME-UNIE (ceramics), CPIV (glass), EULA calculated from 2004-2006 emissions, rather
(lime), EUROCHLOR (chlor-alkali), EUROFER than 1990 as with the rest of the scheme.
(iron and steel), EUROMETAUX (metals), IFIEC
(industrial energy consumers), who were critical of The use of later data means that the aviation
even the possibility that ‘reducing production volume’ industry can avoid taking responsibility for
should be considered as a mitigation strategy. the boom in aviation post-1990, which has
77 Claude Turmes, ‘Wolf or sheep? – myth and
realities behind energy intensive industry lobby
been driven forward by the advent of ‘low
efforts to dilute the EU climate package’, EurActiv, frills’ airlines in the EU.81
March 2008,
78 Ross Gittins, ‘Carbon trading: big business vote of 80 Were ‘carbon leakage’ actually to become a signifi-
no confidence in itself ’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 cant problem, another means to tackle it might be
August 2008. to impose import tariff s. It is notable that the US
79 The ‘leakage’ argument has been raised by a broad has proposed this type of measure in July 2009 in
range of industries and associations in the US, the course of negotiations for a global carbon treaty.
including (but not limited to) the USCAP coalition Although there are circumstances where such tariff s
of NGOs and businesses, and the steel sector. See might be appropriate on environmental grounds, a
USCAP, ‘Issue overview: energy intensive industries’, strong argument can be made that these should be
15 January 2009, weighed against the relative contributions of dif-
issuebriefs/energy.asp; Robert Guy Matthews, ‘Steel ferent states to causing climate change – see Martin
braces for impact’, Wall Street Journal, 22 May 2009, Khor, ‘Moves to tax South’s imports on climate grounds are unfair’, Third World Network, August
html#articleTabs%3Darticle. In Europe, some of 2009,
the most intensive lobbying on the issue came from briefi ngs/Bonn04/TWN.BP.Bonnaugust1.doc
German chemical industry. BASF, the largest player 81 Alice Bows and Kevin Anderson, A bottom-up
in this market, has also carried ‘leakage’ concerns analysis of including aviation within the EU’s Emissions
across the Atlantic. See Wolfgang Weber, BASF Trading Scheme, Tyndall Centre Working Paper
‘Industrial Competitiveness Under Climate Policies: 126, Tydall Centre for Climate Change Research,
Lessons from Europe: statement to the United States Manchester, November 2008, p.18.
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’, 8 July 2009,

48 Critical Currents no. 7

Beyond this, it is highly implausible that a don’s Heathrow Airport will be offset by
carbon price will affect investment decisions the purchase of EU ETS permits from other
in the aviation sector. A Tyndall Centre sectors.84
study found that the likely price of carbon
would add fewer than four cents to a litre of Finally, the treatment of aviation within
kerosene – a level that is far lower than the the EU ETS clearly demonstrates how the
tax breaks afforded for aviation fuels by EU need for a single tradable commodity (car-
governments.82 The same study concludes bon) obscures differential environmental
that carbon prices would have to rise to a impacts. Emissions from aviation arise from
level of between €100 and €300 per tonne to CO2, as well as significant amounts of nitro-
have any significant impact on the contin- gen oxide, water vapour, sulphate and soot
ued expansion in aviation, conceding that particles, and their impact is compounded
even this might remain ‘insufficient’. This is by the formation of contrails. Some stud-
an order of magnitude beyond all estimates ies show these combined impacts to be far
of future carbon prices – and, in the exceed- greater than the impact of CO2 alone, yet the
ingly unlikely event that the price moved EU ETS would tackle only CO2 emissions
towards these levels, the record of existing from aviation (even when the scheme as a
lobbying around emissions trading suggests whole is extended to these other gases).85 In
that significant pressure from aviation (and effect, the carbon market provides a means
other industries), which could either force to ‘offset’ aviation with a series of cheaper
an upper price cap on the scheme or equiva- reductions in CO2 emissions in other sectors
lent exceptions and subsidies.83 – but the environmental impacts are vastly
There is one major effect that the inclusion
of aviation in the EU ETS is already hav-
ing, though – giving proponents of aviation
ammunition in their efforts to expand the
sector. The UK government, for example,
argues that emissions increases that would 84 See remarks of Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for
Energy and Climate Change, Debate on Aviation,
result from the planned expansion of Lon-
UK House of Commons, 23 April 2009, http://
82 Ibid.; Transport and Environment, Including Aviation cmhansrd/cm090423/debtext/90423-0002.htm
in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), June 85 European Union, ‘Directive 2008/101/EC of the
2008, p.6. In the UK alone, the zero tax and VAT- European Parliament and of the Council of 19
free status of aviation fuel amounts to an estimated November 2008 amending Directive 2003/87/EC
GBP 10 billion per year. See World Development so as to include aviation activities in the scheme for
Movement, Dying on a Jet Plane, March 2007, greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within les/dyingo- the Community’, 13 January 2009, article 19. The
najetplane19032007.pdf EU suggests that its own research ‘indicates that the
83 On aviation lobbying around the EU ETS, see total climate impact of aviation could be around
Corporate Europe Observatory, ‘Climate Crash in two times higher than the impact of carbon dioxide
Strasbourg: An Industry in Denial. How the avia- alone’ and notes ‘highly uncertain cirrus cloud
tion industry undermined the inclusion of aviation effects’. Claiming not to know how to account for
in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme’, December these emissions, the EU adopts what it calls the
2008, ‘precautionary principle’ of taking no account of
crash.pdf them at all in its calculations.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 49

New sectors, new gases, lent to reductions elsewhere. Moreover,
greater complexity treating such gases as equivalent reductions
abstracts from how and where those changes
From 2013, the EU ETS plans to expand are made.
to cover more greenhouse gases, taking
the UNFCCC defi nition of this term as its This is not merely a theoretical problem, as
guide.86 Aside from aviation, it plans to ad- the example of the CDM shows. The largest
ditionally cover a range of other new sectors, number of credits under this system has not
most significantly aluminium and a range of come from supposed CO2 reductions, but
chemical industries which emit non-CO2 from projects that claim to reduce HFC23,
greenhouse gases.87 a potent greenhouse gas used for refrigera-
tion. Since it is relatively cheap and easy to
At the outset, the EU ETS was limited to reduce this gas, such projects proliferated
CO2 emissions from large fi xed sources (es- as a means to avoid having to make more
pecially the power sector) in order to reduce expensive abatements. An investment of
the uncertainty of calculations. The ratio- around US$ 100 million yielded US$ 4.6
nale behind this decision was to ensure that billion in profits for HFC plants, according
the marginal, year-on-year reductions that to a study in Nature.89
the scheme sought should be greater than
the margin of error in measurement. This The result is the addition of a new loophole
objective is far from being met, and while in the EU ETS: where power producers (the
it is true that the effectiveness of any policy main purchases of carbon permits) could
measure (whether or not it involves trading) previously purchase from overallocated in-
is subject to robust measurement, a market- dustries or buy CDM credits, they will now
based scheme exacerbates the problem.88 In also have the potential to purchase extra
a system where each installation had fi xed permits through a series of cheap non-CO2
targets, for example, measurement problems reductions.
could be isolated and ring-fenced. A flex-
ible, market-based mechanism, however, There is a significant chance that many of
allows the worst cases to generate excessive these will not be reductions at all. Once
credits which can then be sold on as equiva- multiple gases are introduced in the same
scheme, the norm is to use ‘conversion fac-
86 This UNFCCC currently recognises six greenhouse
tors’ to calculate reductions in terms of ‘CO2
gases, but further highly potent F-gases could be equivalence.’ These factors vary over time,
added under terms of a new global climate agree- however, and changes can result in large vol-
ment. umes of ‘reductions’ appearing at the stroke
87 For a full listing see European Union, 2009, op. cit.,
supra, note 4, Annex I, pp.3-7. of a pen. The measurement process itself is
88 The uncertainty of calculations ranged from 4 to 21 also highly imprecise and is conducted by
per cent. Suvi Monni, Sanna Syri and Ilkka Savo- proxy rather than directly. For example, a
linen, ‘Uncertainties in the Finnish Greenhouse
Gas Emission Inventory’, Environmental Science and
Policy, no. 7, 2004, pp.87-98.
89 Michael Wara, ‘Is the global carbon market work-
ing?’ Nature, 8 February 2007.

50 Critical Currents no. 7

study in Finland found that measurements Conclusion
relating to nitric acid production – the most
significant of the non-CO2 greenhouse gas A failure to cap emissions once might be
sources by volume – were ‘the most uncer- considered an accident, and twice a coin-
tain industrial source category with an un- cidence – as the saying goes – but a third
certainty of -60 [to] +100%’.90 failure starts to look like a consistent trend.
In this chapter, we have shown empirically
Expanding the EU ETS to other gases that the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme is
makes sense from the point of view of car- not living up to its billing as a means to re-
bon traders – for whom a more ‘liquid’ mar- duce carbon emissions.
ket with larger trading volumes is liable to
yield greater potential profits. Yet it makes In phase 1 of the scheme, too many permits
the ‘carbon’ that is traded a still more unsta- were in circulation as a result of over-gener-
ble commodity. The uncertainties involved ous allocations across the board. This prob-
in comparing these processes are overlooked lem has been repeated in the second phase of
in order to ensure that a single commodity the scheme, with the ability to trade emis-
can be constructed and exchanged. sions within the EU for offset credits from
outside the trading bloc the main means of
As the market matures, even this set of over-allocation. In both cases, the free al-
equivalences will become harder to measure. location of permits to the power sector,
The EU ETS is already witnessing the de- coupled with the ability to pass greater costs
velopment of more complex carbon market to consumers than have been incurred in
products, which package together permits purchasing permits, has resulted in signifi-
and credits from several installations, then cant profits, while ‘competitiveness’ con-
slice these up and resell them. In essence, cerns have seen polluting industries materi-
this is the same structure that brought the ally benefit from a scheme which, far from
derivatives market to its knees, and the same ‘capping’ their emissions, offers them a new
problem: carbon markets involve the selling source of subsidies. In the third phase of the
of a product that has no clear underlying as- EU ETS, some of these loopholes may be
set – fertile conditions for the creation of a closed, but the increasing complexity and
new ‘bubble’. Not only do traders not know international linking of the European with
what they are selling, but it becomes in- other carbon markets means that others will
creasingly meaningless to talk about ‘emis- be opened – allowing emissions ‘reduction’
sions reductions’ in this context, since what permits to continue circulating without a
is reduced on paper is so far removed from significant need actually to reduce emissions
any process of any measurable change in in- domestically.
dustrial practice or energy production.

90 Suvi Monni, ‘Uncertainties in the 200 Finnish

Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory’, VTT Work-
ing Paper no. 5, 2004, p.19.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 51

52 Critical Currents no. 7
4 » Regenerating responsibility

Introduction side-effects that could have greater climate

change impacts than if they had never hap-
Carbon offsets are not emissions reductions. pened. In addition, such projects typically
Each offset that is developed in the South al- support a development paradigm that is in-
lows pollution from fossil-fuelled power sta- sensitive to the needs of local communities,
tions or heavy industry in the global North including their health, land use and water
to continue over and above reduction limits requirements.
while the same companies and industrialised
countries claim compliance with paltry re-
duction targets on paper. To date, the UN’s
How the CDM increases emissions
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has Perhaps the most fundamental point to note
actually resulted in an increase of CO2 emis- about carbon offsets is that they increase
sions worldwide – displacing emissions cuts global emissions rather than decrease them.
in the North in favour of offset projects that Even if an emissions ‘reduction’ sold by an
have already awarded billions in free subsi- offset project developer could be verified
dies to some of the world’s most polluting as successful, any gain would by defi nition
industries. be nullified by increased emissions allowed
to the buyer, delaying the transition to a
As the CDM grows, it is increasingly fund- post-fossil fuel economy elsewhere. If ev-
ing new fossil fuel power generation proj- ery project were designed and implemented
ects, as well as a plethora of renewable en- perfectly, the net result would be to move
ergy schemes. Yet, as the case studies in this emissions from one place to another with no
chapter will show, even renewable energy net reduction.
projects cannot automatically be assumed to
be clean or sustainable. In practice, the CDM is riddled with inad-
equacies, as this chapter will show. One such
Hydroelectricity and biomass projects, defect lies in that a significant proportion of
which are rapidly becoming important projects – anywhere between one-third and
sources of CDM credits, generate significant three-quarters – does not represent ‘emissions

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 53

savings’ by any reckoning.1 The companies that gives access to adverts that sell small
behind such projects are paid to do what they scooters and then some entrepreneur
would have done anyway, while the credits sets up a small petrol depot for the small
allowed companies in industrialised coun- scooters and another entrepreneur buys
tries to exceed their emissions cap. some wagons instead of using oxen and
the whole thing builds up over the next
The underlying problem is that emissions 20 or 30 years, so it is the same thing.
savings are defined as anything that is ‘addi- The additionality test would be, if you
tional.’ A baseline assumption is made about can imagine Marconi and the Wright
what the future would have held without the brothers getting together to discuss
project; the CDM is assumed to have altered where they will be in 2009, easyJet and
the future, and credits are awarded as a result. the internet will be facilitating each oth-
Credits from such a scheme are in principle er through internet booking. That is the
unregulatable, since they are calculated rela- level of…certainty you would have to
tive to a claim about what would have hap- have over that period. You cannot have
pened in the future. The future is impossible that. Society is inherently complex.2
to predict, yet the CDM accords it a false cer-
tainty, and even goes so far as to quantify an
exact number of emissions to be ‘saved.’
Easy pickings
A second assumption underpinning carbon
In addition, the counterfactual ‘baseline’ is offsets is that the cheapest reductions should
measured against the purported emissions be made first – with a market-based approach
savings of a carbon offset project, and these assumed to be the best means of achieving
are calculated over 100 years. For example, a this goal. Yet the evidence of how the CDM
wind farm in India may claim to be generat- and voluntary offsets schemes have performed
ing carbon credits because it is saving on the to date shows this to be deeply flawed as a
burning of fossil fuels. However, as Kevin means to tackle climate change or stimulate a
Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate greener development path.
Change Research explains:
Most CDM offset credits, called Certified
...those wind turbines will give access to Emissions Reductions (CERs), are gener-
electricity that gives access to a television ated by projects that contribute nothing to
a transition to a non-fossil dependent soci-
1 International Rivers Network, ‘Rip-offsets: The
ety. As of September 2009, three-quarters of
Failure of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development the offset credits issued were manufactured
Mechanism’, 2008, p.3. International Rivers Net- by large fi rms making minor technical ad-
work found that 76 per cent of the projects approved
by 1 October 2008 were already up and running
justments at a few industrial installations to
by the time they were approved to generate CDM eliminate hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and
credits, strongly suggesting that they would all have
happened anyway. As a result of a separate analy-
sis, David Victor of Stanford University concluded 2 UK House of Commons Environmental Audit
that ‘between one and two thirds of all the total Committee, ‘Inquiry into Carbon Budgets’, 23 June
CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts.’ 2009, http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.
Interview with John Vidal, ‘Billions wasted on UN
climate programme’, The Guardian, 26 May 2008. uc61602.htm

54 Critical Currents no. 7

nitrous oxide (N2O).3 This picture is un- The key lesson here is that we should be
likely to change dramatically by the time challenging the claims that markets offer
the Kyoto Protocol’s fi rst commitment pe- the cheapest solutions for tackling climate
riod expires. By the end of 2012, HFC and change, and ask instead: cheapest for whom
N2O credits are still expected to account for and cheapest when? HFC-23 projects have
the largest shares of the CDM (28.5 per cent generated massive profits for a handful of
and 14.4 per cent respectively), followed by companies producing refrigerant gases, and
hydro-electricity projects (10.8 per cent). others that use it as a primary feedstock
Solar power is expected to account for 0.03 for production of polytetrafluoroethylene
per cent of CDM credits by 2012.4 (PTFE), commonly referred to as Teflon. In
fact, the sale of carbon credits from these
As Michael Wara of Stanford University activities rapidly became far more valuable
puts it: to the companies than the production of the
refrigerants and coatings that lead to its cre-
[T]he CDM market is not a subsidy im- ation in the fi rst place.6
plemented by means of a market mech-
anism by which CO2 reductions that Various studies even found that the CDM
would have taken place in the developed could even have accelerated the produc-
world take place in the developing world. tion of these gases, to maximise the credits
Rather, most CDM funds are paying for generated through capturing them.7 Wara
the substitution of CO2 reductions in the estimates that a straightforward subsidy to
developed world for emissions reductions regulate HFC-23 emissions would have cost
in the developing world of industrial less than €100 million – yet, by 2012, up to
gases and methane. Indeed, the industrial €4.7 billion in carbon credits will have been
gas emissions that account for one third generated by such projects.8 A similar story
of CDM reductions do not even occur
in the developed world...because Annex 6 M. Wara and D. Victor, ‘A Realistic Policy on In-
B industries [those in developed coun- ternational Carbon Off sets’, PESD Working Paper
tries], after recognizing the threat posed no. 74, 2008, p.11.
7 Wara and Victor, op.cit, supra, note 6, pp.1786-7; Joint
by these emissions and the low cost of
Committee of UK Parliament on the draft climate
abating them, have opted to voluntarily change bill, Final report, Volume I, August 2007.
capture and destroy them.5 The CDM board tried, belatedly, to deal with the
perverse incentives to overproduce HCFC-22 (an
ozone-depleting refrigerant and greenhouse gas) in
order to capture and destroy HFC-23 (a byproduct of
HCFC-22 production, which the Intergovernmental
3 According to Risoe data, 56 per cent of the emis- Panel on Climate Change considers to be a green-
sions reductions arise from HFC-23 projects, with a house gas 14,000 times more potent than carbon
further 20 per cent from N20 projects. HFC-23s are dioxide),, by approving only projects that already
a powerful greenhouse gas produced as a byproduct had HCFC-22 production capacity in the 2000-2004
in refrigerant production. period. But Wara fi nds evidence that the suppliers
4 UNEP Risoe CDM/JI Pipeline Analysis and Data- have, in response, manipulated the base year data to
base, ‘expected figures’ 135437, overstate the inefficiency of their plants and ramp up
5 Michael Wara, ‘Measuring the Clean Development production of the gas to receive extra CDM credits.
Mechanism’s Performance and Potential’, UCLA 8 Michael Wara, ‘Is the global carbon market work-
Law Review, no. 55, 2008, p.1780. ing?’, Nature, 8 February 2007.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 55

could be told about N2O reduction projects, Rhodia uses dates from the 1970s. Rhodia
which generally capture emissions from adi- already makes 35 times more money selling
pic acid production, part of the process of carbon credits than it does from the adipic
manufacturing synthetic fibres like nylon. acid market.

What was cheap and profitable for the com- As the world’s largest adipic acid producer,
panies cashing in on such projects turns out Rhodia has sought to repeat this trick else-
to be an extraordinarily expensive subsidy to where, with a number of similar CDM proj-
a highly polluting industry with a long record ects in South Korea and Brazil, where it also
of blighting the lives of local citizens and the owns factories. In May 2009, Rhodia gained
environment surrounding these factories.9 approval for a similar Joint Implementation
project in southern France.11
Rhodia cashes in
Rhodia, a French chemical fi rm, makes
A greener future?
adipic acid at a factory in South Korea. By Proponents of the CDM suggest that a new
investing US$ 15 million in equipment that balance of future projects will gradually give
destroys nitrous oxide – an unwanted by- incentives for cleaner energy production
product – the company is set to produce US$ and more sustainable development. Yet the
1 billion in UN-approved carbon credits for evidence does not support this conclusion,
sale to polluting industries in industrialised most obviously in relation to the plethora of
countries.10 Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse fossil fuel projects that are supported by the
gas said to be around 300 times more potent CDM. To apply for the scheme, a project
than carbon dioxide, so Rhodia can gen- simply needs to prove that it is cleaner than
erate 310 tonnes of carbon credits just by the norm for existing power production in
burning one tonne of the compound. the region or country where it is located.
As new plants are generally more efficient
The trade does not reduce overall green- than old ones, this is rarely a difficult task.
house gases, because customers buy Rho- A study of new gas-fi red power stations in
dia’s credits only so that they can continue to China, for example, found that all 24 new
invest in fossil fuels. Nor does it help Korea combined cycle gas turbine plants under
decarbonise: at best, it is irrelevant; at worst, construction between 2005 and 2010 had
it encourages the country to build more applied for CDM subsidies.12
dirty industries so that it can make money
by cleaning up later. Nor does the trade en- The same trick looks set to be repeated with
courage green innovation. The technology new ‘supercritical’ coal-fired power plants,
which have been eligible for CDM credits
since autumn 2007 – despite the fact that coal
9 Nadene Ghouri, ‘The great carbon credit con:
Why are we paying the Third World to poison its is amongst the most CO2 intensive sources
environment?’, Daily Mail, 1 June 2009. http:// of power. Fifteen projects had sought valida- tion under this methodology as of September
10 Jeff rey Ball, ‘French Firm Cashes In Under UN 11 ‘Rhodia gets Kyoto carbon credits for French
Warming Program’, Wall Street Journal, 23 July 2008. plant’, Reuters, 20 May 2009.
12 Wara and Victor, op.cit, supra, note 6, p.1793.

56 Critical Currents no. 7

2009, including the Tata Mundra project, a of envisaging a rapid transition to clean en-
complex of coal-fired power plants in Gujarat, ergy, the CDM is subsidising the lock-in of
India.13 With the support of the International fossil fuel dependence through providing
Finance Corporation, the private investment incentives for coal-fi red power stations in
arm of the World Bank, this project claims the South, rather than energy infrastructure
that it will emit 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 less based on local needs. With the credits that
than would otherwise be the case, generating these new plants will generate, the CDM is
an estimated US$ 50 million per year from at the same time encouraging a continued
the sale of carbon credits. Yet the scheme as a reliance on coal-fi red power stations in the
whole is expected to emit 700 million tonnes North as well.
of CO2 during its operating life, which is
greater than one year’s greenhouse gas emis-
sions for the whole of the UK.
Why even ‘good’
projects are bad projects
Instead of supporting clean energy, the CDM The growth of CDM investment in fossil
proposes to support a dirty energy source on fuel power generation is not the whole story,
the grounds that it is a marginal improve- however, as proponents of the scheme might
ment on the current, incredibly dirty prac- still claim that it will expand investments in
tice. This overlooks the likely emergence ‘renewable’ sources at a similar rate.
of supercritical technology as a norm for
new large coal-fi red power stations, since its Typically, the calculations for hydroelectric
adoption is in any case backed by other fis- projects are that they will replace energy that
cal and policy incentives.14 Further, it sets would otherwise have been sourced from
up a perversely circular structure. Instead fossil fuels. However, a survey of Chinese hy-
dropower projects submitted for CDM vali-
13 CDM methodology ACM0013, ‘New grid connect- dation found that over three-quarters were
ed fossil fuel fi red power plants using a less GHG expected to start generating credits within 12
intensive technology’, was devised by Perspectives,
a CDM/JI consultancy founded by carbon market
months of their validation. Since hydropow-
analyst Axel Michaelowa. The methodology was er plants normally take several years to build,
approved in September 2007, and 15 projects had the likelihood is that most projects were un-
been submitted as of September 2009; see http:// der construction before beginning the CDM
In response to controversy over its inclusion, the validation process.15 Such projects also create
CDM Executive Board has limited its use to 15 per significant local environmental and social
cent of power generation within any given country. impacts in their own right.16 The likelihood
14 The Indian government is proposing to waive im-
port duties on supercritical technology and income of increased emissions of methane (a more
taxes on revenue generated from supercritical coal
plants. In China, the government has instructed
power companies to choose supercritical plants 15 Barbara Haya, ‘Letter to CDM Executive Board On
rather than subcritical plants because they use less Non-Additional Chinese Hydros’, 12 October 2007,
coal – a policy directive that makes the ‘additional-
ity’ claim attached to such projects highly question- 16 The NGO International Rivers maintains a
able. See Subhash Narayan, ‘Tax sops for supercriti- non-exhaustive list of controversial CDM hydro-
cal tech’, The Economic Times, 21 August 2009. http:// electricity projects: http://www.internationalrivers. org/en/taxonomy/term/482. See also Tamra Gilb-
Industry/Energy/Tax-sops-for-supercritical-tech/ ertson, ‘The Bhilangana Dam on Troubled Waters’,
articleshow/4917200.cms ; Wara, op. cit., supra, note Mausam, vol. 2, pp.3-5, Oct 2008-Sept 2009.
5, pp.1796-7.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 57

potent greenhouse gas than CO2) as a result would make the attainment of such goals
of dam building also remains unconsidered possible. Because its purpose is, rather, to
within the CDM approval process.17 provide cost savings in the achievement of
minimal, short-term abstract emissions tar-
A similar assessment could be made of bio- gets, it is ineffective in channelling invest-
mass power projects, which tend simply to ment to long-term development pathways
count the methane (CH4) emissions that are that could result in a fossil-free future, with
avoided because it is burned rather than al- the market taking no account of community
lowed to biodegrade – without considering needs or local environmental impacts when
the huge emissions caused by cutting down selecting which projects receive financing..
forests or draining carbon-rich peatlands to
set up plantations in the first place. As the case studies in this chapter will out-
line, in order to generate carbon credits from
The attempt by carbon offset promoters to trees or energy crops, plantation companies
distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ projects have to maintain their hold on land that
misses the point, since even the most renew- citizens may need for other purposes. In or-
able projects are inserted within a system that der to generate carbon credits from burning
generates credits to carry on polluting else- rice husks, developers dismiss local people’s
where. But such projects not only perpetuate need of a valuable resource. In order to keep
the old problems of coal, oil and gas; they track of the carbon that their agroforestry
often promote local conflict as well. Not de- schemes generate, rural development organ-
signed to deal with the real complexities and isations have to divert resources from their
intricacies of communities and livelihoods, traditional work. In order to obtain carbon
they require enormous quantities of land, credits for building wind farms, companies
water, machinery and are not set up to ben- annex land for showcase ‘green’ projects
efit the local communities or ecology. They whose principle purpose is to gain from
generally take place in regions where people tax and depreciation benefits rather than to
have little political power, thereby deepening generate power, while depriving local com-
the North-South gap. munities of common grazing lands.

The resulting confl icts often come as a sur- The confl icts that result from such projects
prise to idealists convinced that carbon off- are inevitable, with the big, highly-capita-
set projects – whether set up under the aus- lised fi rms or agencies that are in the best
pices of the Kyoto Protocol’s CDM or under position to hire carbon consultants and ac-
voluntary private schemes – will bankroll countants, liaise with officials or pay the fees
community-friendly renewable energy and needed for UN registration tending to be
set the South on a low-carbon path to indus- the worst corporate ‘bad citizens’ in many
trialisation. But as argued in chapter 3, the localities. As a result, common ground ex-
carbon market is not designed in a way that ists between communities resisting carbon
offset projects and those suffering from oth-
er aspects of the fossil fuel economy.
17 Duncan Graham-Rowe, ‘Hydroelectric power’s
dirty secret revealed’, New Scientist, February 2005.

58 Critical Currents no. 7

If most fossil fuels must be kept in the tion developments whose owners stand to
ground, then renewable energy is going to be rewarded by REDD funds.
become increasingly important to energy
economies and livelihoods worldwide. But Several REDD schemes are already under-
there are blind ways of promoting renewable way, some hosted by the UN and the World
energy. The following case studies serve as a Bank, others in response to bilateral agree-
warning of how not to go forward. If renew- ments between countries.19 A number of
able projects are embedded inside existing countries, including Ecuador, have started
‘development’ frameworks – North-South their own REDD funds, positioning them-
power relations – and used indirectly to selves to reap the profits of a new global
promote more dirty industries, they become climate agreement.20 A number of private
incapable of promoting a future of truly conservation funds and voluntary offset
‘sustainable’ renewable energy. projects have also established new REDD
Reduced Emissions from Deforestation
and Forest Degradation (REDD) 19 The Norwegian government has committed US$
600 million a year to REDD; Australia is involved
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in REDD projects in Australia and Vanuata; and
and Degradation (REDD) schemes are the German technical cooperation agency (GTZ) is
among the most controversial within the setting up projects in Indonesia and Laos.
20 Ecuador is currently seeking donations from
climate debate. The concept assumes that organisations and governments for its new ‘Forest
deforestation happens because too little Partners Program’ (‘Programa Socio Bosque’), set
economic value is placed on intact forests, up to capitalise on future REDD funds. See http://
and that providing money for conservation index.html The programme (and a counterpart,
to forested countries in the South will help called Socio-Paramo) has been criticised by the
to protect them.18 Yet this idea is challenged Confederation of Indigenous Peoples from the Ec-
uadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE, the Ecuadorian
by many Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and for- member organisation of COICA). The statement
est communities, who warn that putting a from the First Congress of Women of the CONAIE
price on forests will encourage further land declared: ‘We reject the implementation of the
Socio-Bosque Program and the Socio-Paramo Pro-
grabs by large companies and governments
gram because they impose “conservation” without
and that this is already the experience of recognizing our rights to sustainably manage forest
some REDD pilot projects. Many IPs and resources according to our needs. We also reject the
forest peoples’ organisations stress that the proposals to sell the carbon of the Amazonian rain-
forests’; 28 and 29 August 2009, http://www.conaie.
real drivers of deforestation are the major org/index.php?option=com_content&view=arti
construction, mining, logging and planta- cle&id=50%3Aprimer-congreso-de-mujeres-co-
21 These include REDD projects sponsored by NGOs,
18 The concept of payments for environmental including The Nature Conservancy, Conservation
services was discussed in the lead-up to the Kyoto International, WWF US, Environmental Defense
Protocol, but was rejected (see box, ‘Environmental Fund, Woods Hole Research Center, CIFOR, and
Services to LULUCF, chapter 2, p. 25). In 2005, the Wildlife Conservation Society – a number of
a group of countries, the Coalition of Rainforest which have been accused of coercing Indigenous
Nations developed a proposal on REDD which was Peoples to hand over their lands for new REDD
put forward at the 2007, UNFCCC Conference of schemes with little or no consultation. See www.
the Parties in Bali (COP 13). and

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 59

UN REDD swers to these potential rights violations and
difficulties are offered. It is asserted without
UN-REDD was set up by the United Na- evidence that putting a cash value on forests
tions Development Programme (UNDP), will help to avoid deforestation, and that if
the United Nations Environment Pro- this theory proves correct the net result of
gramme (UNEP) the Food and Agriculture the scheme will be beneficial.
Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank,
and is currently running pilot projects in This is a symptom of a more general failure
Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, of REDD schemes to take account of the
Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, unjust realities of current land tenure re-
Paraguay, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia. gimes. ‘In many tropical countries, states…
legally defi ne the remaining forests as so-
Indigenous Peoples Organisations (IPOs) called “state land”,’ explains Tom Griffiths
note the current lack of a formal consulta- of the Forest Peoples’ Programme. With
tive process for Indigenous Peoples within REDD payments administered top-down
the climate change negotiations as evidence by governments, companies and conserva-
that REDD will flout the UN Declaration tion NGOs, the risk is that forest-dependent
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN- peoples would be evicted in order to ‘pro-
DRIP), which was adopted by the UN tect lucrative forest carbon “reservoirs”’.23
General Assembly in 2007. More specifical-
ly, neglect of rights to Indigenous territories
as well as to free, prior and informed con-
World Bank funds
sent (FPIC) granted by the UNDRIP is also The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partner-
a concern for IPs. It is highly unlikely that ship Facility (FCPF) was launched at the
these rights will be recognised by any new UN Climate Conference in Bali in 2007,
deal negotiated at the UN Climate Confer- amid protests that demanded ‘World Bank
ence in Copenhagen in December 2009. out of my forest’ and ‘No carbon market for
forests’. The FCPF was initiated without In-
The Framework Document that established digenous Peoples’ input or recognition.
UN-REDD itself admits a range of poten-
tial failings – noting that REDD could ‘de- To date, the FCPF consists of two funds, the
prive communities of their legitimate land- Readiness Fund and the Carbon Fund, the
development aspirations’ and ‘marginalise former to support country readiness efforts,
the landless’; that ‘hard-fought gains in for- the latter to buy certified emissions reductions
est management practices might be wasted’; for trading on the carbon market. Accord-
that it could ‘lock-up forests by decoupling ing to the Indigenous Environment Network
conservation from development’; and that (IEN), ‘the World Bank isn’t waiting for the
it might ‘erode culturally rooted not-for- UN to adopt a REDD implementation frame-
profit conservation values.’22 Yet no real an- work: they have moved forward with their
own REDD-type projects through R-PINs
22 UN-REDD Framework Document, p4-5, www. 23 Tom Griffiths, Seeing ‘RED’? ‘Avoided deforestation’
Framework-Document.pdf , Poverty Environment and the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communi-
Partnership (PEP) Policy Brief www.povertyenvi- ties, Forest Peoples Programme, June 2007, http:// lestore2/download/1874/PEP- _igo/avoid-
REDD-policy-brief-Oct-08.pdf ed_deforestation_red_ jun07_eng.pdf

60 Critical Currents no. 7

(Readiness Plan Idea Notes) and through its Bank Ibi-Batéké carbon sink plantation.27
other carbon and climate funds.’24 Hailed as an inspiring model for Africa, the
tree plantation grows trees to burn them
By June 2009, 37 countries submitted readi- for fuelwood and charcoal and claims to be
ness concept notes, the fi rst 20 of which the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s
have priority status for funding until June fi rst clean development project. However,
2010. After that date all of the 37 countries Pygmy leaders have repeatedly denounced
may be eligible for funding.25 In addition, the World Bank for funding deforestation of
the World Bank already funds REDD-type their ancestral forests, violating their rights,
projects through its BioCarbon Fund and leading to the destruction of their livelihood
Forest Investment Programme. and causing social confl ict.

The World Bank’s track record on forests and

carbon markets is hardly impressive. Dur-
REDD and carbon markets
ing the 1980s, it funded a series of disastrous The FCPFs ‘ultimate goal is to jump-start a
commercial logging projects, mega-dams and forest carbon market’, says Benoit Bosquet,
road-building programmes that opened the a World Bank senior natural resources man-
way to widespread deforestation.26 Mounting agement specialist who has led the develop-
criticisms led to a new forest policy in 1991 ment of the Facility.28 These are unoriginal
which, at least on paper, ended the Bank’s
support for commercial logging, while stress- 27 International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples
ing conservation and local people’s rights. In of the Tropical Forests report, ‘Indigenous Peoples and
Climate Change: Vulnerabilities, Adaptation, and Re-
practice, though, the Bank continued to in-
sponses to Mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol’, 2007; S.
centivise forest destruction through its struc- Makelo, ‘The DRC Case Study: the impacts of carbon
tural adjustment programmes. sinks of Ibi-Batéké Project on the indigenous Pygmies
of the Democratic Republic of Congo’, pp.45-74, es-
pecially 62-64,
A 2007 study by the International Alliance of documents/Climate%20Change%20-%20DRC.pdf
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropi- .The human rights violations against Pygmies are acute
cal Forests documented the ‘servitude’ suf- throughout the country. See also ‘Pygmies beg UN for
aid to save them from Congo cannibals’, http://www.
fered by Batswa Pygmies under the World
ece. See also World Bank, ‘DRC Ibi Bateke Carbon
Sink Plantation’,
cfm?Page=Projport&ProjID=43647 .World Bank docu-
ments claim no Indigenous Peoples affected, on pages
4 and 8,
24 Indigenous Environment Network, ‘No REDD!’ default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2009/06/04
booklet, Sept. 2009. /000333037_20090604015605/Original/487470ISDS0
25 Bank Information Center, rev1i0Bateke0Box338924B0.doc; ‘Four million dollar
en/Issue.50.aspx . To date, three countries (Indone- investment from World Bank Carbon Finance’, http://
sia, Panama and Guyana) have submitted Readiness
Preparation Proposals (R-PPs) and are poised to P096414&Type=Financial&theSitePK=40941&pagePK
receive readiness funding once the World Bank has =64330670&menuPK=64282135&piPK=64302772. But
completed its due diligence and the countries have it is worth noting that the Inspection Panel shows the
addressed concerns raised by the World Bank, an Bank broke its own rules; see for example, http://www.
independent assessment panel and the governing; Forest Carbon
body of the FCPF. Inventory Project, http://www.forestcarbonportal.
26 World Rainforest Movement (2002) ‘The World com/inventory_project.php?item=294
Bank in the forest’, 28
WB/index.html NAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:21581819~pagePK:6

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 61

words. In 1999 the World Bank launched its ing Herald has reported that ‘scores of carbon
first carbon fund, the Prototype Carbon Fund traders...have been active in PNG and Indo-
(PCF) with the aim of creating ‘a short-term nesia trying to sign landowners’. Tim King,
catalyst to jump-start the transfer of finance from the Wilderness Society, said there had
for clean energy technologies to developing been ‘a tsunami of carbon traders spreading
countries’.29 What followed, in the form of across PNG. Carbon fi nance and REDD
the CDM, was anything but such a catalyst. have triggered a “gold rush” mentality.’32

At the Bali climate negotiations in 2007, the Cap and trade legislation in the US, passing
International Indigenous Peoples Forum on through Congress at the time of writing,
Climate Change (IIPFCC) warned that ‘[u] also looks towards massively increasing the
nder REDD, states and carbon traders will volume of offsets – with international forest
take more control over our forests’. At UN offsets projected to account for a significant
climate negotiations in Bangkok in Septem- proportion of US carbon reduction targets.33
ber 2009, the IIPFCC stated: ‘[T]he recogni- The mere prospect of deforestation credits
tion of our rights must be in accordance with being recognised in a new US climate bill
international human rights law and standards has been enough to spark a REDD land
including the UNDRIP and ILO Convention grab in central Africa.34
169, among other human rights instruments.
If there is no full recognition and full protec-
tion for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including
Avoided responsibility
the rights to resources, lands and territories, and other criticisms
and there is no recognition and respect of our A number of further criticisms have been
rights of free, prior and informed consent of levelled at REDD proposals. The UN defi-
the affected indigenous peoples, we will op- nition fails to differentiate between forests
pose REDD and REDD+ and carbon offset- and plantations, which means that companies
ting projects, including CDM projects.’30 could replace intact forests with monoculture
tree plantations and still qualify for REDD
REDD is already linked to the carbon mar- subsidies.35 Such plantations have devastating
ket, with almost all of the 100 pilot projects impacts on Indigenous Peoples’ and forest-
underway assuming that they will be able to dwelling communities’ livelihoods.36
generate offset credits. In Papua New Guin-
ea (PNG), carbon traders are accused of co- 32 Marian Wilkinson and Ben Cubby, ‘Australian fi rm
ercing villagers to ‘to sign over the rights to linked to PNG’s $100m carbon trading scandal’,
Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September 2009. http://
their forests’ for REDD.31 The Sydney Morn- rm-
29 20090903-fa2y.html
30 Press Release International Indigenous Peoples’ 33 ‘The Green Gold Rush’, http://www.businessspec-
Forum on Climate Change, Bangkok, Thailand, 29
September 2009. REDD+ is an addition to include pd20090907-VN255?OpenDocument.
other forms of biotic carbon stores such as soils and 34 Point Carbon, ‘Firm Targets US Buyers with
projects to theoretically increase carbon storage. African REDD Credits’, 20 July 2009, http://www.
See for example
31 Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 2009, http:// 35 Chris Lang, ‘REDD: an introduction’, http://www.
eigner-in-papua-new-guinea-says-carbon-kingpin- 36 See for instance the fi lm ‘Our Land Our Struggle’,
emid=45; and the case study on
Plantar in the next chapter.
62 Critical Currents no. 7
In addition, REDD schemes tend to re- Despite these warnings, REDD schemes on
duce complex forest ecosystems to a simple the negotiating table at Copenhagen are al-
carbon store – undervaluing them as water ready being primed for expansion to other
catchment areas and habitats for biodiversity, sectors. Under proposals dubbed REDD+
as well as their inestimable role in sustaining this could include soil carbon and agricul-
livelihoods, cultures and peoples.37 ture, with the trade in REDD carbon cred-
its eventually including biochar off sets and
Creating a trade in forest carbon requires an genetically modified crops and trees.
accounting system far beyond what is tech-
nically possible. Significant doubts remain Ultimately, REDD has more to do with
even about basic matters such as the ability avoided responsibility than ‘avoided defor-
to measure accurately deforestation rates, to estation’. The cost-benefit assumption that
say nothing of techniques for equating forest ‘action to avoid deforestation would be rel-
and fossil carbon. As Jutta Kill of the Forests atively cheap’, in the words of Sir Nicho-
and the European Union Resource Net- las Stern, lies behind the drive to include
work (FERN) points out, ‘Carbon in for- REDD in a new agreement, irrespective of
ests is always released into the atmosphere at the social and environmental consequenc-
some point, as part of a cycle, whereas the es.40 For example, the co-organisers of the
release of fossil carbon is a one-way road.’38 Copenhagen Business Summit on Climate
Such concerns were among the reasons for Change suggested that avoided deforesta-
the limitations placed on tree plantations as tion measures could account for up to half
carbon ‘sinks’ within the CDM, and are the of the action needed to limit climate change
reason why the EU ETS currently excludes by 2020.41 This is a boon to power suppliers
credits from land use, land use change and and heavy industry, which is keen to fi nd a
forestry (LULUCF). cheap source of offsets so that it can avoid
taking action to reduce its own emissions.
There is also a serious risk of wide-scale But these simplistic schemes to grow money
corruption. Peter Younger, Interpol envi- on trees represent a significant setback for the
ronment crimes specialist has warned that complex work of protecting forests through
‘[f ]raud could include claiming credits for defending the territorial and other rights of
forests that do not exist or were not protect- Indigenous Peoples and forest communities
ed, or by land grabs. It starts with bribery or – who have currently and historically done
intimidation of officials, then there’s threats the most to protect forest ecosystems.
and violence against those people. There’s
forged documents too… Carbon trading
transcends borders. I do not see any input
from any law enforcement agency in plan-
ning REDD.’39 40 Nicholas Stern et al., Stern Review on the Economics
of Climate Change, HM Treasury, London, 2006,
37 WAHLI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, Statement 41 Oscar Reyes, ‘Carbon trading and cash values on
on REDD, December 2007, http://www.walhi. forests cannot curb carbon emissions’, Guardian, 28 May,
38 Personal interview, January 2008. green/2009/may/28/carbon-trading
39 John Vidal, ‘UN’s forest protection scheme at risk
of organised crime, experts warn’, Guardian, 5
October 2009.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 63

How are CDM projects account of the world without the project. As
registered and credits generated? Lambert Schneider of Germany’s Oko Insti-
tute puts it: ‘If you are a good storyteller you
The CDM is a project-based system. Proj- get your project approved. If you are not a
ects can be considered separately or as ag- good storyteller you don’t get your project
gregated projects.42 through.’45

CDM projects must either use a previously Since the PDD documentation is highly
approved methodology or propose a new complex, this task tends to be carried out
one. There are currently (as of September by specialist ‘project design consultants’.
2009) 124 approved methodologies with- The largest of these companies is EcoSecu-
in the CDM, each of which has been ap- rities, which had developed 309 of the CDM
proved separately by the CDM Executive projects successfully registered by September
Board.43 These include a broad range of ac- 2009. The same company is also the larg-
tivities ranging from the capture of green- est single purchaser of CDM credits, since
house gases, through to energy production its interests lie mainly in trading the credits
and efficiency initiatives. With the excep- rather than in the projects themselves.
tion of nuclear power, the CDM is officially
technology-neutral. This has led to the in- A project must then receive approval from
clusion of various new fossil fuel projects the host country’s Designated National
within the scheme – including huge, ‘super- Authority (DNA), which is usually the
critical’ coal-fi red power stations (although country’s environment or energy ministry,
‘carbon capture’ is currently excluded).44 before being submitted for validation.46

Each project wishing to be considered must The validation process starts with the PDD
fi rst complete a Project Design Docu- being sent to a Designated Operational
ment (PDD) to show how it will produce Entity (DOE) or validator, whose task it is
emissions reductions that would not other- to assess the project. At the start of this pro-
wise have happened (termed ‘additionali- cess, there is a 30-day period where the pro-
ty’). It should also show that the project will posed project is open to public comment.
not simply displace the pollution elsewhere
(‘leakage’). Both of these concepts require These comments should then inform the
that a hypothetical ‘baseline’ be created – an project validator’s recommendations, but

42 An aggregated CDM project consists either of

45 Lambert Schneider, presentation at conference on
several (similar small-scale) projects that can be
Review of the EU ETS, Brussels, 15 June 2007.
grouped together as one project, or of similar or
46 Several countries have implemented new na-
varying projects that together form a programme.
tional institutions to streamline the DNA approval
43 htm
process. One example is the Thai Greenhouse
#3; accessed 13 September 2009.
Gas Organisation established in 2007, to fast-track
44 Thus far 15 projects have sought validation under
CDM projects after investors complained that the
the heading ‘New grid-connected fossil fuel fi red
Office of Environmental Policy and Planning (the
power plants using a less GHG intensive technol-
original DNA) was too slow, and could thus jeop-
ogy’ (ACM0013) since this methodology was
ardise Thailand’s opportunity to ride on the CDM
approved in April 2007.
profit-making bandwagon.
publications/CDMpipeline.xls, September 2009

64 Critical Currents no. 7

are routinely sidetracked or left unan- validation report are submitted to the CDM
swered. This is not particularly surprising, Secretariat, an administrative body attached
since the validators are private companies to the UNFCCC. They are then passed to
which compete for the business of project the UNFCCC registration and issuance
developers – opening up the possibility of team, which reviews the project and can ask
significant confl icts of interest. for revisions or reject it outright.

In practice, a handful of companies and state The project finally passes to the CDM Ex-
bodies dominate the validation market – ecutive Board, which ultimately decides
with the two largest companies, Det Norsk on whether the project will be approved.
Veritas (DNV) and TÜV SÜD, accounting With 1,792 projects registered, but 2,605
for over half of the projects submitted to still at a validation stage, it is clear that the
date.47 DNV was temporarily suspended be- present system is severely stretched. Proj-
tween November 2008 and February 2009 ect developers and traders talk of a ‘bottle-
for assigning staff with inadequate techni- neck,’ and are pressuring the UN to relax
cal expertise to evaluate projects, for a lack the rules.
of internal audits and a lack of documenta-
tion to back up its decisions.48 In September To do so, however, misses the more funda-
2009, the third largest validator, SGS UK, mental reasons underlying the creation of a
was also suspended by the United Nation labyrinthine CDM bureaucracy. As Michael
due to similar allegations.49 Wara and David Victor put it in their study
of carbon offsets: ‘Lacking any other source
Once the validator has assessed the project a of information about individual projects and
request for registration is made. The PDD and facing pressure from both developing and
developed country governments, the CDM
Executive Board is prone to approve proj-
47 Det Norsk Veritas (31.4 per cent) and TÜV Süd
(21.2 per cent),
ects.’ They go on to explain: ‘Asymmetries
tions/CDMpipeline.xls, September 2009. of information are rampant; the incentives
48 The toothlessness of this measure is expressed by mostly align in favor of approval.’50
DNV’s own press release on its re-instatement
– having served only three of the six months
of its suspension: ‘During the suspension pe- Once a project is registered, a project must
riod, validation and verification work relating to submit monitoring reports to the CDM
ongoing projects continued as usual. No projects
secretariat. These are reviewed by the UN-
could, however, be submitted to UNFCCC for
registration or requested for issuance of certified FCCC registration and issuance team, with
emissions reductions. Due to the fact that the on- the subsequent report sent to the CDM Ex-
going projects were progressing normally during ecutive Board for approval. Only after this
the suspension period, only a limited number of
projects experienced a delay in their validation process is completed can certified emission
and verification processes.’ reductions (CERs) be issued – although, in
press_area/press_releases/2009/dnvscdmaccredita- practice, many will have been traded in ad-
49 Danny Fortson and Georgia Warrnen, ‘Carbon vance on a futures market.
trading market hits as UN suspends clean energy
auditor’, The Sunday Times, UK, 9 September 2009.
dustry_sectors/natural_resources/article6832259.ece 50 Wara and Victor,op. cit., supra, note 6, p.14.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 65

Flooded – A. T. Biopower case study in Hor Krai sub-district in the province of
Pichit, about 200 km north of Bangkok. The
Biomass in Thailand51 power station is located one kilometre from
the Nan River and has a daily fuel require-
‘Tell me which industry you can call clean; ment of 500 metric tonnes and a daily water
I have never seen one.’ requirement of approximately 2,200 cubic
Sunthorn Yensook, Nam Song resident metres. It is fed in its entirety with rice husks.
The power plant is surrounded by newly
Biomass is often considered to be a renewable planted eucalyptus and pine trees.52
resource that uses waste products to generate
electricity. For people who have depended The power station is accredited as a biomass
on this ‘waste’ for either their local economy energy project of the CDM. The A.T. Bio-
or livelihoods it is a different story. What power project was the first CDM project reg-
is waste and who has the right to defi ne it? istered in Thailand, and among the first five
Far too often the waste in question already for which baseline methodologies were ap-
has a purpose within a local economy. This proved by the CDM Executive Board.53 It is
case study from Thailand highlights an ex- one of 24 registered CDM projects in Thai-
ample of a ‘waste’ product, in this case rice land, with close to 100 more projects in the
husks, which is in fact a valuable part of an pipeline. The credits generated by the project
existing local economy. It shows that even are bought by Japan Mitsubishi UFJ Secu-
small-scale biomass energy projects, which rities, a financial services group, and Chubu
are allegedly among the better offset proj- Electric, a Japanese power company which is
ects, also cause pollution and can in effect registered in The Netherlands to minimise its
be detrimental to the lives and livelihoods corporate tax obligations. Chubu also owns a
of local residents. 34 per cent stake in A.T. Biopower.

A. T. Biopower and the CDM What waste?

In 2001, A.T. Biopower put forward a plan to Rice husks are a by-product of rice-milling.
build five rice husk-burning biomass power They have been used for centuries to absorb
stations with the objective of bundling them animal droppings, mostly from chickens.
together and acquiring CDM financing. The The resultant product is used as an agricul-
first station was built in Pichit near the fer- tural fertiliser as well as for brick manufac-
tile banks of the Nan River in north-central turing. The rice husk and manure mixture
Thailand. The Pichit power station is a 22 creates a healthy balance of carbon and nitro-
megawatt capacity thermal power plant lo- gen which releases minerals into the soil and
cated next to the community of Sa Luang

51 This case study research was conducted plant_e.htm
53 Anne Arquit Niederberger and Raymond Saner,
by Nantiya Tangwisutijit, Tamra Gilb- ‘Exploring the relationship between FDI flows and
ertson and Ricardo Santos in November CDM potential’, Transnational Corporations, April
2008. 2005.

66 Critical Currents no. 7

builds soil content. Rice husks therefore play By assuming that the burning of rice husks
a vital role in local small-scale agriculture. is climate-neutral, talking up the ‘sustain-
Farmers in the region commented that they ability’ of the project and talking down the
will have to replace this natural fertiliser local environmental impacts, the project de-
with chemical fertilisers because demand velopers are able to maximise the number of
from the power plant has driven up the price free offset credits issued to A.T. Biopower.
of rice husks, meaning they are no longer Over 100,000 CERs have been issued al-
affordable.54 Local chicken farms and brick ready, and by 2020 it is projected that over
factories have to go further away to source 1 million offset credits will have been gen-
rice husks, destroying a once self-sufficient erated by the project.57 When sold on the
system in the region as well as causing local market, these might plausibly fetch between
farmers to become dependent on fossil fuel- US$ 10 and US$ 30 each, with each credit
based fertilisers. claimed to represent a metric tonne of car-
bon emissions.
The A. T. Biopower project claims to be re-
placing power generation which would oth- Health and environmental risks talked down
erwise require oil, coal and natural gas. It
also claims that the resulting ash by-product Local residents near the Pichit plant have
will be used for cement production, fur- complained about respiratory problems and
ther reducing the environmental impact. irritated skin. One local resident said, ‘I feel
No mention is made of existing uses for itchy all of the time from the dust and I have
rice husks, which are presented merely as to keep my doors and windows closed day
waste products. This fiction is elaborated on and night.’58
by the project validator, Det Norske Veri-
tas (DNV), which claims that uncontrolled Silica (SiO2) is the main mineral component
burning or dumping of rice husk, without of rice husk ash (RHA) (85-90 per cent). It
utilising it for energy purposes, is the pre- carries serious health risks, particularly to the
dominant current practice.55 No support- respiratory system.59 Silicosis is an irrevers-
ing evidence is offered to back this up, and ible lung disease which is normally found in
the wording is simply copied from a stan- workers at mining operations or rock quar-
dardised text that DNV applies to all such ries, but it can also be caused by inhaling
projects in all countries.56

54 Personal interview with community member 57 UNEP Risoe CDM/JI Pipeline Analysis and Data-
conducted by Nantiya Tangwisutijit and Tamra base,
Gilbertson, 11 November 2008. 58 Personal interview with residents conducted by
55 See ‘A.T. Biopower Rice Husk Power Project in Nantiya Tangwisutijit and Tamra Gilbertson, 11
Pichit, Thailand’, Validation Report, pp.10 and 27, November 2008. 59 N. Yalçin and V. Sevinç, ‘Studies on silica obtained
OUR7L1SX25WD2DXB1BHNCAGCR7PPW1 from rice husk’, Elsevier Science Ltd and Techna
56 The ‘baseline methodology’ used by the project is S.r.l. 2001. This RHA in turn contains around
ACM0006 (version 04) – 85-90 per cent amorphous silica. References and
‘Consolidated baseline methodology for grid-con- further reading may be available for this article. To
nected electricity generation from biomass residues’. view references and further reading you must this
UNFCCC CDM database. article.See also

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 67

RHA.60 A few years ago certain villages in pendence on local farmers are discussed in
northern Thailand were dubbed ‘villages of the offset project documentation.
widows’ because of the large number of pes-
tle-and-mortar-making workers who died Villagers complained of noise pollution when
from silicosis. China reports 24,000 deaths the power station was being built. In addi-
per year due to silicosis.61 Residents near the tion, the station was so loud in the first month
Pichit plant stated that ‘they were offered as of operation that residents living opposite
much ash as they wanted for free because it complained of having to shout to make
the company does not want it’. themselves heard. Instead of slowing opera-
tions or modifying the engine, the company
Increased nitrogen-based fertilisers also have responded by offering the villagers ear plugs.
adverse affects on humans and the environ- Each time the villagers have complained
ment. High levels of nitrates in groundwater about the station, the standard response has
pose significant risks to ecosystems, and can been to offer them gifts to stay quiet.
cause significant health problems in humans
and fish.62 Local resistance in Nam Song
In addition, ammonia gas (NH3) may be Nam Song is a river-dependent community
emitted following the application of inor- in Phayuha Khiri district, in Nakhon Sawan
ganic fertilisers and cause emissions of the province, Thailand. It is located on the fer-
greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). N2O tile flood plain of the Chao Phraya River,
accounted for 8 per cent of greenhouse gas just downstream from where two tributaries
emissions in 2005, mostly from fertilisers. merge at Nakhon Sawan (Heavenly City)
Since N2O is held to be 296 times more po- and 50 km from the A. T. Biopower plant
tent than CO2, it has a tremendous impact in Pichit. The main source of livelihood is
on the climate.63 Finally, because nitrogen- agriculture, which relies on seasonal flood-
based fertilisers are generally made from ing. When the water subsides in the dry
natural gas, their use entrenches fossil fuel season, the fertile banks are planted with
dependence. Neither the emissions nor the cabbage, broccoli and other seasonal veg-
impact of introducing a new fossil fuel de- etables. When the water is high in the rainy
season, it is used to flood rice paddies, while
60 Shuchun Liu et al., ‘Silicosis Caused by Rice Husk aquaculture facilities are constructed on the
Ashes’, School of Public Health, Harbin Medical river’s edge. Community forests are also an
University, no. 38, 1996, pp. 257- 62.
61 important resource, providing food, build-
62 Lynda Knobeloch, Barbara Salna, Adam Hogan, ing materials, medicines and high ground
Jeff rey Postle and Henry Anderson, ‘Blue Babies for livestock during seasonal flooding.
and Nitrate-Contaminated Well Water’, Envi-
ronmental Health Perspectives, no. 108, 7 July 2000, Nam Song residents learned in 2001 of A. T.
678knobeloch/abstract.html; see also Roots, Biopower’s plans to build a biomass power
Nitrogen Transformations, and Ecosystem
plant on a rice field nearby. The residents de-
abs/10.1146/annurev.arplant.59.032607.092932 cided to visit a community that was already
63 Nicholas Stern et al. Stern Review on the Economics of affected by another rice-husk burning power
Climate Change, HM Treasury, London, 2006, p. viii.

68 Critical Currents no. 7

plant in Wat Sing district, Chainat province, their divisions, with the whole community
about 40 km southwest of Nakhon Sawan, signing the letter stating their objections
which was owned by another company. One to the meeting and to the proposed power
community leader reasoned: ‘The developers plant. The villagers then created the Nam
only told us positive sides about the factory Song Conservation Club to co-ordinate a
and we are uneducated so we needed to find full-scale campaign against the project.
out about the negative sides too.’ Residents
of Nam Song then travelled to Wat Singh, The Nam Song Conservation Club began
where the local community was living with gathering research with the aid of other
the effects of the power plant. After having movements and organisations. The villagers
spoken to the residents in Wat Singh and wit- sought to show that the rice field was on a
nessed the impacts on the residents, the Nam flood plain and an inappropriate power sta-
Song residents made a commitment to form tion site, and that building it so close to where
their own opposition. they lived constituted a threat to the health of
the people and the river. The campaign grew
After months of information-gathering, the to include meetings, door-to-door organising
Nam Song community experienced a major and several rallies of over 700 people outside
setback when the local sub-district adminis- the provincial government headquarters.
tration agreed to instal the power station in
Nam Song. The Thai government requires The developers used several tactics that are
developers to have a public hearing process typical in such situations wherein corpora-
with residents before proceeding. At the tions make systematic attempts to disrupt
public meeting, the local government offi- the local community resistance. Members of
cials and the company consultants met with a community in the nearby Pichit province
the community and asked them to sign their who also faced the possibility of a new bio-
names on a piece of paper labelled ‘consul- mass power plant were sent by the company
tant meeting’. The consultants and local to bribe the village leaders, offering them
government officials added names of villag- ‘compensation’ to stop protesting. All of the
ers who were not in attendance. The com- village leaders were threatened by develop-
pany showed the list of names to the local ers and local government, and were told
authority, stating that 88 per cent of the 528 their lives could be in danger if they con-
villagers who attended the meeting agreed tinued the campaign. Large bribes were of-
to the power plant being built. In the mean- fered, and the villagers were repeatedly lied
time, A. T. Biopower placed a deposit on to in an effort to destroy their unity.
the plot of land they planned to develop.
Despite the project developers investing a
This incident provoked the villagers to send lot of time and energy in their attempts to
a grievance letter to the local government. persuade the Nam Song community that
Initially, they were divided over whether the the project was beneficial, the community
power plant should be built, which caused remained unconvinced. ‘We do not need
strife in daily life as well as among family factories or development, we live with na-
members. Eventually, they resolved to end ture and we like the way things are,’ stated

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 69

Jongkol Kerdboonma, a member of the club. husks would be too expensive to use as a
Another resident stated: ‘We knew the plant fertiliser, and we would have to switch to
was bad because it involved money.’ Promises 100 per cent synthetic fertilisers.’
were made to the community to implement
a development fund and a new health fund. The women in the village played an essential
But the promises were met with skepticism role in fundraising, organising and main-
by local leaders. ‘Which doctor will tell us taining trust within the community. They
that we are sick from the pollution if the doc- made handicrafts and sweets to fundraise for
tor is hired by the company?’ they asked.64 the campaign. They sold t-shirts and sweets
at meetings, which provided an opportunity
Interestingly, the Nam Song community to talk with others about the struggle. They
was never offered any electricity from the canvassed an area of 10 square km and gath-
power plant, not even at a subsidised rate. ered 4,000 signatures for just one of the ral-
Each household pays 300 baht per month to lies at the government headquarters.
the national grid.
The success of the women’s work was such
The Nam Song Conservation Club states that they too were targeted and harassed by
three main reasons for their opposition to the project developers. The developers lied
the rice husk burning power plant: to the women, telling them that the men in
- ‘We have lived self-sufficiently on this the village were receiving bribes from the
river for generations, so why would we company. The women were then further
want to destroy the land with pollution questioned about why they would want to
that would be bad for the people and the keep supporting the men if they themselves
environment?’ were not receiving money as well. The
- ‘We already knew they would dump the women’s awareness that this tactic was being
ash in our river, and that it would pollute used in an attempt to derail their organising
the river and the fish.’ confi rmed to them the importance of their
- ‘Rice husks are not an agricultural waste work for the continuing struggle.
product to begin with. We use them for the
chicken pens, and after they have absorbed An open and democratic organising process
the chicken waste we use this as a fertil- helped the community maintain its stami-
iser. If the power station was built here rice na. One resident stated: ‘We made all of our
decisions together at meetings, which pre-
64 The A. T. Biopower website claims that the vented internal confl icts from arising.’ The
company will establish ‘(1) Environmental Im- residents acknowledged that there were dis-
pact Protection Guarantee Fund which will pay agreements and tensions during the difficult
compensation for the damages the power plant has
caused to the environment of the community such phases of the struggle. ‘We would scrutinise
as excessively over-standard smog emitted from the each other, even watch each other and ev-
plant’s smokestack; (2) Community Development eryone was very tense.’ However, the com-
and Environment Fund which will support and
develop the education, heath care, occupation for a
munity continued to organise, reach out for
better standard of living of people in community’, support, and demonstrate. They received solidarity and support from other commu-

70 Critical Currents no. 7

nity movements, NGOs and the Assem- ferent in nature from other CDM projects.
bly of the Poor, a large umbrella grassroots They often contribute to land grabs and ex-
movement involving tens of thousands of acerbate local confl icts and pollution, while
Thai villagers who are affected by unjust continuing to benefit the dirty industries
policies and development. The Nam Song that buy pollution credits from them.
residents said they ‘learned a lot from each
others’ struggles’ and maintained their unity The following case studies conducted in the
so that no one accepted the bribes or backed Satara and Supa districts of Maharashra on
down from the threats. the Sahyadri Valleys, Western Ghat, India
serve as a warning of how not to proceed
After six years of struggle, and with the help with renewable energy. There are many
of several outside solidarity organisations, ways to build truly sustainable, small-scale,
they were able to approach the National renewable energy. However, if projects are
Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to embedded within an institutionalised de-
request an official investigation. In 2007, velopment framework they tend to inhibit
the NHRC recommended that the power rather than advance a future of truly ‘sus-
plant should not be built on the grounds tainable’ renewable energy.
that it was inappropriate to build on the
flood plain, and that it would violate human CDM finance for the wind
rights by polluting the river and damaging
the villagers’ livelihoods. Since 2007, CDM wind power projects in
India have more than tripled, with over 80
This intervention would not have happened projects registered to date. In fact, wind is
without the villagers’ long struggle, as Nam the largest single CDM project type in In-
Song resident Soontan Yentosuk, concluded: dia, with over 300 project applications in the
‘We cannot rely on any laws to protect us, pipeline as of September 2009.66
which are no better than a piece of paper, so
we had better protect ourselves.’ Projects vying for CDM status are obliged
to prove that they provide social, economic,
environmental and technological wellbeing
Blown away – Wind energy for local communities, yet the projects de-
projects in Satara, Maharashtra65 scribed below grossly violate these criteria.
It is often argued that renewable energy proj- In addition, there are severe environmental
ects within the CDM are inherently ‘good’ impacts created by the infrastructure need-
projects designed to reduce emissions and ed for the wind energy generators (WEGs),
promote local sustainability. Yet renewable as well as from the sheer concentration of
energy ventures are not fundamentally dif- wind turbines in a small area. Size, scale
and decision-making power are matters that
have not been addressed.
65 This case study research was conducted by Nishant
Nandi and Soumitra Ghosh of the National Forum
of Forest People and Forest Workers, India, and 66 UNEP Risoe CDM/JI Pipeline Analysis and Da-
Tamra Gilbertson from CTW/TNI. Sections of it tabase,, based on data from
were published in Mausam, no. 1, July-August 2008. February 2007 and September 2009.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 71

Wind power has been developed rapidly villages at the cost of Rs 40-60,000 per acre
over the last 10 years in the state of Ma- (€550-900), within a 20 km radius. Within
harashtra, India. In 1996, the Maharashtra only a few years, a once-forested plateau has
Energy Development Agency (MEDA) ini- been transformed into a barren land packed
tiated a demonstration wind power project with electricity lines, roads, power stations,
with Suzlon Energy Ltd. which acquired plastic garbage and over 1,000 WEGs.
huge tracts of land in the Satara region with
the purpose of building up wind power in- Other investors, mainly from the automobile
frastructure and selling the power plants and energy industries, began moving into the
along with the land to other companies at region, purchasing the WEGs set up by Su-
a minimum price of Rs 50 million (around zlon.68 The lure of cheap infrastructure and
€765,000) each. Today the Satara region has bulk subsidies at source drew the companies
more than 1,000 WEGs owned by MEDA, to Satara, while the possibility of earning
Suzlon, Bajaj Auto, Tata Motors and others additional revenue through the sales of car-
on an area of about 40 km squared. bon credits acted as another strong incentive.
Many companies applied for CDM registra-
Cheap land and infrastructure coupled with tion, mainly with aggregated wind energy
bulk subsidies at source made the energy fi- projects, but no new WEGs or infrastructure
nancing easy, but the possibility of earning were set up for the CDM projects – which
extra revenue through selling carbon credits raises the question of ‘additionality’ (wheth-
benefited the projects further. Most of the er it could ever be verified that the WEGs
projects approved for entry into the CDM would have been developed even if carbon
already existed prior to entering the scheme, financing had not been forthcoming).
managing to pass through the Executive
Board despite providing little evidence that The private companies operating on the site
they would not have been built anyway.67 sell electricity to Maharashtra State Elec-
tricity Board (MSEB) at Rs 3.16 per unit
MEDA is a state-run organisation that de- while they consume electricity provided by
velops energy projects throughout Maha- MSEB at a concessional rate of Rs 1.20 per
rashtra. It started a ‘demonstration wind- unit.69 In 2006, Suzlon was investigated by
mill project’ at Chalkewadi village, located the Indian tax authorities and found to have
60 km from Satara, in 1996, initially leasing made false depreciation claims on wind
100 acres of land from villagers for a five- farm equipment to evade taxes, totalling
year term, and later purchasing the land at between Rs 700-1,000 crore (around US$
6,000 rupees (Rs 6,000) per acre (around 200 million).
€88). The apparent success of the project at-
tracted private companies like Suzlon En- In the case of Satara, second only to Tamil
ergy Ltd, which were already one of the Nadu in terms of installed capacity, it is es-
leading suppliers and manufacturers of wind
turbines and related equipment. This proj- 68 The companies include Bajaj Auto, Tata, Encron,
ect gave way to Suzlon setting up additional Star, GIO, Sarita Chemicals, WESTAJ RRB, En-
ergy Micon and MTL.
wind energy generators in neighbouring
69 The companies include Ellora Time Ltd., Bharat
Forge, Star Gutaka, Sarita Chemical, Westaj RRB,
67 Mausam, vol.1, no. 1, July-August 2008. Energy Micon, MTL.

72 Critical Currents no. 7

timated that the region could produce up interested in promoting a ‘green’ image
to 3,650 megawatts in 28 feasible sites.70 The through ownership of windmills.
plant load factor (PLF) for wind turbines, or
what the turbines actually produce, in India Perhaps more unsettling than the lack of
averages 20 per cent, which is low compared ‘additionality’, or the unsavoury carbon ac-
to global averages. But what is worse, Ma- counting that accompanies it, is that the Sa-
harashtra’s average has decreased over the tara wind energy projects are tarnished by
years from 19 per cent in 2002-3 to a low of their unethical and often illegal dealings.
11.7 per cent in 2007-8.71 Most notably, local villagers were seldom
paid a fair price for the land acquired, and
An investigation of wind energy develop- more often than not the land was obtained
ment in Satara by the Indian magazine through evidently fraudulent means.
Down to Earth found that
Tata Group and the CDM
...companies have merrily installed
plants, not to generate power, but to Tata Motors, part of the Tata Group, is the
gain from tax and depreciation benefits. largest automobile manufacturer in India
The business seems a closed loop – the with revenues reaching US$ 7.2 billion in
turbine-maker makes deals with inves- 2007.73 It is perhaps most famous for its
tor companies to set up plants. Nobody release of the Nano in 2008, the cheapest
quite knows the cost of a windmill. The compact car in the world. Yet Tata Mo-
turbine-maker gains and the investor tors also has an atrocious record of human
profits. Indeed, nobody seems really in- rights violations, most notably through land
terested in selling power, increasing ef- grabs.74 Tata Group has 16 registered CDM
ficiency and cutting costs.72 projects, including three wind power proj-
ects. These wind projects aim to generate
This suggests that the subsidies attached to 836,000 tonnes of CO2 credits by 2012.
building wind farms and greenwashing the
effects of owning them are more sought af- Sahajanpur Village
ter by the companies than the energy pro-
duced by them. Sahajanpur is located 8 km from Supa on a
windy plateau. The village population is
The combination of incentives described about 200 families (around 1,100 people). A
above makes wind turbine projects in Ma- landless, scheduled-caste community in Sa-
harashtra an extremely attractive economic
proposition, which do not require carbon 73
credits to become viable. Both the Indian 74 The CPI (M)-led state government of West Bengal
government and the Maharashtra govern- created a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for Tata
Motors’ Nano project near Singur, which led to
ment have been providing subsidies and forced evictions of 12,000 families and resistance
cheap infrastructure to dirty industries by the landless. After ongoing social upheaval
including the rape and burning of a 16-year old
landless girl who had protested in 2006, the Tata
70 Ibid.
Nano factory was moved to Gujarat in 2008. http://
71 Ibid.
72 Ibid.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 73

hajanpur were surviving until recently on he complained about the price the company
patches of 78 acres of government land that officials replied that they were overpaying
was also eventually obtained for wind farms. because people in Satara were only being
paid Rs 8,000 per acre.
Before setting up its wind turbines on these
lands in 2001, Tata made several promises Promising the sky
to the villagers – such as jobs, local tax pay-
ments, schools, a health clinic, and toilets in Tata promised employment in order to lure
every house. The PDD states that the villag- the villagers into selling their lands at be-
ers willingly gave their lands to the project low market rates, but save for a handful of
developers and that Tata Motors Ltd prom- security guards, no one in Sahajanpur has
ised jobs to the residents. been employed. Without jobs or land, the
prospects for the residents are dim.
In fact, the people initially resisted the ac-
quisition of their lands. According to an en- The company also promised a new road, ve-
gineer who earlier worked for Ispat, India, hicles, ponds, and electricity in the temple,
Tata officials picked up a few villagers in but the residents have received none of these
their company vehicles and brought them to benefits. Further, the sarpanch (head of the
a meeting in Satara. The engineer claims the village council) of Sahajanpur, who was
Tata officials mentioned the CDM and the briefly employed by the company, stated
environment to the group, but that no one that the company had not paid the Rs 56,000
understood what they were talking about. tax that it owes to the Gram Panchayat (lo-
The engineer also stated that there was a cal government body). The community has
banner on the back wall that read ‘Stake- considered taking the company to court.
holders’ Meeting.’
The company did not provide even basic
According to local residents the wind power information about its aims. Residents were
company hired a few other deed-holding unaware of the concept of CDM and there
villagers to prepare documentation for land is no evidence of their participation in the
acquisition from fellow villagers. The locals project, contrary to what was stated in the
were paid Rs 20,000 per acre (€250), far be- PDD. Many residents say that they were de-
low the then existing market rate. The com- ceived into selling their lands. Now without
pany managed to acquire close to 900 acres lands or jobs and no alternative source of
of local land from about 80 per cent of the livelihood, many people in the region are
residents. Before this, villagers stated they forced to migrate in search of work.
were harvesting two good crops per year
without the use of chemical fertilisers. The company has reaped significant profits
from the scheme. Tata Motors sold on a pro-
Residents tell of how the village leaders were portion of these credits to EcoSecurities, the
‘hired’ by the company to trick them into largest carbon broker in the world, which
selling their lands. One resident, 65 years then sold half of these voluntary credits on
old, claims he was paid Rs 20,000 per acre the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) in
(€250) for his three acres of land and when September 2007 for an average price of US$

74 Critical Currents no. 7

22.11 per unit, fetching over US$ 3.5 million behalf of the villagers. The villagers had old
through this one sale alone.75 colonial-era documents dating back to the
19th century but no ‘official’ and ‘new’ title
The Tata case is only one of many in the to the land. Accordingly, the company did
area, however – with the village of Kadve not compensate them. The local administra-
Khurd, around 70 km from Satara, facing tion refused to hear the villagers’ case, and
similar problems. in vain they sought justice from the Collec-
tor’s Court in Pune. The Collector refused
Kadve Khurd Village to stop construction of the wind turbines
and annulled a motion to that effect that had
Bharat Forge Ltd., owned by the Kalyani been passed by a lower court. The company,
Group, is a supplier of engine and chassis with support from the police, responded by
components. To meet electricity demand at its falsly accusing several of the agitating vil-
plant at Pune, Bharat Forge initially planned lagers of robbery and equipment theft.
to build a 4.2 megawatt wind energy power
project near the village of Kadve Khurd. The In the village, people view the wind tur-
project was registered in the CDM in 2003 for bines as harmful junk that provides no local
the period of 2001-2008 with a total estimated benefits. It supplies neither electricity nor
‘emissions reduction’ of 60,315 tonnes of CO2 employment, and destroyed the only com-
e. The project was renewed for a six-year cycle mon pasture of the village. In addition, the
in May 2009 to run until 2015. company wielded a ban on cattle grazing in
the project area.
The villagers of Kadve Khurd knew noth-
ing about the wind project before Bharat Villagers at Kadve Khurd have never heard
Forge Ltd began erecting turbines on their of the Clean Development Mechanism or
lands. Local residents launched strong re- carbon credits.
sistance to protect their lands, which were
being forcibly acquired. A total of 30 wind The story of Shivram Ahare76
turbines stand in and around the village of
Kadve Khurd today, and the community is The company offered Shivram Ahare, a
forcibly kept off the lands. resident of Kadve Khurd, Rs 50,000 for his
land. He refused and produced an old map
The project occupies 299 acres, largely de- which proved his rights to the land in addi-
vottar or temple properties and privately tion to a Sanad (grant deed) from the period
held farmland. The deal for these lands was of British colonialism, a receipt for payment
struck with a village headman whose family of agricultural tax, and the original village
has been traditionally holding the land on land documents. When all attempts at coax-
ing and bribery failed, the company threat-
ened to kill Shivram, who then fled the vil-
Ron Mahabir, ‘Tata Motors Cashes in CERs on lage for two months.
Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX)’ Asia Cleantech,
26 September 2007, http://asiacleantech.wordpress.
com/2007/09/26/tata-motors-cashes-in-cers-on- 76 Interview with Nishant Mate and Tamra Gilbert-
chicago-climate-exchange-ccx/ son, 14 November 2006.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 75

Shivram Ahare fi led his fi rst legal case in Later other police officers were sent by
2001 in Tahsil (Block) Court, which de- the company to the village to threaten my
clared Shivram’s documents outdated – but life so I fled the village for two months.
a higher, Sub-Divisional Court later ruled The company then stopped work for 14
that construction on his land should stop. days and hired a lawyer and made new
This was subsequently overruled on ap- papers. The lawyer stated that in 1981
peal – a decision which the villagers allege there was a new land accord that we
was subject to bribery. Shivram Ahare was didn’t know about. I went to the compa-
then given 15 days to appeal against this last ny with the documents and the company
judgement to the High Court, but by that offered me 50,000 rupees for the land,
time all village records had been burnt by but I got really suspicious and thought
the company’s agents. there was something bigger happening
and then the company took me to court.
Shivram Ahare explains the situation in his I went to the lawyer and sent a notice to
own words: the company. They called me Satura and
offered me 35 lakh rupees just to keep
We showed our documents to the compa- quiet, just to keep quiet! I refused and
ny for our rights to the land and the com- went to court but the company would
pany then showed us the ‘deed of sale’ to not go to court and we are still waiting
the land. This document was signed by for the court decision.
someone in Pune and it is a faulty docu-
ment because no one in the village ever
agreed to this or signed such a thing. All
Crushed – Wilmar
of us [from the village] tried to stop the Group case study 77
construction and the company went to Indonesia emits more human-originated
the police station in Tanali. The police greenhouse gases than any other country in
would not accept their complaint so they the world except for the US and China. But
went to the Umbras police station and most of its emissions, unlike those of the US
fi led charges against us for property dam- and China, come from deforestation and the
age of 50,000 rupees and other materials burning of peatlands cleared for the booming
and for stealing windmill materials. palm oil industry. Almost half of Indonesia’s
22.5 million hectares of peatlands have already
The police came at 2 am to take 15-20 of been logged and drained for palm oil.78
us to the police station. Most were held
for three hours but they kept me for a Palm oil is used for food, cosmetics and fuel,
day. The lawyer from the company went and demand for it is predicted to double by
to talk to me at the police station but I
refused to cooperate and the police got
angry. They were going to beat me but I 77 Research conducted by Wiwied Widya Astuti and
Mr. Kaka from Jikalahari, Sumatra, Indonesia, and
threatened the police and they let me go. Tamra Gilbertson and Oscar Reyes from CTW/TNI.
The police said that they forgave me and 78 A. Hooijer, M. Silvius, HJM Wosten, ‘Peat –CO2,
let me free. Assessment of CO2 emissions from drained peatlands
in SE Asia’, Delft Hydraulics Report Q3943, 2006.

76 Critical Currents no. 7

2030 and triple by 2050.79 International play- rainforest of Kalimantan and Sumatra was
ers include giant corporations like Cargill, destroyed between 1985 and 1997, the expan-
ADM-Kuok-Wilmar and Synergy Drive, sion of palm oil plantations being the main
which is the biggest palm oil trader in the culprit.83 Between 1995 and 2005, the amount
world, exporting to Northern giants such as of Indonesian land being used to grow oil
Cadbury’s, Nestlé and Tesco. palm increased by some 8.6 million acres (3.5
million hectares), more than doubling the to-
The province of Riau covers 9 million tal plantation area, according to a report by
hectares, about the size of Portugal, with Credit Suisse, an investor in expansion.
4 million hectares of peatlands storing 14.6
gigatonnes of carbon.80 Burning all of these Palm oil production has ironically sparked
peatlands would release the equivalent of one more fi res in Riau in the course of meeting
year’s global carbon dioxide emissions, or the global demand for what is being pushed
five years’ worth of emissions from all fos- as a solution to climate change, and big
sil fuel power plants.81 Riau holds a quarter commodity traders have already made plans
of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations, one-third to expand biodiesel infrastructure still fur-
of the concessions being sited on peat. Riau ther in Indonesia. However, using agrofuels
was once mostly dense forest, but half of the to substitute for even a mere 10 per cent of
remaining area could soon be converted to the worldwide demand for diesel fuel in the
palm plantation if government plans are rea- transport sector would require more than
lised in the next decade.82 According to the three-quarters of total current global soya,
World Bank, between 60 per cent of lowland palm and rapeseed oil production.84

79 FAO, 2006. See also ‘World palm oil production’, Back doors and secret passageways
OECD Statistics, 2007. The OECD predicts a dou-
bling of production on 2000 levels by 2015. Murini Samsam, located near Pelintung,
80 S. Ritung Wahyunto and H. Subagio, ‘Peta Luas
Sebaran Lahan Gambut dan Kandungan Karbon di
Riau, is a subsidiary of Wilmar International
Palau Sumatera’ (Maps of Area of Peatland Distribu- Ltd, Asia’s largest agribusiness group, which
tion and Carbon Content in Sumatera, 1990-2002), has a long record of human rights abuses and
Wetlands International, Indonesia Programme &
Wildlife Habitat Canada, 2003.
81 Greenpeace, ‘How the Palm Oil Industry is Cook-
ing the Planet’, Amsterdam, November 2007.
82 M. Colchester et al., ‘Promised land: Palm oil and
land acquisition in Indonesia: Implications for local 83 D. Holmes, ‘Deforestation in Indonesia: A View of
communities and Indigenous People’., Hrsg. Forest the Situation in 1999’, World Bank, Jakarta. Draft
People Programme, Perkumpulan Sawit Watch, Report, 3 July 2000.
HuMA and the World Agroforestry Center,2006. 84 Greenpeace, op. cit., supra, note 82. Ten per cent of
Provincial governments are even more ambitious global mineral diesel used in 2005 = 60.1 million
in terms of oil palm expansion, planning for an tonnes. Given that the energy content of 1 tonne
additional 20 million hectares. Nearly 80 per cent of diesel is equivalent to 1.1 tonnes of vegetable
of the expansion is planned for Sumatra and Kalim- oil, 66.1 million tonnes of vegetable oil would be
antan, with most of the remainder, some 3 million needed to replace 60.1 million tonnes of mineral
hectares, in Papua, Indonesia’s largest remaining diesel. Therefore, 66.1 million tonnes of vegetable
region of intact rainforests. Nearly 40 per cent of oil would be the equivalent of 76 per cent of global
the expansion in Sumatra – some 3 million hectares production of soya, palm and rapeseed oil produc-
– is earmarked for the province of Riau. tion in 2005/6.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 77

other social and environmental scandals.85 facilities have applied for emissions reduc-
Although palm oil is not specified as a re- tion credits mostly by using two methodolo-
newable energy or resource within the CDM gies. After the seeds are crushed, the fruit is
guidelines, the factories that crush the seeds converted into a viscous run-off and either
to make oil can register for CDM financing dumped or held in wastewater facilities. In
under ‘biomass’ or ‘cogeneration’ method- these cases, the factories claim to capture
ologies. At the time of writing there are 47 methane in wastewater holding ponds by
registered CDM palm oil projects, with a covering the area with plastic and catching
further 55 at the validation stage and three the gas. Another approach companies use to
under review.86 Most of these projects are in claim emissions reductions is through install-
Malaysia and Indonesia. As with all CDM ing steam turbines in the production process
projects, the manner in which the palm oil is and cogeneration methodology.
grown, sourced and used as a final end prod-
uct – and the related greenhouse gas emis- Murini Samsam operates a palm kernel
sions – is not taken into account. Crushing crushing facility with the purpose of pro-
ducing crude palm oil for export. The com-
85 In the summer of 2007, the Wilmar Group formed pany entered the CDM market by means of
a US$ 4.3 billion merger with Archer Daniel Mid- a biomass energy project, which intends to
land Asia Pacific (ADM) and its subsidiaries to be-
come Asia’s leading agribusiness group and the larg-
generate power for the factory from palm
est palm oil biodiesel manufacturer in the world. oil solid waste.
See Press Release, ‘Wilmar secures all approvals for
US$4.3 Billion Merger and Acquisitions’, Wilmar
Group, Singapore, 22 June 2007. The company
The project was registered to start gener-
has a chequered history, however, which includes ating carbon credits in January 2006 for a
alleged human rights abuses, dodgy land acquisition 10-year period, with over 500,000 CO2 e
deals and biodiversity scandals. In September 2009,
reductions expected by 2016.87 Murini Sam-
the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the
private fi nance arm of the World Bank Group, was sam would therefore expect to fetch around
forced to admit that it violated its own standards by US$ 8 million for installing a 9.7 megawatt
investing in the Wilmar Group and froze new in- boiler and condensing steam turbine, which
vestments in oil palm projects. The IFC announced
on 28 August 2009 that it was currently suspending uses palm kernel shells and palm kernel fibre
all investments into large-scale palm oil opera- left over from the crushing process.88
tions. This follows a formal complaint to the IFC
lodged by a number of environmental NGOs in
August 2007, which stated that the Wilmar Group The PDD uses a lot of language to present
were illegally using fi re to clear primary forests and a green face for the project. ‘The construc-
high conservation value areas, in addition to seiz- tion of a new boiler and condensing steam
ing Indigenous Peoples’ land without free, prior,
and informed consent. Perkumpulan Sawit Watch,
turbine running on biomass for the produc-
Lembaga Gemawan, Kontak Rakyat Borneo tion of electricity for the processes of MSS
(Indonesia), The Forest Peoples Programme (UK), has [made] a significant contribution to the
Friends of the Earth (Netherlands), with 18 other
concerned NGOs and local organisations. See For-
sustainable development of the company.’89
est Peoples Programme, http://www.forestpeoples.
org/documents/ifi _igo/ifc_wilmar_update.shtml. 87 As of September 2009, the project was still subject
See also World Bank Correspondence, http://www. to a delay in issuing the fi rst credits. 88 Project Design Document, Small-scale CDM
Colchester_et_al_August_28_2009.pdf/$FILE/ Project: MSS Biomass 9.7 MWe Condensing Steam
Colchester_et_al_August_28_2009.pdf Turbine, Version 1.2; 25 April 2006
86 UNEP Risoe CDM/JI Pipeline Analysis and Data- 89 Ibid.
base, September 2009.

78 Critical Currents no. 7

But nowhere does the company address the Palm oil plantations create major social
greater environmental or social impacts of problems, such as poor working conditions
the palm oil plantations. on the plantations and in the factories as
well as land rights confl icts with the resi-
A win-lose scenario dent population.92 Workers at the Murini
Samsam factory stated that they work seven
The Murini Samsam factory is located hours a day, six days a week and a half-day
about 4 km from Balai Raja, a wildlife con- on the seventh. Some workers do double
servation area widely known as a reserve shifts. Workers are paid 800,000-1,000,000
protecting the few remaining elephants in Rupiahs (US$ 80-100) per month. They
the region. Local residents state that when stated that they have had many confl icts
the palm oil industry expanded there were with the company but were not organised
increased incidences of confl icts in the re- enough and were forced to stop. They also
gion because the local people and animals reported frequent accidents such as burns.
were increasingly crowded out. It is esti- In one case a worker lost his arm.93
mated that 90 per cent of the original for-
est inside Balai Raja has been destroyed as a
direct result of palm oil expansion.90 Local
Agrofuels in the CDM
communities plant palm oil because their Biodiesel is listed as a sub-type category un-
lands have been taken through government der biomass methodology within the CDM
concessions given to the companies; yet it framework but to date no projects have been
is they who are blamed for illegal logging registered. At the time of writing, three
and palm oil expansion. The real drivers of projects have been withdrawn and four are
deforestation are rewarded with land con- at the validation stage.94
cessions and big money.
Another home for agrofuel projects is the
In Riau, 70 per cent of the land belongs to transport sector. There is currently one proj-
the plantation industry and 23 per cent is ect that receives CDM funding by powering
allocated as protected forest. Communities public transport with used vegetable oil and
are squeezed between the palm oil industry several more projects are at validation stages.95
and government-led land conservation ef- As with all methodologies in the CDM, when
forts. According to a local researcher, com- one delinquent project methodology is set in
munities often choose to struggle against motion it paves the way for others to follow.
the government since otherwise ‘they will In mid-October 2009 new biodiesel method-
have a war with the companies, the compa- ology (ACM0017) passed through the CDM
nies will attack the communities, and there executive board. This dangerous inclusion
will be many human rights violations. The
villagers use the wildlife conservation area
to survive and as a result get into confl ict 92 M. Colchester et al., op. cit., supra, note 83.
93 Personal interviews with workers at the Murini
with the government instead.’91 Samsam factory, Dec. 2007.
94 UNEP Risoe CDM/JI Pipeline Analysis and Data-
90 Interview with members of Jakalihari with Tamra base,
Gilbertson and Oscar Reyes, December 2007. 95 Ibid.
91 Filmed interview with researcher from Kabit Riau,
with Tamra Gilbertson, December 2007.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 79

paves the way for agrofuels from seeds to US$ 25 million, assuming credits are sold at
qualify for CDM credits. Eligible fuels, the US$ 15) in ‘emissions reductions’ by 2012.98
technical document states, are ‘waste oil/fat
and vegetable oil that is produced with oil Plantar and the World Bank promoted the
seed from plants that are cultivated on dedi- project as a model operation that would plant
cated plantations established on lands that trees, enhance workers’ safety and foster en-
are degraded or degrading at the start of the vironmental education projects for children.
project activity’.96 How degraded lands are As documented in Carbon Trading: a critical
defined remains open to debate. conversation on climate change, privatisation and
power, however, the company’s activities in
It is unknown if the palm oil factories that the area of the project have illegally dispos-
currently receive CDM fi nancing specifi- sessed many people of their land, destroyed
cally produce agrofuels to be burned in the jobs and livelihoods, dried up and polluted
North because public records of the palm local water supplies, depleted soils and the
oil supply do not differentiate specific uses – biodiversity of the native cerrado savannah
whether the oil is used for food, cosmetics, biome, threatened the health of local people,
or fuel. and exploited labour under appalling condi-
tions.99 The proposed carbon-saving project
What is clear, however, is that the CDM is helps sustain the environmentally-damaging
designed to look only at a snapshot within a model of monoculture plantations and iron
moving picture and assesses reductions based production that is responsible for this, while
on this dissected reality. The marginal ‘emis- doing nothing to improve the climate.
sions savings’ generated by such projects ob-
scure the far larger destructive picture. The original project proposal, submitted as
a forestry offset, was rejected by the CDM
Executive Board. At fi rst, Plantar claimed
that there would be an ‘accelerated reduc-
Burned – Plantar SA case study 97 tion in the plantation forestry base in the
state of Minas Gerais’. It presented its plan-
tations as forests but admitted that once it
had cut down the trees and burnt them to
Plantar SA is a pig-iron and plantation com- make pig iron it would not replant them un-
pany whose CDM project in the state of less carbon fi nance was forthcoming. When
Minas Gerais, Brazil, was one of the first to
be supported by the World Bank Prototype 98 World Bank, ‘Brazil: Plantar Sequestration and Bio-
Carbon Fund (PCF), which anticipated the mass Use’,
purchase of over 1.5 million CERs (around ProjID=9600. This was part of a larger scheme to gen-
erate carbon credits equivalent to 13 million tonnes of
carbon emissions reductions, many of which would be
96 sold on the ‘voluntary’ carbon market.
ologies/approved.html 99 Larry Lohmann, ‘Carbon Trading, a critical
97 Research was conducted by Marcelo Calazans of conversation on climate change, privatisation and
FASE, Brazil, and Tamra Gilbertson of CTW/TNI. power’ (Development Dialogue, no 48). Dag Ham-
merskold Foundation. Uppsala, 2006.

80 Critical Currents no. 7

reminded that CDM rules do not allow submitted to the CDM in its component
credit to be provided for ‘avoided deforesta- parts, which included a project to reduce
tion’, the company rewrote its design docu- methane in the tree-burning process, a re-
ments to emphasise other justifications. The vised reforestation project and a further
second attempt claimed that Plantar was project linked to the reforestation project,
preventing an otherwise necessary switch in which claims to introduce a new iron ore
the fuels for its pig iron operations from eu- reduction system in pig-iron processing.
calyptus charcoal to more carbon-intensive
coal or coke. In 2007, Plantar fi rst managed to gain ac-
cess to the CDM for its methane reduction
In other words, the company claimed that project, which it expects to generate 112,689
carbon credits for its 23,100 hectare project CERs over a seven-year time span from
were the only thing that could ensure char- 2004 to 2011. This involves nothing more
coal supplies, even though Minas Gerais complex than regulating the temperature of
alone boasts 2 million hectares of eucalyptus its ovens, and ensuring that they are ade-
plantations. Plantar itself owns rural prop- quately ventilated – a process that is dressed
erties covering more than 180,000 hectares, up in technical jargon with reference to a
mainly devoted to eucalyptus for charcoal study conducted at a local university.100
and almost all located in Minas Gerais, and
provides management services for more than At the time of writing, the resubmitted refor-
590,000 hectares of plantations for itself and estation project is still in the CDM pipeline
other companies in Brazil. at validation stage. It now promises ‘dedi-
cated plantations’ grown for the production
The repeated rejection of this project should of charcoal that is referred to, euphemisti-
have led to it being scrapped, as some 143 cally, as ‘renewable biomass’.101 The company
local groups and individuals argued in a let- claims that the original rejection was not due
ter to the CDM Executive Board of June to flaws in the project itself, but was rejected
2004: ‘[T]he claim that without carbon because CDM regulations on land use, land-
credits Plantar...would have switched to use change and forestry were not finalised
coal as an energy source is absurd... Yet now at the time it was originally submitted. On
[Plantar] is using this threat to claim carbon this basis, it attempts to backdate the claim
credits for continuing to do what they have for carbon credits to 2000 – although the fact
been doing for decades – plant unsustain- that the activities described in the project
able eucalyptus plantations for charcoal... It have already been underway for nine years is
is comparable to loggers demanding money, prima facie evidence that there is nothing ‘ad-
otherwise they will cut down trees... [The ditional’ about it.
CDM] should not be allowed to be used by
the tree plantation industry to help fi nance
its unsustainable practices.’ 100
101 ‘PDD: Reforestation as Renewable Source of Wood
But that was not the end of the matter, and Supplies for Industrial Use in Brazil’, 4 March 2008,
the project was instead repackaged and re- les/pdf/PDD_

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 81

The methodology of the second project, flawed, based as it is on the idea that putting
‘Use of Charcoal from Planted Renewable carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from
Biomass in the Iron Ore Reduction Process fossil fuel combustion can be neutralised
through the Establishment of a New Iron quickly and safely, and also glossing over the
Ore Reduction System’, was accepted by the broader social and environmental impacts of
UN Methodology Panel in mid-July 2009. monoculture plantations.
Plantar argues that a new CDM methodol-
ogy should be created relating to what it de- Plantar does not plant native species in sus-
scribes as an innovative method for reducing tainable forests. The company plants one
CO2 emissions from blast furnaces. In fact, species of non-native tree in an industrial
the project is wracked with discrepancies. plantation model for the sole purpose of
For example, the Project Design Document burning them, thus releasing CO2 and other
admits that multiple sources will be used for pollutants.
the supposedly ‘sustainable’ charcoal, but no
environmental assessment has been made of The trees are burned in small ovens to make
the plantations that would be used in addi- charcoal that is then used for the compa-
tion to those of Plantar itself.102 ny’s pig iron operations, yet a considerable
amount of destruction was required to clear
Plantar anticipates that the reforestation a path for this industry. Forests and pastures
project would reduce over 3 million tonnes were destroyed to make way for the euca-
of CO2 over its 30-year time span, which lyptus plantations, in the process releasing
could fetch the company around US$ 45 CO2 locked in by the soil. Iron ore mining
million from its buyer, the Netherlands is then a requirement to produce the inputs
CDM Facility, a Dutch government scheme for the pig iron operations, and at the other
managed by the World Bank. The iron ore end of the process lie further pollutants from
reduction project aims to generate 2,133,551 the iron factories. More broadly, still, the
CERs (around US$ 30 million) over a sev- project contributes emissions from burning
en-year time frame. trees, as well as feeding a production chain
that encompasses iron ore mining, iron
Planting trees with sole objective of burning trees smelting, shipping and so on.

Plantar promotes its charcoal operations as Plantar claims that its industrial eucalyp-
‘carbon-neutral’.103 Yet this entire concept is tus plantations absorb carbon, but the trees
have a seven-year life cycle and there is no
evidence to suggest that such a short, rapid-
102 The PDD reads: ‘Within the Plantar Projects an ad- growth life cycle could contribute to ‘neu-
ditional area of approximately the same size of the
one within the proposed A/R activity is planted in tralising’ carbon in the fi rst place. In fact,
response to the CDM, in order to ensure the supply research shows that plantations do not even
of renewable charcoal for the integrated project’s begin to balance the CO2 lost from vegeta-
iron production’.
tion clearance and soil disruption until after

82 Critical Currents no. 7

ten years of growth.104 It stands to reason, but were silenced by a consistent pattern of
then, that the plantations release more CO2 manipulation and intimidation by the com-
than they could possibly absorb. Other re- pany. Usually it starts out by offering a family
search shows that only intact old-growth member a job to create tension and division. If
forests can lock in CO2 while planted ‘for- this does not work it takes more drastic mea-
ests’ must stand for decades to generate the sures, including phone calls which threaten
same effects.105 that ‘accidents’ could occur, more pointed
threats on people’s lives, or even death threats
Handing out repression as usual aimed at other family members.108

The claims that Plantar makes about its so- The Aracruz connection
cial programmes are equally flawed, and
serve as little more than an attempt to ob- Recent developments suggest that worse
scure the destructive role of large-scale in- may be yet to come. Plantar SA has now
dustrial plantations, which have caused sig- formed a joint project with Erling Lorentzen,
nificant upheavals and exacerbated confl icts founder of the pulp mill giant Aracruz Ce-
over land distribution. lulose, with the intention of further invest-
ments in the pig-iron industry supported by
The award-winning fi lm The Carbon Con- carbon credits.
nection documented how a local commu-
nity was exploited by Plantar for the 12,540 Aracruz Celulose is listed on the Chicago
hectares needed for its World Bank Proto- Climate Exchange (CCX) as a forest prod-
type Carbon Fund project.106 At the time of uct company selling voluntary offsets cred-
fi lming, members of the community came its. Aracruz joined the Chicago Climate
together to speak out against the company Exchange (CCX) in 2005 and began to sell
and the impacts the plantations were hav- credits from a voluntary offset project which
ing on their lives. Four years on, all par- assumed emission reductions of 1 per cent in
ticipants have either had their lives threat- 2003, 2 per cent in 2004, 3 per cent in 2005
ened or have seen the company offer jobs to and 4 per cent in 2006, compared to a base-
family members to keep them quiet. Today line established by the company. Aracruz
they are under such severe pressure that any itself estimated that these offsets may gener-
communication is dangerous.107 ated revenues of up to US$ 2.5 million.109

Certain communities came together to or- Under Lorentzen’s guidance, Aracruz grew
ganise against Plantar’s atrocious practices to become one of the most controversial
pulp companies in the world. Its plantations
104 CarboEurope, research from 2002, http://www. – many of which are planted on land be- longing to the Tupinikim and Guarani In-
105 Fred Pearce, ‘Tree farms won’t halt climate change’,
New Scientist, 28 October 2002.
106 The Carbon Connection Documentary, free stream 108 Personal interview with residents conducted by
at, 2007. Tamra Gilbertson, Minas Gerais, 2006.
107 Personal interview with residents conducted by 109 Estimates based on Aracruz Celulose 2007 Annual
Tamra Gilbertson, Minas Gerais, 2005. Report selling at US$ 15 per tCO2e.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 83

digenous Peoples, and traditional African- Climate, fire and resistance
Brazilian Quilombola communities, have
led to the eviction of thousands of families, There is a glimmer of hope in the north of
as well as seriously restricting access to wa- Espírito Santo where Quilombola commu-
ter, food and land. The company has been nities have set fi re to eucalyptus plantations
responsible for destroying thousands of as an act of resistance and a fi nal desperate
hectares of the unique Mata Atlântica for- attempt to reclaim lands from Aracruz Ce-
est, while its activities have also been docu- lulose and Plantar SA. In the region, Plantar
mented as diverting rivers, and drying up is in charge of ground operations including,
streams and watercourses.110 planting, fertilising and all field mainte-
nance, while Aracruz manages felling op-
In 2008, Aracruz Celulose was hit by a ma- erations and land claims.
jor scandal involving undisclosed currency
derivative contracts, causing the value of the A cloud of smoke covered a solid area of eu-
company to plummet and resulting in a law- calyptus trees in the extreme north of Es-
suit from shareholders claiming a violation pírito Santo from 11-13 March 2009. In the
of US federal securities law. In the fallout world of industrial tree plantations, the Qui-
from these losses, the Lorentzen family sold lombolas of the Sapê do Norte are viewed as
its 28 per cent stake in the company to Vo- criminals, responsible for imbalance of the
torantim Celulose, in a deal bankrolled to forest and of the climate. However, this is
the tune of US$ 1 billion by the Brazilian not where the story begins.
National Development Bank (BNDES).
The Sapê do Norte are a group of Qui-
With this apparent Brazilian government lombos, forest communities which are de-
bailout of Aracruz, Lorentzen is leaving the scendants of slaves who revolted against the
pulp and paper industry and moving to new Portuguese, in the region of São Mateus
pastures. The Plantar family and Lorentzen and Conceição da Barra. Today there are 39
have struck a deal to develop more lands in rural communities, of which 25 hold cer-
Minas Gerais. Lorentzen stated in an en- tificates to their lands through the official
thusiastic interview about venturing into Citizenship in Territories Programme 2008
‘green’ charcoal: ‘I have bought areas in Mi- and/or the Palmares Cultural Foundation.
nas Gerais with the plan to produce charcoal The regional development model, started
for the pig-iron industry. The lands are in up in the 1970s by the dictatorship of the
the west of Minas, near Diamantina.’111 time, is based on large-scale, quick-growing
eucalyptus monoculture, causing serious
environmental, cultural, economic and so-
cial problems. Changes were abrupt, start-
110 For more on Aracruse Celulose, see http://www. ing with the destruction of the native Atlan- and http:// tic Forest, followed by the disappearance of ng-
rivers and streams, the expulsion of families,
111 Vera Saavedra Durão, ‘Lorentzen mantem empre- their houses and lands and a massive migra-
endedorismo que criou a Aracruz’, Valor, 16 March tion to the urban peripheries.

84 Critical Currents no. 7

In the 1970s, there were 12,000 rural Qui- velopment Index (HDI). The HDI for the
lombolas inhabiting the region. Today, the 39 Quilombola communities in the Sapê do
Quilombola Commission of Sapê do Norte Norte region shows that they are disadvan-
calculates that there are only 1,200 families taged compared to the rest of the state of
still residing in the region (around 6,000 ES in the areas of education, life-span and
people). In the region of Sao Mateus there reproduction.115
are more than 50,000 hectares of eucalyptus
planted and in Conception do Barra over 70 The Quilombola leadership are meanwhile
per cent of the municipal territory is covered being criminalised, as shown in an increase
by cane and eucalyptus plantations.112 Lo- in the number of legal charges brought
cal communities say that 10 former streams, against them and Quilombola associations.
lakes and rivers no longer exist and that Some 82 Quilombolas have been prosecut-
fauna and flora which guaranteed the food ed since 2003, mostly near Conception do
security of the people for more than two Barra, for gaining access to eucalyptus and
centuries have been wiped out. According to the little native forest that still remains.
to the Environmental, Cultural, Social, and The communities have rights to demand ac-
Economic Rights Violation Report, land, cess to their land and water resources, which
water, work and food are the principal rights in many cases are essential to cultural tradi-
being violated by the expansion of eucalyp- tions, based on Convention 169 of the ILO
tus monoculture.113 and the Brazilian Constitution.116

In 2006, the Department of Social Devel- A semi-arid tropical ‘rainforest’

opment produced a nutritional survey of
Quilombola communities throughout Bra- In 2008, more than seven months passed
zil. Food and nutritional insecurity was re- without rain. Local residents blame euca-
ported to be so grave that the proportion lyptus monoculture, which they say has rad-
of malnourished Quilombola children aged ically altered local climate. Plantar manages
0 to 5 years was 76.1 per cent higher than the plantation in the region and performs the
that of the Brazilian population as a whole ‘dirty work’ for Aracruz Cellulose, apply-
and 44.6 per cent higher than that of the ing weedkillers, fungicides and insecticides
general rural population.114 These statistics managing all general field maintenance and
were found consistent with the Quilombola planting. With the dry period prolonged
communities in Espírito Santo. Another in- and compounded by the fi nancial crisis, in
dicator that illustrates the social vulnerabil- late 2008 Plantar suspended replanting and
ity of the Quilombolas is the Human De- sacked more than 500 subcontracted work-
ers. The climate crisis deeply affects the
112 ‘Relatório de Violações de Direitos Econômicos,
Sociais, Culturais, Ambientais’, report from FASE/
Rede Deserto Verde, 2003. 115 ‘Saúde das populações quilombolas no ES: Vul-
113 Report DESCA/2003. nerabilidade e direitos humanos’, Psicologia Social,
114 ‘Diagnóstico da Segurança Alimentar Quilombola ABRAPSO, 2008.
do Sapê do Norte/ES’, report from FASE/Comis- 116 Artigo 68 and decrees 4886, 4887 of 2003, The
são Quilombola/Fórum Nacional de Segurança Specific Education Convention 169 of the OIT and
alimentar e nutricional, 2008. Brazilian Constitution.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 85

subsistence agriculture of the Quilombolas climate change policy instruments award
but also has an effect on local jobs and busi- carbon credits to fi rms such as Plantar and
ness productivity. Aracruz Cellulose, whose activities worsen
climate change, depleting water resources,
Aided by the private security forces of Ara- contaminating rivers, laying off workers,
cruz Cellulose, the corporations sought to increasing air pollution and threatening lo-
stop the gathering of facho (branches and sec- cal communities. Plantar SA continues to
tions of the trees left over in the fields after devastate communities and the environment
industrial felling) by the communities. The while taking moral cover behind the skirts
facho is burned by the Quilombolas to make of the World Bank and the UNFCCC.
charcoal, which is an alternative source of
income and creates a shadow economy for Conclusion
the survival of around 1,000 Quilombolas
in Sapê do Norte. This brutal act of repres- Carbon offset projects tend to follow pre-
sion pushed Quilombolas over the edge. packaged designs that do not deal with the
Without forest, work, land, water or char- real complexities and intricacies of commu-
coal, the communities began setting fi re nities and livelihoods. They use up enor-
to the eucalyptus surrounding them. Over mous resources in terms of land, water and
100,000 hectares in the region were con- the time and energy of the residents.
sumed by fi re. Private police brigades were
sent to quell the resistance. Ironically, the All of the communities in the case stud-
company has massive investments in private ies above suffered from bribes, threats and
police forces, so may have made money out even jail time, as so often happens in the
of the event. As the region heats up and be- course of infrastructure projects conducted
comes semi-arid, Aracruz has also invested in the name of ‘development’. In many of
in genetically modified fi re-resistant euca- the cases, however, a strong and concerted
lyptus trees better adapted to long periods campaign of local organising was able to
of drought. resist the advances of the company – ben-
The Quilombolas of Sapê do Norte are efiting too from solidarity with other local
gravely affected by desertification in the ex- organisations.
treme north of Espírito Santo and fight for
their territory by reconverting monoculture The stories told by consultants may be con-
into diverse Atlantic Forest and agro-eco- vincing to outsiders, but are not convinc-
logical zones as an important instrument of ing narratives for many local residents. The
productive resistance. For example, agro- CDM only looks at one cog and misses the
ecology, mobilises women, young people other moving parts. By perpetuating a sys-
and the elderly in beneficial activities seldom tem that promotes a structure that ignores
valued or even mentioned in the United Na- local needs, the CDM obstructs the vital
tion’s COPs nor in the big forums and offi- social change that is so fundamental to the
cial events that regulate the climate regime. future of the planet.
While Quilombola communities build cli-
mate justice with their own hands, official

86 Critical Currents no. 7

The legacy of such development projects
is that they pit communities against each
other and encourage divisions within single
communities as well. When encountering
local protest, the common response of the
developers and companies has been to re-
sort to a range of bullying tactics – includ-
ing threats, lies and bribery. For example,
what was deemed a human rights violation
in Nam Song was ignored in Pichit only 50
km away.

The experience of the communities high-

lighted in the case studies however, shows
that local resistance can be effective when
there is a strong basis for unity. An open
decision-making process and the central in-
volvement of women in the campaigns were
important contributing factors.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 87

88 Critical Currents no. 7
5 » Ways forward

Those advocating the Kyoto regime will be What these proposals have in common is
reluctant to embrace alternatives because it means an implicit assumption that carbon trading
admitting that their chosen climate policy has and fails because the rules have been designed
will continue to fail. But the rational thing to inadequately or have been badly applied.
do in the face of a bad investment is to cut your Although instances of such failings cer-
losses and try something different. tainly exist, they bring us no closer to un-
derstanding why the system has misfi red so
Steve Rayner and Gwyn Prins1 spectacularly. Why have many corporations
and states pushed for the inclusion of large
Carbon trading has failed to tackle climate volumes of offsets in carbon trade markets,
change and will continue to do so. The prob- for example? We have argued that this push
lems identified in this booklet do not simply has to do with a complex interaction of state
relate to the specifics of how the rules of the and corporate power, where those with the
system were designed, or to teething prob- loudest voices in the process push for offset-
lems in its implementation, but are funda- ting as a means to escape their responsibility
mental to the whole scheme itself. to change industrial practices and the means
of power production domestically. In chap-
ter 3, we saw how public decision-making
Can carbon trading be fixed? on carbon trading is driven by ‘competitive-
One of the most common responses – at ness’ rather than environmental concerns.
least in Northern countries – to the clear In chapter 4, we further saw how offsetting
evidence that carbon trading is not working is embedded in a development paradigm
is to suggest fi xes that would ‘improve’ the that disregards existing sustainable practices
workings of the system: changing rules on and community needs. Powerful economic
the ‘banking’ of permits; introducing price and elite interests are at stake here, which
floors and ceilings to control volatility; ex- are unlikely to be shifted by academic exer-
panding global carbon markets to ‘increase cises in how to ‘perfect’ carbon markets, as
liquidity’; and so on. though they existed in a power vacuum.

Ultimately, carbon trading is a means to pre-

1 Steve Rayner and Gwyn Prins, ‘Time to Ditch empt and delay the structural changes neces-
Kyoto’, Nature, no. 449, 29 October 2007, pp. 973-75.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 89

sary to address climate change. Instead of re- eties and prevent massive fossil fuel depen-
examining the fundamentals of an economic dence in less industrialised ones, the reality
and political system that has led to climate to date has been the opposite. ‘In the real
change, carbon trading adjusts the problem world, indicators are moving stubbornly in
of climate change to fit these structures. This the wrong direction,’ concludes Professor
wholesale re-definition can be found at ev- Gwyn Prins of the London School of Eco-
ery stage of the process – from cap-setting to nomics. ‘The world has been re-carbonising,
trading, offsetting and speculation.2 not de-carbonising. The evidence is that the
Kyoto Protocol and its underlying approach
Carbon trading first requires that action on have had and are having no meaningful ef-
climate change is translated into measur- fect whatsoever.’4
able units which represent ‘emissions reduc-
tions’. This is the basis of government’s set- The trade in pollution permits compounds
ting a ‘cap’ on emissions, which is intended this problem. It aims to find the cheapest
to specify a gradual path towards reduction. solutions for polluting industries, on the as-
But cap-setting imagines far greater certainty sumption that it does not matter where and
than climate science, with its plethora of ‘ill- how ‘reductions’ are made. The uncertainties
understood feed-back effects’, is able to deliv- in the long-term climatic effects of adopting
er.3 It translates a series of complex and over- different industrial and agricultural processes
lapping developments across a broad sweep of are overlooked in order to ensure that a sin-
economic sectors – from power generation to gle commodity can be constructed and ex-
manufacturing and agriculture – to a single, changed, and the significant risks of ‘locking
linear path to which a number is accorded by in’ unsustainable practices brushed aside.
policymakers for the purposes of compari-
son. And it deflects questions about the un- Trading also displaces measures to tackle
derlying economic model, which is premised climate change from one place to another
upon the cheap exploitation of fossil fuels to through the practice of offsetting. Despite
bankroll continued GDP growth. the well-documented problems with off set-
ting, most of the proposals on the table in
While the Kyoto Protocol, and the carbon UN climate negotiations actually advocate
trading schemes that have followed it, claim its expansion. ‘Sectoral crediting’, the inclu-
to offer fi nancial incentives that would sion of new sectors in the Clean Develop-
gradually de-carbonise industrialised soci- ment Mechanism (CDM), or the generation
of carbon credits associated with Nationally
Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs)
2 Larry Lohmann, ‘When Markets are Poison: would primarily serve to increase the vol-
Learning about climate policy from the fi nancial
crisis’, The Corner House Briefing, no. 40, September
briefi ng/40poisonmarkets.pdf 4 Ibid.; LSE, ‘Research institutes publish plan to
3 Gwyn Prins et al., How to Get Climate Policy Back rescue climate policy from imminent failure’, 7 July
on Course, LSE/University of Oxford, 2009, pp.5-6, 2009, formationOffice/newsAndEvents/archives/2009/07/
gramme/pdf/ClimatePolBackonCoursePRODUC- climate%20poliyc.aspx

90 Critical Currents no. 7

ume of carbon trading. Such proposals are traders do not know what they are selling;
not being driven by considerations of en- paper ‘reductions’ may bear little specifiable
vironmental integrity, but by fi nancial in- relation to the changes in industrial practice
terests. In carbon markets, accumulation is or energy production required for meaning-
achieved partly by increasing the geograph- ful climate action. With rampant financial
ical scope and the number of industrial sec- innovation added to the mix, speculation in-
tors and gases covered. creasingly becomes an end in itself.

For the financial sector, too, the main interest The whole approach distracts from effective
in new global climate legislation also lies in solutions – trapping us within a framework
scaling up carbon markets. Samuel DiPiazza, that sees the climate problem in primarily
chief executive of PricewaterhouseCoopers fi nancial terms.
and Chair of the World Business Council on
Sustainable Development, noted in private
at the World Business Summit on Climate
Different paths
Change in May 2009, ‘I have yet to find ‘What’s your alternative?’ is a question that’s
someone who says the CDM is really work- often asked. The question is strange in that
ing well,’ yet went on to prioritise ‘finding a it positions carbon trading as the standard
way to create offsets’. As Tracy Wolstencroft, against which other approaches should be
managing director of Goldman Sachs, told judged. Yet in the long history of envi-
another panel at the meeting, carbon trading ronmental protection, markets in pollution
now encompasses ‘some of the largest emerg- permits are a relatively new, little-tried idea
ing markets in the world’.5 which, as we saw in chapter 2, redefi ne the
problem to fit the assumptions of neoliberal
The drive to expand carbon markets is being economics that are now largely discredited.
accompanied by the development of more
complex carbon products deploying a vari- In seeking ways forward, we need to look
ety of derivative and hedge fund techniques.6 again at the nature of the question being
These are structures similar to those that addressed. Carbon markets foster a trade
contributed to the financial crisis. Like many in claimed ‘emissions reductions’ (many of
derivatives, the new carbon commodities which exist only on paper) that are cheap
are difficult or impossible to value accurately according to current economic assumptions.
and may well lead to a new ‘bubble’ whose Reducing emissions in the short term by a
bursting would have disastrous results.7 Even small amount can be done without starting
without the complexities introduced by de- any of the structural changes needed in the
rivatives, securitisation and the like, carbon long term.8 Tackling climate change, by
contrast, requires fi rst and foremost a rapid
5 Oscar Reyes, ‘The Climate Business’, New Interna- phasing out of fossil fuel use.
tionalist, forthcoming December 2009.
6 Forest and European Union Resources Network,
“Beginners´ Guide to Carbon Trading,” forthcoming. 8 Arlen Dilsizian, ‘The politics of climate change: an
7 Michelle Chan, Subprime carbon? Re-thinking the interview with Larry Lohmann’, Re-Public, 26 Sep-
world’s largest new derivatives market, Friends of the tember 2008,
Earth US, Washington D.C., 2009.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 91

No single alternative will suffice. Current In planning a transition away from fossil fu-
practices in a whole host of sectors, from els, and the unsustainable industrial and ag-
manufacturing to industrial agriculture, ricultural practices that they enable, a broad
need to be reviewed and reassessed There is range of approaches hold far more promise
no evidence that a complex social and eco- than carbon markets. A non-exhaustive list
nomic problem of this scale can be effective- of such proposals includes measures to:
ly tackled by indirect economic ‘incentives’
of the sort offered by carbon trading.9 • shift subsidies away from fossil fuels to
help keep them in the ground
This is not simply a question of money. The • re-assess energy demand and efficiency
knowledge systems that are currently be- • advance the public debate on climate
ing applied to address climate change tend change and ecological debt
to reproduce the ingrained privilege of the • expand useful forms of conventional
wealthy minority that caused climate change. regulation
Recognising and learning from existing cli- • institute carefully-directed pro-
mate solutions, by contrast, requires draw- grammes of public investment
ing on a multitude of locally adapted tech- • undertake legal action against climate
nologies and practices that do not neatly fit offenders
with the grand schemes promoted by current • secure land tenure for Indigenous
economic elites. As the A. T. Biopower case, Peoples’ and forest-dependent com-
among many others, has illustrated, carbon munities
trading cannot value such practices and ac- • promote sustainable local farming and
tively selects against them. With powerful people’s food sovereignty
economic interests pushing for new ‘stan- • build alliances between communities
dardised multi-project baselines’ to increase and movements based on local needs
the volume of such projects while doing away and desires
with any check on specific local conditions, • organise and support local action
this problem could soon get even worse.10 • explore taxation as a supplementary
9 Prins et al., op. cit., supra, note 3; see also www.
10 Council of the European Union, ‘EU position for
Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels
the Copenhagen Climate Conference (7-18 Decem- to help keep them in the ground
ber 2009) – Draft Council conclusions’, Brussels,
19 October 2009, p.20; International Emissions With UN climate negotiations wrapped up
Trading Association (IETA), ‘Position Paper on the in acronym-fi lled debates about tradable
Clean Development Mechanism under a Post-2012 emissions reductions, discussions of direct
’, IETA, London, June 2009, pp.4-5, www.ieta. measures to keep fossil fuels in the ground
org/ieta/www/pages/getfi le.php?docID=3298. The are rarely heard. Yet any strategy to tackle
idea is to use common assumptions calculated in climate change needs to plan for a rapid tran-
the absence of any assessment of the local situation
as a starting ‘baseline’ for multiple CDM projects –
sition away from how energy is produced and
obviating the need to assess local conditions. IETA used. There is no precedent for achieving
is also seeking ‘positive lists’ of project types which such a change through a carbon market – and
would be pre-approved for CDM eligibility.
while subsidy shifts, regulation, direct public

92 Critical Currents no. 7

investment and taxation will not, in and of Shifting funds away from
themselves, stimulate the necessary changes military expenditure
to solve the problem, they can help reverse
the current commitment to fossil fuels. Military budgets are another critical area.
The US, for example, which spends more
Subsidies are especially important. Around on defence than all other nations combined,
US$ 300 billion per year, or 0.7 per cent of budgeted US$ 494.3 billion for defence in
global GDP, is currently spent on energy 2009, not including money spent on wars
subsidies, with the lion’s share of this used to in Iraq and Afghanistan.14 According to
artificially lower or reduce the real price of Stiglitz and Bilmes a conservative estimate
fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas or electricity of the cost to the US alone for the Iraq war
generated from such fossil fuels.11 Yet these is upwards of US$ 3 trillion.15 Even if one
subsidies would have a more positive impact ignores the handouts of hundreds of billions
if they were diversified across community-led of dollars recently given to large private
initiatives. As currently distributed, fossil fuel banks, there is clearly no lack of money that
subsidies rarely flow to those most in need could be spent on tackling climate change.
of energy – including the 1.6 billion people
globally who lack access to electricity.12 Yet instead of moving money into climate
change mitigation, government agencies are
A significant proportion of energy subsidies currently using the threat of climate change
goes into funding infrastructure projects to to bolster support for military budgets in
ensure that fossil fuels keep flowing – such as an attempt to close off borders and fi nance
the €8 billion that the European Investment wars, thus stimulating xenophobia towards
Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Re- climate refugees and adding to the anti-im-
construction and Development (EBRD) are migrant backlash in both the US and For-
projected to pour into the Nabucco pipe- tress Europe. In 2003 the Pentagon-spon-
line. Spending an equivalent sum on build- sored report, ‘An Abrupt Climate Change
ing efficiency initiatives in the Central and Scenario’, warned of the need to strengthen
Eastern European states that would be sup- US defences against ‘unwanted starving im-
plied by the Nabucco pipeline could result migrants’ from the Caribbean, Mexico and
in energy savings of over three times the South America.16
amount of gas that is projected to be trans-
ported by the project.13 The Pentagon-sponsored report also rec-
ommended that the Department of Defense
11 UNEP Report, ‘Reforming Energy Subsidies: Op-
portunities to Contribute to the Climate Change
Agenda’, August 2008. 14 Center for Defense Information, http://www.cdi.
12 Kevin Watkins et al., Human Development Report org/research/index.cfm. Figures based on requested
2007/8: Fighting Climate Change – human solidarity in defence budget or projections, not actual spending.
a divided world, United Nations Development Pro- 15 Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, The Three Trillion
gramme/Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2007, p.43, http:// Dollar War, Allen Lane, London, 2008. 16 Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, ‘An Abrupt
Complete.pdf Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for
13 CEE Bankwatch, ‘Real energy security from United States National Security’. Washington,
energy efficiency not Nabucco says Bankwatch’, DC: Environmental Media Services, 2003. http://
13 July 2009,
shtml?apc=147578-----1&x=2190273&d=r html#report.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 93

(DOD) ‘explore geo-engineering options is in fact far in excess of actual needs.20 Once
that control the climate’.17 According to re- built, of course, such infrastructure tends
searcher Betsy Hartmann, ‘a far better ap- to encourage further increases in industrial,
proach would be for the military to clean up commercial or export demand, while taking
its own act. The DOD is the largest single resources away from the development of less
consumer of fuel in the US, and the pres- centralised energy. It also often fails to meet
ent war in Iraq is not only wasting lives, but more basic needs or to encourage the devel-
millions of gallons of oil daily.’18 opment of energy sources more efficiently
attuned to basic local needs. Electricity-de-
prived households existing in the shadow of
Re-assessing energy demand large generating plants are a common sight
Overuse of fossil fuels is closely connected in many Southern countries, many of which
with centralised, deterministic energy de- also boast a fossil fuel extraction infrastruc-
mand forecasts, which both consistently ture that ill-serves the needs of local people.
overestimate energy needs and, acting as For example, Nigeria, the world’s eighth
self-fulfi lling prophecies, tend to bring largest oil exporter, imports 76 per cent of its
about an inflated demand. A comparative petroleum and 34 per cent of its kerosene, as
historical study led by Professor Paul Craig a cost of US$ 3.6 billion. Yet in the oil-rich
of the University of California found that Niger delta region, firewood is the primary
most forecasts had overestimated US energy energy source for 73 per cent of the people.21
demand by 100 per cent.19 Forecasts in other The same principles follow for industrial re-
countries, as well as international forecasts, newable energy as pointed out in chapter 4
tend to follow the same pattern, while also in the cases of A. T. Biopower and the wind
underestimating the potential of efficiency farms in Maharashtra.
savings to obviate new fossil fuel infrastruc-
ture. Bottom-up assessments of energy demand
tend to contrast sharply with the mechanical
The result is large, centralised energy-gener- (and usually inaccurate) projections common-
ating plants supported by a fossil fuel infra- ly used to justify fossil fuel subsidies and in-
structure designed for a fictional demand that vestments. Such assessments suggest the merits
of focusing on smaller, decentralised energy
provision, rather than foreign-backed projects
to foster energy exports and economic accu-
17 Schwartz and Randall, supra, note 18. mulation in metropolitan centres.22
18 Betsy Hartmann, ‘War Talk and Climate Change’,
Truthout, November 2007. http://www.truthout.
20 See, e.g., Chuenchom Sangarasri Greacen and
Chris Greacen, ‘Thailand’s Electricity Reforms:
Privatization of Benefits and Socialization of Costs
19 Paul P. Craig, Ashok Gadgil, and Jonathan G.
and Risks’, Pacifi c Affairs 77(3) (2004): 517-42 and
Koomey ‘What can history teach us? A retrospec-
Chris Graecen, ‘Small is Pitiful: Micro-Hydroelec-
tive examination of long-term energy forecasts
tricity and the Politics of Rural Electricity Provi-
for the United States,’ Annual Review of Energy and
sion in Thailand’. Berkeley: Energy and Resources
the Environment 2002, vol. 27, pp.83-118, http://
Group, University of California, Berkeley, 2004.
21 Greg Muttitt, ‘The price of democracy’, Oilwatch
Resistance Bulletin, 63, 2006. Based on data
from the UNDP Human Development Report
22 Hendro Sangkoyo, Presentation to Durban Group
for Climate Justice, Belem, Brazil, 25 January 2009.

94 Critical Currents no. 7

Forest payments munist-style bureaucracies stomping on in-
versus territorial rights novation and freedom. In fact, ‘regulation’
encompasses a whole range of instruments,
Another much-needed shift is to curb the sub- from efficiency standards for electrical ap-
sidies and incentives for deforestation provided pliances and buildings to feed-in tariffs for
by national governments, export credit agen- renewables. Carbon markets themselves
cies, the World Bank and others. These in- achieve 100 per cent of their environmental
clude a range of lavish subsidies to pulp mills, goals through government regulation in the
industrial monoculture operations, funding for form of cap-setting, and none through their
genetically modified (GM) tree research, min- trading elements. The claim that emissions
ing in forested areas, commercial logging and trading is less bureaucratic, less centralised,
other agencies of displacement and ecologi- less coercive and more supportive of inno-
cal degradation.23 Agrofuel incentives, most vation than other forms of regulation does
notably the EU Renewable Energy Directive, not stand up to scrutiny.25
which demands that 10 per cent of transport
fuels come from biological sources by 2020, Nor does it follow that carbon markets are
are exacerbating the problem. more effective at reducing pollution. In the
EU, for example, the Large Combustion
As we showed in chapter 4, new REDD Plant Directive (LCPD) sets non-tradable
schemes look set to continue this pattern of ‘emissions rate limits’ on sulphur dioxide,
misdirected funding and incentives – stimu- oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and dust particles
lating land grabs and presenting new econom- from large plants – including coal-fi red
ic opportunities for the large plantation, pulp power stations. It came into force in January
and paper and construction companies whose 2008, giving plants the option to either ‘opt
activities are driving deforestation. Defend- in’ and meet these limits, or ‘opt out’ and
ing the rights of Indigenous Peoples’ and for- reduce their outputs in the subsequent peri-
est communities is an important contribution od, and close entirely by 2015. This measure
towards measures to ensure community-based alone could achieve more to reduce pollu-
and traditional forest management, protection tion than emissions trading – were it not for
of forests and territorial rights.24 the fact that the drop in emissions resulting
from closing old coal plants could provide
leeway for other sectors to continue pollut-
Regulation ing up to the level of the ‘cap.’26
Before the advent of pollution trading, en-
vironmental policy was largely a question 25 David Driesen, ‘Does Emissions Trading Encour-
of regulation. Advocates of market-based age Innovation?’ Environmental Law Institute, no. 33,
2003, pp.10094-10108,
approaches often call these ‘command-and- Driesen2.pdf
control’ approaches, calling to mind Com- 26 European Union, ‘Directive 2001/80/ec of the
European Parliament and of the Council
on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants
23 See, for example, and www. into the air from large combustion plants’, Brussels, 23 October 2001,
24 Ricardo Carerre, Community Forests: equity, use and
conservation, World Rainforest Movement, Monte- o?uri=OJ:L:2001:309:0001:0021:EN:PDF
video, 2004.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 95

One of the most serious shortcomings of car- world’s fi rst legal actions on climate change,
bon trading is its tendency to undermine ex- on behalf of all Inuit, contending that
isting legislation. The intersection between greenhouse gas emissions from the United
the Integrated Pollution Prevention and States violated their human rights.29 The
Control (IPPC) Directive, the main EU leg- action was rejected by the Inter-American
islation to control air pollution, and the EU Commission on Human Rights but gained
ETS is a case in point. The IPPC sets energy worldwide attention.
efficiency requirements and gas concentra-
tion limits on a range of installations, some of In May 2009, a groundbreaking case against
which were also covered by the EU ETS. To Royal Dutch/Shell was brought to court on
make the two systems compatible, the terms charges of complicity in the 1995 execution
of the IPPC were relaxed. As the European of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni
Environment Agency explains: ‘[O]perators environmental activists. The world’s board-
of large sources might be obliged to reduce rooms watched the case, which was seen as
their emissions (in order to comply with the a test of whether transnational companies
IPPC Directive) when it could be more eco- owned or operating in the USA could be
nomically efficient to increase emissions fur- held responsible for human rights abuses
ther and buy additional allowances instead.’ committed abroad. An out-of-court set-
The result of this conflict was that the IPPC tlement in June 2009 saw the company pay
Directive was amended to exclude ‘CO2 US$ 15.5 million in damages, but it may
emission limits for installations which are yet set a precedent for similar challenges.30
covered by the EU ETS’.27 In Australia, meanwhile, groups including
Rising Tide and Queensland Conserva-
Carbon offsets, too, have had the perverse tion initiated a legal challenge to a proposed
effect of discouraging industrial regulation: coal mine expansion in 2006. The country’s
climate-friendly legislation would preclude Land and Resources Tribunal ruled against
certain activities from being counted as ‘addi- the groups, but international attention was
tional’, cutting off a potential revenue stream. gained for the struggle against the Xstrata
Coal Queensland mine.31 A further major
case – this time involving the failure of oil
Legal action giant Texaco Chevron to clean up millions
Litigation can provide another important of dollars’ worth of toxic waste, is currently
arena for action that does not require a trad- underway in Ecuador.32
ing floor.28
29 Stephen Leahy, ‘Inuit to Charge U.S. for Climate
The environmental justice implications of Change’, Inter Press Services, 12 February 2005,
human rights legislation are being exam- 30 Press Release, ‘Settlement reached in human rights
ined, too, in various legislatures. In 2005, case against Royal Dutch/Shell’, Center for Con-
over 63 Inuit people launched one of the stitutional Rights, 8 June 2009; John Vidal, ‘Shell
settlement with Ogoni people stops short of full
justice’, The Guardian, 10 June 2009, http://www.
27 European Environment Agency, Application of the
Emissions Trading Directive by EU Member States – jun/09/saro-wiwa-shell
reporting year 2007, EEA, Copenhagen, 2008, p.27. 31 See
28 See 32 See

96 Critical Currents no. 7

Public investment bies, including the International Chamber
of Commerce, claiming that it will require
Large-scale investment in a cleaner energy public subsidies in addition to carbon mar-
infrastructure capable of breaking industria- ket incentives.35 Yet in unguarded moments,
lised societies’ fossil-fuel dependence is also even representatives of the power sector can
crucial, and, as explained above, will not be be blunt about the shortcomings of CCS.
forthcoming from carbon markets. Such in- ‘One of the plants we are building is CCS
vestment should proceed with considerable ready, although to be quite frank no one
caution, however, if it is to avoid throwing really knows what that is at the moment,’
money at damaging projects. stated Steve Lennon, managing director of
South Africa’s Eskom, at the World Business
Today, private research on energy alterna- Summit on Climate Change. James Rogers,
tives is skewed towards solutions that per- chief executive of US-based Duke Energy,
petuate climate change. One example is the added that CCS is at best 15 years off and
blossoming global agrofuels trade, which has is likely to prove unfeasibly expensive if it
largely been driven by agribusiness inter- even works at all.36 One of the few existing
ests (although the transport lobby is work- pilots, run by the Swedish company Vatten-
ing hard, too, in order to get the emissions fall, burns 10 to 40 per cent more coal than
problem ‘off its books’). Agrofuels exacer- existing coal-fi red power stations, with sig-
bate land confl ict, driving up food prices, nificant implications for increased environ-
and increasing emissions through encourag- mental damage and potent methane emis-
ing deforestation.33 sions from coal mines. And there remain
other significant technical concerns about
Public research commitments made by gov- risks to the ecosystem and health, as well
ernments are also weak and problematic. In as unanswered questions about earthquakes,
the EU, for example, public and private ex- leakage of stored carbon back to the surface
penditure on energy-related research and de- and possible infrastructure collapse.37
velopment is currently about half the level of
the early 1980s, with the largest part ‘spent on Given these failings, why has carbon cap-
nuclear and fossil fuel-based technologies’.34 ture emerged as the technology of choice

‘Carbon capture and storage’ (CCS ) is one

of the key technologies likely to benefit from 35 International Chamber of Commerce, ‘Challenges
to the Implementation of New Technologies: the
such investments – with major industry lob- Case of Carbon Capture and Storage
’, ICC, Paris, November 2007.
36 Oscar Reyes, ‘Carbon trading and cash values on
33 Tamra Gilbertson, Nina Holland, Stella Semino forests cannot curb carbon emissions’, The Guard-
and Kevin Smith, ‘Paving the way for agrofuels, ian, 28 May,
EU policy, sustainability criteria and climate cal- ment/cif-green/2009/may/28/carbon-trading
culations’, TNI Discussion Paper, September 2007, 37 Shanta Barley, ‘Bury the carbon, set off a quake?’ New Scientist no. 2727, 23 September 2009;
34 EU Commission (DG Environment), ‘Towards a Greenpeace International, False Hope: why carbon
comprehensive climate change agreement in Co- capture and storage won’t save the climate, May 2008,
penhagen – Extensive background information and
analysis, Part 2’, Brussels, January 2009, pp.76-77. tional/press/reports/false-hope.pdf

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 97

for many in the energy sector? Part of the contribute to the climate change problem,
explanation lies in its providing a techno- and are best placed to deal with the fallout
logical ‘fi x’ that appears to allow for the from it. They have a wide-ranging ‘debt’”
continued burning of fossil fuels on a mas- which encompasses a financial responsibility
sive scale. Rather than changing the energy for expropriating resources from the South
production model to prioritise renewable (ranging from oil to biological resources to
energy, CCS offers an easy-sounding ‘end intellectual property), as well as a broader
of pipe’ solution aimed at cleaning up a mess imperative to rapidly tackle their green-
rather than avoiding it in the first place. house gas emissions rather than outsource
responsibility for them.
It should be clear, then, that encouraging
public incentives for new energy infrastruc- The CDM works directly contrary to this
ture cannot be a blank cheque. Public own- goal – insofar as investment in clean infra-
ership means little without public control structure is needed, it should be provided
– and, under present ‘governance’ models, from public sources – with industrialised
this is severely lacking. With state energy countries shouldering the burden of respon-
companies run as commercial enterprises, sibility, since they predominantly caused
and private energy companies consolidat- the problem. Such funding is no guarantee
ing their market share in most industrialised of success, however, unless a decentralised
nations, affording them considerable lobby structure is adopted which allows for mean-
influence over public investment decisions, ingful citizens’ participation and sensitivity
little scope currently exists for a publicly- to local contexts – allowing for the adap-
controlled genuine public influence in fa- tation and improvement of locally-adapted
vour of a sustainable and just energy produc- industrial and agricultural techniques, and
tion model. For such reasons, any increase in engaging in a bottom-up assessment of real
public fi nances to change the energy system energy needs.
should be accompanied by democratisation
of governance of the expenditure.
Taxation is another potential source of rev-
North-South financial transfers enue for climate financing, although a num-
Public investment in tackling climate ber of critical reservations remain about how
change is not restricted by national borders, and when it should be implemented.
however. As we saw in chapter 2, the Unit-
ed Nations Convention on Climate Change A variety of carbon tax schemes have been
referred to the ‘common but differentiated proposed. Far too often they are present-
responsibilities’ that states have in tackling ed as a ‘silver bullet’ alternative to carbon
climate change – although the Kyoto frame- trading. This is misleading, since no single
work turned this on its head. price mechanism, or single mechanism of
any kind, is capable of solving the problem
The bottom line is that the Northern, in- of climate change. As a means for altering
dustrialised countries have done most to behaviour, carbon taxes have many of the

98 Critical Currents no. 7

same problems as carbon trading. They rely Ultimately, though, the crucial issue that re-
on incremental cost changes to redirect in- mains is how such revenues are distributed and
vestment, rather than tackling the way fossil controlled. At a global level, for example, the
fuels are ‘locked in’ to industrialised econo- channelling of revenues through the World
mies or addressing the fundamental power Bank or regional development banks – if past
dynamics inherent in current production experience is taken as a guide – is that such
and trade patterns. Although advancing a funds would be channelled to unsustainable
‘polluter pays’ approach, carbon taxes do large-scale infrastructure projects.
little to address the root problems associated
with the production of pollution itself.
Moving mountains
One argument raised in favour of carbon The examples of subsidy-shifting, regula-
taxes is that they might provide a revenue tion, taxation and legal action highlighted
source for climate financing. Questions above can be useful tools for tackling cli-
remain, however, as to whether creating mate change, if adopted cautiously and
an entity called ‘carbon’ in order to tax it backed up by popular action. Ultimately,
– with the many contradictions and ambi- though, climate change remains a political
guities that entails – is worth the effort. To question: action and organising are essen-
begin with, proposals for new taxation may tial. Alternative futures cannot be designed
be less effective than measures to change the in a boardroom or academic classroom and
balance of existing taxation, which has seen then placed into a rigid one-size-fits-all
a marked decrease in the levels of taxation plan. The voices of those living alongside
paid by fossil-dependent corporations over exploitative infrastructure projects – from
the past decades.38 Addressing other loop- plantations to factories – are among the
holes, most notably the aviation industry’s most powerful when it comes to addressing
continued avoidance of fuel duties on ker- the question, ‘What is your alternative?’
osene, could be a more effective means to
raise revenues. In the South as well as the North, communi-
ty-level or popular strategies have historically
Various other means could be adopted to proven successful as a means to achieve social
raise appropriate levels of taxation for the and environmental change. Often commu-
purposes of climate fi nancing. With power nities have taken action to protect environ-
companies now straddling the role of power mental resources as strategies for survival.
producers and energy traders, taxes on cur- The legacy of this resistance holds lessons for
rency and fuel commodity speculation could all who aim to address climate change, and it
be an appropriate means – and potentially is important that environmentalists and other
less ‘regressive’ than a number of the carbon activists who today promote ‘climate justice’
tax proposals on the table. recognise this longer and broader history of
community-based or popular struggles.

38 Howard Wachtel, ‘The Vanishing Corporate Profits

Tax’, July 2004,

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 99

This broader context of struggle includes Insofar as these approaches defend local re-
the activities of a range of groups, move- silience, promote community solidarity and
ments and networks: organisation, such strategies are crucial not
only in slowing climate change but also in
• Actions by groups, especially IPs adapting to it.40
and forest-dwelling communities, to
protect community forests and other Numerous such initiatives, networks, or-
local commons are a powerful force ganisations and popular movements exist
against climatically destabilising land today. Amongst many, Oilwatch is con-
clearance, commercial logging, indus- testing the continued expansion of oilfields
trial fish farming, tree plantations and in the Niger Delta; the Alert Against the
industrial agriculture. Green Desert Network is resisting eucalyp-
• Networks against trade liberalisation, pri- tus plantation in Esprírito Santo, Brazil; the
vatisation and commodification help slow Durban Group for Climate Justice promotes
growth in unnecessary transport and continued research and solidarity work
protect local subsistence regimes against against carbon trading; La Via Campesina
threats from fossil fuel-intensive sectors. and its member organisations are foster-
• Popular movements against fossil fuel ing a ‘food sovereignty’ movement built
extractions, including movements around sustainable small-scale agriculture;
against oil wars, gas and oil pipelines, Climate Justice Action is mobilising to con-
fossil fuel extraction, power plant pol- test ‘false solutions’, including carbon trad-
lution, liquefied natural gas (LNG) ing, promoted at UN climate negotiations;
expansion, coal mining and mountain the Indigenous Environment Network has
top removal, tar sands extraction and worked tirelessly to resist tar sands develop-
airport and highway expansion, all help ments, and is actively opposing the adop-
curb extraction of fossil fuels. tion of REDD projects; Rising Tide North
• Popular movements in both North and America is popularising the climate debate
South against fossil fuel pollution from and taking direct action on coal mining in-
electricity generating and other indus- volving mountain top removal; Gender cc is
trial installations contribute to building raising the profi le of women climate justice’s
solidarity and stopping dangerous pol- work in the climate debate. Many more
lution that causes climate change. struggles go without high-profi le names,
• Initiatives to set up small, community- but continue to resist infrastructure projects
led renewable energy sources for local
benefit, whether off-grid or on-grid,
build resistance by providing more 40 See Working Group on Climate Change and De-
velopment, Africa – Up in Smoke?, New Econom-
sustainable direct energy. Often they ics Foundation, London, 2005; Larry Lohmann,
provide a cheap alternative to fossil fuel- ‘Democracy or Carbocracy? Intellectual Corrup-
oriented centralised generating systems tion and the Future of the Climate Debate’, Corner
House Briefi ng Paper no. 24, October 2001, www.
particularly in many areas of the South.39; Neil Adger, ‘Social Vulner-
ability to Climate Change and Extremes in Coastal
39 See for more information on Vietnam’, World Development, vol. 27, no. 2, 1999,
small-scale, renewable energy projects and how pp.249-69.
they can work.

100 Critical Currents no. 7

that are escalating climate change – from But that’s not the answer that people want.
forest dwellers’ movements in Brazil, to The real question people have, I think, [is],
dispossessed populations struggling against ‘What can I do to bring about an end to
hydroelectric dam projects from Panama to these problems that will be quick and easy?’
the Mekong delta, workers striking against … But that’s not the way things work. If you
the BP oil refi nery in Grangemouth, Scot- want to make changes in the world, you’re
land, and communities resisting LNG ex- going to have to be there day after day do-
pansion in Astoria (Oregon, US), Asturias ing the boring, straightforward work of get-
(Spain) and Aliaĝa (Turkey). These groups ting a couple of people interested in an issue,
often lack a voice in the international arena, building a slightly better organization, car-
but their approach already goes far beyond rying out the next move, experiencing frus-
the default thinking of global elites. tration, and fi nally getting somewhere…
That’s how you get rid of slavery, that’s how
you get women’s rights, that’s how you get
No detours around politics the vote, that’s how you get protection for
Q. At the talks you give to American au- working people. Every gain you can point
diences, you are often asked the question, to came from that kind of effort.41
‘What should I do?’.
Noam Chomsky, 2005
A. Only by American audiences. I’m never
asked this in the Third World. When you Until environmentalists abandon the cre-
go to Turkey or Colombia or Brazil, they do that ‘it’s too late to stop carbon trading
don’t ask you ‘What should I do?’. They tell now’, they will be forced to continue to run
you what they’re doing… These are poor, through a repertoire of schemes to fi x the
oppressed people, living under horrendous unfi xable – for example, certifying ‘best
conditions, and they would never dream of practice’ carbon projects, or instituting new
asking you what they should do. It’s only sectoral markets to streamline and simplify
in highly privileged cultures like ours that the trade. Frustrated complaints about offi-
people ask this question. We have every op- cials’ ‘lack of political will’ are often heard
tion open to us, and have none of the prob- from more committed environmentalists
lems that are faced by intellectuals in Tur- who have become indoctrinated into this
key, or campesinos in Brazil… But people dynamic, yet the more they become en-
[in the US] are trained to believe that there meshed in roles as market verifiers, monitors
are easy answers, and it doesn’t work that and corporate consultants the less they are
way… You want a magic key, so you can able to face the extent to which they have
go back to watching television tomorrow? been swindled. The harder it becomes then
It does not exist. Somehow the fact of enor- to acknowledge that political alliances have
mous privilege and freedom carries with it been made in a way that has undermined
a sense of impotence, which is a strange but local struggles and ‘alternatives’.
striking phenomenon… There is no diffi-
culty in fi nding and joining groups that are 41 Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian,
working hard on issues that concern you. Imperial Ambitions. Conversations on the Post-9/11
World, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2005, p.39.

Carbon Trading – How it works and why it fails 101

To treat carbon trading as if it were an al-
ternative on a par with the political and so-
cial actions mentioned above signals a loss
of political and historical perspective. In this
light, the question, ‘What is your alternative
to carbon trading?’, needs to be turned on
its head. Carbon trading itself is a novel elite
‘alternative’ for addressing climate change
and undermines other, more fruitful main-
stream strategies of movements and net-
works such as those mentioned above. Not
only are these strategies more ‘technically’
realistic than carbon trading, they are more
politically realistic – provided environmen-
talists and other activists fulfi l their respon-
sibility to help build alliances that can make
them so.

There are no short cuts around the difficult

work of political organising and alliance-
building. There are no back roads or techno-
fi xes around the historical and international
policies that have created climate change.
No aspect of the debate on climate change
can be disentangled from discussions about
colonialism, racism, gender, women’s rights,
exploitation, land grabs, agriculture and the
democratic control of technology. Carbon
trading will never address these critical is-
sues because the struggle against climate
change has to be part of the larger fight for a
more just, democratic and equal world.

102 Critical Currents no. 7

Carbon trading lies at the centre of global climate policy and is projected
to become one of the world’s largest commodities markets, yet it has a
disastrous track record since its adoption as part of the Kyoto Protocol.
Carbon Trading: how it works and why it fails outlines the limitations of an
approach to tackling climate change which redefines the problem to fit the
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
assumptions of neoliberal economics. It demonstrates that the EU Emissions
Trading Scheme, the world’s largest carbon market, has consistently failed Occasional Paper Series
to ´cap´ emissions, while the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
routinely favours environmentally ineffective and socially unjust projects.
This is illustrated with case studies of CDM projects in Brazil, Indonesia,
India and Thailand.

UN climate talks in Copenhagen are discussing ways to expand the trading

experiment, but the evidence suggests it should be abandoned. From subsidy
shifting to regulation, there is a plethora of ways forward without carbon
trading – but there are no short cuts around situated local knowledge and
political organising if climate change is to be addressed in a just and fair

Carbon Trading
Critical Currents is an
How it works
and why it fails
Occasional Paper Series
published by the
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.
It is also available online

Printed copies may be obtained from

Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation,

Övre Slottsgatan 2
SE- 753 10 Uppsala, Sweden
phone: +46 (0)18-410 10 00
November 2009