Sunday, June 17, 2007

The inconvenient truth about the carbon offset industry

"...That tension - between the demands of the planet and the imperatives of commerce - lies at the heart of the global response to climate change and, in particular, of carbon offsetting. The idea that we might cancel our own greenhouse gases by paying for projects that reduce the gases elsewhere was born in the early years of climate politics. It was adopted by the corporate lobby at the Kyoto summit in 1997 and has grown into a large but deeply troubled adolescent - confused, unpredictable, and difficult to trust."

Re: the unregulated personal offset racket:

The early forestation projects, so beloved of rock bands, have been discredited. Apart from their inability to make accurate measurements of carbon saved, companies were offsetting immediate emissions with reductions that would occur only during the 100-year life span of a tree. One of the first, Future Forests, was selling offsets from a forest at Orbost in Scotland. Customers may have thought that they were paying for new trees to be planted, but the company's contract with the forest's owner reveals that all they were paying for was the right to claim ownership of carbon absorbed by trees which were planted anyway.

'A waste of time'

Some tree-planting projects in Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda have been accused of disrupting water supplies; evicting thousands of villagers from their land; seizing grazing rights from farmers; cheating local people of promised income; and running plantations where the soil releases more carbon than is absorbed by the trees. The founder of Climate Care, Mike Mason, told the environment audit select committee in February: "I think planting trees is mostly a waste of time and energy." And yet Climate Care relies for some 20% of its online sales on forestry. Mr Mason explained apologetically: "People love it unfortunately."

The idea of buying and retiring EU carbon permits is becoming equally discredited. The first phase permits, which run to the end of this year, are now worthless. The second phase, due to cap the carbon emissions of European companies from 2008 to 2012, are high-risk investments. Nobody knows whether the European commission has got its calculations right this time. Nor can anybody forecast the demand for carbon-heavy production, which will fluctuate with the weather and the economy. Andreas Arvanitakis, who monitors the market in these permits for the specialist analysts Point Carbon, would not use them for offsets: "I have a completely green tariff, I offset my flights and I make sure that I am getting the absolute top stuff. I wouldn't touch this."

From The Guardian