The Great Carbon Offset Swindle: International Rivers Report Deconstructs the Scam

Tim Kingston
Monday, June 23, 2008

The Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, the world's biggest carbon-offset program, is utterly failing to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The program’s failure is detailed in the International Rivers' report, "Bad Deal for the Planet: Why Carbon Offsets Aren't Working." The CDM is supposed to be a way for the industrialized nations to stabilize and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by funding emission-reduction programs and projects in the developing world. But the CDM is actually increasing such emissions in the guise of promoting sustainable development.

The Clean Development Mechanism is now handing out billions of dollars for destructive dams, fossil fuel projects and chemical industries. The program's carbon offsets do nothing to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. As the name implies they merely "offset" emissions elsewhere. If a Chinese mine cuts its methane emissions under the CDM, there will be no global climate benefit because the polluter that buys the offset avoids the obligation to reduce its own emissions.

“If we want to sustain public support for effective global action on climate change, we cannot risk one of its central planks being a program that is so fundamentally flawed,” asserts Patrick McCully, author of the report and executive director of International Rivers. “In the short term the CDM must be radically reformed. In the long term it must be replaced.”

The International Rivers report exposes how too many applicants get CDM funding for projects that are either already finished or under construction. The central point of CDM funding is that it should go to emission-reducing projects that could not be built without financial assistance – a concept called “additionality” in CDM jargon. If the project is already built or under construction, the whole point of additionality is defeated. The program is further undermined because industry insiders, off-the-record, admit that deceitful claims in CDM applications are standard practice. As McCully writes, such applications often “contain enough lies to make a sub-prime mortgage-pusher blush.”

The report's findings are especially critical now that both presidential candidates' climate plans (as well as the recently blocked congressional climate legislation) call for international offsets to be used in the United States. A rapidly growing industry of carbon brokers and consultants is now lobbying for the CDM to be expanded and its rules weakened further. All of these players need to be asking tough questions about the effectiveness of carbon offsets in reducing the impacts of global climate change.

The report “Bad Deal for the Planet: Why Carbon Offsets Aren't Working
…and How to Create a Fair Global Climate Accord” can be downloaded at /km/node/3975.
Report author Patrick McCully is available for interviews.
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