Clean Development Mechanism just gets worse

September 28, 2011 2:28 PM

In Let them eat carbon I looked at some of the problems we already knew about with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).  The idea is that sometimes it will be cheaper for richer countries like us to pay poorer countries to cut emissions on our behalf.  It doesn't matter to the climate where emissions are produced so why not do that to meet our targets?  So how does that end in the New York Times reporting families in Uganda being driven off land at gunpoint and an 8-year-old child being burned to death?

Unfortunately the simple idea has in practice been a corrupt attempt to buy the notional involvement of poor countries in the Kyoto Protocol, in particular.  Huge subsidies are available for a project that can be approved by the United Nations body charged with overseeing the scheme as having cut emissions.

Most of the Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) issued so far have gone to schemes to destroy particularly potent greenhouse gases like HFC-23 produced as byproducts in industrial processes (in that case, the production of HCFC-22). Academic study suggests that the scheme have been so generous that they have encouraged companies to produce more of these byproducts in the first place, making the whole scheme monstrously inefficient.

There are massive conflicts of interest in the critical validation process deciding whether or not projects will actually cut emissions, and whether they would have gone ahead anyway without subsidy.  Two of the biggest validators have received temporary suspensions and reviews suggest many projects don't provide evidence that CDM funding makes a difference.

But now the New York Times reports a particularly disturbing case where the prospect of carbon credits seems to have driven an ugly land grab in Uganda:

“I heard people being beaten, so I ran outside,” said Emmanuel Cyicyima, 33. “The houses were being burnt down.”


Other villagers described gun-toting soldiers and an 8-year-old child burning to death when his home was set ablaze by security officers.


“They said if we hesitated they would shoot us,” said William Bakeshisha, adding that he hid in his coffee plantation, watching his house burn down. “Smoke and fire.”


According to a report released by the aid group Oxfam on Wednesday, more than 20,000 people say they were evicted from their homes here in recent years to make way for a tree plantation run by a British forestry company, emblematic of a global scramble for arable land.


The firm in question, the New Forests Company, has high profile investors like the World Bank and HSBC.  Of course, this isn't the first violent land grab in a developing country, and the Ugandan government is probably right that it is a failure of the rule of law as much as anything, but this is yet another example of how climate policies that sound fine in comfortable offices in London can have awful effects in practice.

Setting up a generous subsidy for emissions reductions in the developing world with limited accountability was always a recipe for a waste of money at best, corruption at worst.  British families and businesses pay for all of it in their energy bills.In Let them eat carbon I looked at some of the problems we already knew about with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).  The idea is that sometimes it will be cheaper for richer countries like us to pay poorer countries to cut emissions on our behalf.  It doesn't matter to the climate where emissions are produced so why not do that to meet our targets?  So how does that end in the New York Times reporting families in Uganda being driven off land at gunpoint and an 8-year-old child being burned to death?

Unfortunately the simple idea has in practice been a corrupt attempt to buy the notional involvement of poor countries in the Kyoto Protocol, in particular.  Huge subsidies are available for a project that can be approved by the United Nations body charged with overseeing the scheme as having cut emissions.

Most of the Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) issued so far have gone to schemes to destroy particularly potent greenhouse gases like HFC-23 produced as byproducts in industrial processes (in that case, the production of HCFC-22). Academic study suggests that the scheme have been so generous that they have encouraged companies to produce more of these byproducts in the first place, making the whole scheme monstrously inefficient.

There are massive conflicts of interest in the critical validation process deciding whether or not projects will actually cut emissions, and whether they would have gone ahead anyway without subsidy.  Two of the biggest validators have received temporary suspensions and reviews suggest many projects don't provide evidence that CDM funding makes a difference.

But now the New York Times reports a particularly disturbing case where the prospect of carbon credits seems to have driven an ugly land grab in Uganda:

“I heard people being beaten, so I ran outside,” said Emmanuel Cyicyima, 33. “The houses were being burnt down.”


Other villagers described gun-toting soldiers and an 8-year-old child burning to death when his home was set ablaze by security officers.


“They said if we hesitated they would shoot us,” said William Bakeshisha, adding that he hid in his coffee plantation, watching his house burn down. “Smoke and fire.”


According to a report released by the aid group Oxfam on Wednesday, more than 20,000 people say they were evicted from their homes here in recent years to make way for a tree plantation run by a British forestry company, emblematic of a global scramble for arable land.


The firm in question, the New Forests Company, has high profile investors like the World Bank and HSBC.  Of course, this isn't the first violent land grab in a developing country, and the Ugandan government is probably right that it is a failure of the rule of law as much as anything, but this is yet another example of how climate policies that sound fine in comfortable offices in London can have awful effects in practice.

Setting up a generous subsidy for emissions reductions in the developing world with limited accountability was always a recipe for a waste of money at best, corruption at worst.  British families and businesses pay for all of it in their energy bills.

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