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By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
Contaminate without worries. Contribute to global warming "and the disaster that the cinema anticipates" without affecting your corporate image. There are already companies that sell you carbon sinks, equivalent to the pollutants that you throw into the atmosphere
GLOBAL WARMING has given rise to a new type of trade: carbon trading. This new activity consists of the purchase and sale of "environmental services". Such services, which include the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, are identified and purchased by eco-consulting firms and then sold to individuals or corporations to "offset" their polluting emissions. Some non-governmental organizations and "green" businesses favor carbon trading and see it as a win-win solution, which reconciles environmental protection with the capitalist imperative of profitability. But there are environmentalists and grassroots organizations who argue that this trade is not a solution to global warming because it does not address the causes of the problem.
It works as follows: an eco-consulting firm eco-audits a client and comes up with a presumably accurate estimate of how much carbon its activities release into the atmosphere. Carbon is the common denominator in all polluting gases that cause global warming. The firm is looking around the globe for environmental services that can offset the emissions of its clients. These services are usually forests and tree planting projects and are known as carbon sinks (trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and "sequester" it in their wood). Using a variety of methodologies, the ecosystem services broker comes to an estimate of how much carbon a particular sink sequesters, assigns a monetary value to it, and sells it to one of its clients. The customer can then subtract from their carbon bill the amount of carbon sequestered by the sink they purchased. When a customer has enough sinks to offset all their emissions, they can boast that they are not causing any pollution. Carbon trading has the approval of the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC), a prestigious scientific body that advises the Convention on Climate Change and is also authorized by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to face the threat of global warming. Contrary to what many environmentalists believe, the Protocol does not actually contemplate substantial reductions in polluting gas emissions. It commits industrialized countries to reductions of only 5.2% below that year's levels. However, the IPCC cautioned that to avoid a global disaster these reductions must be 60% below 1990 emission levels. The CDM is one of three "flexible" market mechanisms in the Protocol. The other two are emissions trading, in which industrialized countries trade permits to pollute each other, and Joint Implementation, in which industrialized countries finance climate change mitigation projects in the former Soviet bloc.
Carbon trading participants include:
· Firms that provide advice and brokerage for carbon sinks, such as EcoSecurities, NatSource, Co2e.com and Climate Change Capital.
· Companies dedicated to "validating" and "verifying" the amounts of carbon fixed or sequestered by sinks, such as Det Norske Veritas and Societe General de Surveillance, both European.
· United Nations agencies, such as the Development Program (UNDP) and the Environment Program (UNEP), which help corporations to investigate and find new sinks.
· Environmental organizations, such as the US World Resources Institute and Environmental Defense.
· Multilateral banking institutions such as the World Bank, which established the Prototype Carbon Fund.
· Climate Care and Future Forests, both firms based in England, are private entities that have taken the lead in favor of carbon trading through the deployment of large advertising campaigns. Climate Care is a non-profit group that sells carbon sinks to individuals and companies and uses the money to invest in green projects, such as wildlife protection in Uganda, energy efficiency on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and micro-dams in Bulgaria. Climate Care's clients are mostly travel and ecotourism agencies, such as Ecotours, Whale Watch Azores and Nature Trek.
· Future Forests, a pecuniary company, says on its website: "We help you see how much CO2 (carbon dioxide) is produced by your activities, and we suggest ways you can reduce those emissions. What you don't can reduce, we can neutralize (or compensate) it, planting trees that reabsorb CO2 or investing in projects that reduce CO2 emissions, such as those that use renewable energy resources. " Future Forest clients include celebrities such as Pink Floyd, Simply Red, Kitaro, and filmmaker Ridley Scott, and corporations such as Fiat, Mazda, Volvo, the Marriott hotel chain, BP, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Warner Brothers and Harper Collins.
Some environmental groups believe that carbon trading and the concept of environmental services do not really counteract global warming. In May 2004, various groups issued a statement against Climate Care and Future Forests, protesting against what they consider "misleading propaganda" from these firms.
Heidi Bachram of Carbon Trade Watch stated: "We are concerned that these companies are indirectly obstructing the real solution to global warming, which is to reduce and ultimately stop the burning of fossil fuels ... The idea that people can burn fossil fuels and planting trees to clean up the resulting carbon dioxide is simply wrong. This false "solution" will only keep people extracting oil and coal instead of trying to switch to clean energy. "
"Pretending that a ton of carbon stored in trees is the same as a ton of fossil carbon ignores the most elementary concepts of the natural carbon cycle," said Jutta Kill, who directs Sinkswatch.
"There is great scientific controversy around how much carbon dioxide a tree planting can remove from the air and for how long. There is a difference between planting trees, which benefits the climate, and planting trees as part of a program that sanctions the continuation from burning fossil fuels, which does not benefit the climate, "said Mandy Haggith of Worldforests.
"The real solution is energy conservation, reduced consumption, more equitable use of resources, and distribution of clean and renewable low-impact energy sources," said the Global Movement for Tropical Forests, which is highly critical of the CDM. and the use of carbon sinks. "Although it is almost a truism to say it, the political will of the governments will be necessary. This is scarce, and when it exists it has to face very powerful and implacable interests."
* By Carmelo Ruiz Marrero