NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 24, 2008

The United Kingdom wants the rights to buy its way out of half its CO2 reduction targets, and they are not alone.  Other European Union (EU) nations believe they should be allowed to trade away 50 percent of their emissions reductions -- up from the 30 percent currently allowed, says the BBC News.

Even though this is just an idea that has yet to be finalized, environment groups predict that they will be followed, legally or illegally.  The dispute centers on the credibility of the system used for trading international carbon permits -- the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) -- arranged under the Kyoto Protocol, which allows rich countries to offset some of their emissions reductions by purchasing carbon credits which help developing countries get clean technology, says BBC. 

However, CDM is under fire because some investors are obtaining credits for projects in countries where they would have been built anyway, meaning that no CO2 is saved:

  • Various reports suggest that between 20 percent and 60 percent of CDM projects do not save additional CO2.
  • Additionally, CDM opponents say that CO2 targets are already not strict enough to avoid the risk of dangerous climate change, and this would weaken the effort even more.
  • However, supporters argue that there are many good reasons to support increased access to credits, like they deliver financial flows to developing countries and play a key role in any international deal.
  • Carbon trading is accepted in principle as it does not matter where in the world CO2 is cut because its warming potential is global.

Yet, opponents say that if governments and companies know they can trade away their responsibilities, they will.  European nations are currently expected to make around 70 percent of their carbon reductions on home turf, leaving 30 percent available for trade.  Reducing that domestic obligation to 50 percent could allow an extra billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, says BBC.

Source: Roger Harrabin, "UK seeking CO2 trading increase," BBC News, September 18, 2008.

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