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Pablo Solón on COP20 draft text: “The carbon market is a mechanism to keep polluting if you’re able to pay”

On Monday, 8 December 2014, at 6.30 am in Lima, the UNFCCC released two draft negotiating texts – “Elements for a draft negotiating text” and “Draft text v1”. These are the first drafts of texts that the UNFCCC hopes to negotiate into a protocol at COP21 in Paris in one year’s time.

These documents were produced under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which was established in December 2011. It is a subsidiary body of the UNFCCC with the mandate to produce a protocol to be adopted by COP21 in Paris. The protocol will be implemented in 2020.

Under the headline “Goal to end fossil fuels by 2050 surfaces in Lima UN climate documents“, the Guardian reports that the text includes the words “full decarbonization by 2050”.

It sounds great. But it’s not.

It’s not great because it’s just a long-term target in a draft document. A draft document that includes lots of options to be whittled down into a legal text. Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Guardian:

This text won’t be settled here. It is an options text that then needs to be translated into a legal text and it won’t be decided until the last night at Paris. So which long-term goal survives the end of the day we won’t know until a year from now.

In 2009, Dr Malte Meinshausen, a senior researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, co-wrote a paper in Nature that concludes that to have a 25% chance of exceeding two degrees warming, we can only produce 1,000 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2000 and 2050.

The Guardian reports Meinshausen as saying, during a briefing in Lima, that,

At current rates we churn through 33Gt a year – 1000Gt divided by 33 means we have about 30 years left from 2011 onwards. Then the carbon budget will be exhausted.

(One Gt or gigatonne is one billion tonnes.)

But emissions are still going up. The Tyndall Centre reports that CO2 emissions for 2014 are likely to reach 40 billion tonnes. At that rate we will produce all the CO2 left in the carbon budget in only 25 years. Less if emissions keep on going up.

Unless we start reducing emissions immediately, we stand no chance of meeting “full decarbonization” by 2050. But the text produced by the ADP won’t be adopted until the end of next year. And it will only be implemented from 2020.

Predictably, the draft UNFCCC texts are full of references to carbon markets. For example, the draft text includes a request to the UNFCCC secretariat to

Prepare a technical paper by March 2015 on the existing methodological provisions under the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, in particular those related to land use, land-use change and forestry, including REDD-plus, and to the use of market mechanisms and the avoidance of double counting;

This is in the context of countries producing Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDC) – country level commitments to be included in the Paris protocol. Clearly, REDD countries will want to include the reductions achieved through REDD in their INDC. But if countries sell REDD carbon credits, the country buying the carbon credits will get to count the emission reductions against their INDC target.

The UNFCCC secretariat will have to address this thorny issue in its technical paper by March 2015.

Pablo Solón, former chief climate negotiator for Bolivia, and now the director of Focus on the Global South, explains this logic in an interview with Democracy Now,

The logic of carbon markets is, I have to cut my emissions, but if I don’t do it, I can buy from a developing country a certificate of emission reduction and say, “OK, I bought it, therefore I already have reduced.” So, it’s a way to cheat nature, because in reality what you need to do is reduce emissions, but through this mechanism, many of the emission pledges of developed countries will not really be done. They will not really cut. They will just buy, at very cheap prices, carbon credit from projects in the developing world.

Here’s the interview with Solón:

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  1. So from this comment I can only assume that carbon credits of any kind will always be worthless

  2. Their are a lot of fraudulent corporations, posing
    as good, but not. My sister is in Denver and this is what the frackers do, they fabricate and bullshit the public and carry on and we need to protect our Aqua fir and yes our air! Where i live, I thought they stopped making Germ war fair in Pine Bluff near Memphis! That was supposed to be all cleaned up, but i drove through late at night last month and it was fowl, the sky was red and black and smelled like the Bethlehem steal plant.