By Chris Lang
On 21 March 2022, the US Securities and Exchange Commission will hold a meeting to discuss its proposed “climate disclosure rule”. In a 22 February 2022 letter, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund, and Kostyack Strategies called on the SEC to force companies to disclose purchases of carbon offsets.
As the letter notes, demand for offsets is soaring. The letter quotes from a report produced by New Climate Institute and Carbon Market Watch. The report looks at the climate strategies of 25 global companies and notes that transparency on climate contributions and the use of offsets is “very poor”.
The report states that,
None of the assessed companies demonstrate good practice with regards to the transparency set out in their climate contributions or offsetting claims. In many cases, information could not be found in the public domain to understand or assess the approaches. In other cases, disclosure is limited to marketing soundbites and superficial descriptions. Only in a small minority of cases is more detailed information identifiable, through the compilation of information from public project registries or third-party news outlets.
The Industry Agenda: Carbon Offsets
A new report by the Revolving Door Project, written by Hannah Story Brown and Dylan Gyauch-Lewis, looks at the corporate influence behind the promotion of carbon offsetting as a supposed way of addressing the climate crisis. The report points out that,
Most offsets do nothing to tangibly decrease existing emissions, with many simply being promises to not create more emissions or intentionally harm the environment (i.e., we are not clearcutting this forest, so give us money). (And the carbon capture projects that claim to do so have been found to emit more CO2 than they remove.)
The report points out that the underlying premise of carbon offsets is fundamentally flawed, because it allows the continued burning of fossil fuels. The report highlights three (of many) critiques of carbon offsetting:
- “Carbon Unicorns: The Deception of Carbon Markets and ‘Net Zero’”, Friends of the Earth International, La Vía Campesina, Indigneous Environmental Network, Corporate Accountability, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, Third World Network, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance, Justiça Ambiental. 2021.
- “Not Zero: How ‘net zero’ targets
disguise climate inaction”, Action Aid, Corporate Accountability, Friends of the Earth International, Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, Third World Network, What Next. 2020.
- Steffen Böhm and Siddhartha Dabhi (eds) “Upsetting the Offset: The Political Economy of Carbon Markets”, Mayfly Books. 2009.
I wrote a chapter in Böhm and Dabhi’s book: “Forests, Carbon Markets and Hot Air: Why the Carbon Stored in Forests Should not be Traded”:
The oil industry has polluted more under California’s cap-and-trade scheme
Brown and Gyauch-Lewis highlight the problems with California’s cap-and-trade scheme. In particular, the way the oil industry has benefited from California’s failure to legislate to keep fossil fuels in the ground:
The extensive lobbying of fossil fuel companies has diluted the power of cap-and-trade systems. For example, California’s cap-and-trade program is one of the oldest and most lauded emissions trading systems. But evidence shows that oil and gas companies have actually polluted more since the program began, in large part because California has “bestowed the biggest possible financial cushion to every polluter in the state for the entirety of cap and trade’s existence.”
Mark Carney’s Taskforce “can be dismissed out of hand”
In an article on The American Prospect Gyauch-Lewis describes Mark Carney’s Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets as a “financial industry group”. He notes that it is setting up its own regulatory body for voluntary carbon markets, and comments that it, “can be safely dismissed out of hand”. At the Glasgow climate meeting in November 2021, activists and indigenous groups protested the Taskforce as a greenwashing scam.
Brown and Gyauch-Lewis’s report notes that,
While the taskforce’s founding sponsors include large NGOs like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy, its member consultation groups include The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (which is led by the CEOs of Aramco, BP, Chevron, CNPC, Eni, Equinor, Exxon, Occidental, Petrobras, Repsol, Shell, and TotalEnergies), Chevron, Shell, Blackrock, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and Boeing, among others. (All five banks are consistent climate hypocrites, both members of the Net Zero Banking Alliance and among the world’s top financiers of coal and other fossil fuels.)
And they note that, “Now in their third decade as a favored climate change mitigation strategy of the global elite, carbon offsets embody a willful blindness to the necessity of sweeping structural change if we are to avoid near-future ecosystem collapse.”