If you want to protect human rights, you should look to what’s good for humans; if you want to protect the environment, you should look to what’s good for the environment.
These things sound obvious when you say them. But very often when it comes to making policy, people are persuaded by arguments that protecting humans means looking to their property rights or that protecting the environment should be entrusted to market mechanisms, using property rights.
What property rights are good for is protecting the interests of people who have them and allowing those who accumulate them to turn a tidy profit at the expense of the greater good, whether of human beings or their environment.
Yet credence continues to be given to arguments that property rights and market mechanisms are the key to getting efficient results for policies in the wider public interest. The creed was even advanced in criticism of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, for its sceptical position on carbon trading:
‘The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.’ (Laudato Si’ §171)
News reaching us today via The Guardian from the Stockholm Environmental Institute rather suggests the Pope has a point. It turns out that a major UNFCCC carbon credit scheme was ‘so open to abuse that three quarters of its allowances lacked environmental integrity’ and it ‘increased emissions by 600m tonnes’.
The only surprise, really, is that anyone could be surprised that a scheme furnishing golden opportunities for abuse gets abused. The logic of trying to protect something by issuing rights to exploit it has flaws that really ought to be obvious.
In case they’re not, I spell them out at greater length in my paper ‘Human Rights vs Emissions Rights’.