Why carbon credits are not credible

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’.


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2 Responses to Why carbon credits are not credible

  1. Harri Fajri says:

    Environment should not be given to the invisible hands mechanism.
    In Indonesia, the environmental problem is even more challenging, because now Local Government has enormous power to control land. They easily can convert the function of protected forest to become agricultural area. Since corruption is still a biggest problem for this country, we can see how their policy harmed the environment and society. I think that’s the reason why people in Sumatra and Borneo now are suffering by haze coming from forest fires.

  2. mbdb3 says:

    Time to stop blaming greenhouse gases, when the physical links between tropical rain forests and the atmosphere are proven, in science and oral history, it is the experience of farmers. The West Australian wheat fields, cleared of the natural scrub that was there for ages, gets less rain now than the natural scrub-land further East (towards the desert where rainfall falls off dramatically). This has been known for century or more. The climatic impacts of deforestation, especially tropical deforestation is widely known to influence local, regional and possibly global climates. “Although the relationship between deforestation and climate change is complex, there is a growing consensus that deforestation leads to warmer, drier climates. The consensus is based on experimental studies at the microscale and modelling studies at the global scale, supplemented by a small number of observational studies at the local and regional scale. However, none of the local and regional studies examine both deforestation and climate change in a rigorous manner, or consider the results in the context of synoptic-scale phenomena. Consequently, there is considerable uncertainty associated with the local and regional impacts of deforestation on the climate. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/030913339602000304

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