UK's Emission Reduction Target Is Strong - As Long As Cuts Are Made At Home & Not Overseas

photo: Bill Ohl/Creative Commons

When it came out the UK committed itself to a world-leading emission reduction target, one immediate comment from the environmental community was that the goal of 50% reduction from 1990 levels by 2025 should be achieved without relying on emissions credits from overseas, and rather through genuine cuts domestically. A very good recommendation.

Today, The Guardian has some more on why campaigners are concerned that the UK may try to buy indulgences rather than change behavior.An excerpt:

The UK has been a leading advocate for highly flawed carbon markets to offset the disparities between rich and poor country emissions. We've already been experimenting with carbon trading through what's known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Yet the CDM has come under extensive criticism for structural flaws that keep carbon prices low, and effectively provide a "get out of jail free" mechanism for high-emissions nations like the UK. A 2008 working paper by two Stanford University academics concluded that "between one and two-thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts".

Meanwhile, the CDM has enabled polluting industries to buy cheap carbon credits to meet their emissions commitments and avoid shifting to more costly low carbon technologies, and has been slammed for backing projects that have had devastating impacts on local communities.

All in all the Guardian piece concludes, "We can ill afford the UK tipping us into a political abyss of foot-dragging, false solutions, and fake financial pledges."

Perhaps it's cynicism taking over, but with a few national exceptions, I'm pretty sure we're already in that abyss.

That cynicism doesn't extend, however, to ascribing sinister motives in promoting carbon markets as the best way to promote clean development while at the same time getting to give ourselves a collective pat on the back for 'saving the planet'. I don't think it's that complex, or at least not complex in a conspiratorial way.

Rather, the foot-dragging and predilection for financial finagling, comes from certain intellectual assumptions, certain economic mythology (as in the stories we tell ourselves to understand the world around us, from scientific to spiritual, not necessarily false truths as the term myth is all too often used) about the way society, and the economy as abstraction of that, works best--that is, liberal globalized capitalism, based on perpetually growing economies where environmental and social costs are passed on to society (but let's not talk about that last part, someone else will clean up the mess).

It ignores the very real fact, as revealed by ecological mythology, that genuine changes need to be made domestically. For the UK, or any other industrialized nation on the planet, to transition into a society that lives within the ecological limits of the planet (an admittedly long process) we can no longer push our problems off to someplace away over the horizon.

More on Carbon Offsets:
Obama Resurrects Carbon Offsets (Nobody Says Thanks)
So What's Wrong With Carbon Offsets As Indulgences?

Tags: Carbon Emissions | Economics