Photo via Guardian
Most cap and trade schemes proposed by governments include provisions that allow polluting companies to buy carbon offsets--initiatives that pay for tree planting in South America or solar panel installation in India and so forth--instead of cutting emissions exclusively from their own operations. So, surprise, surprise, a recent report from the AP in the Huffpo Green has revealed that companies participating in the EU's carbon trading scheme are more often than not simply buying their way out of carbon cuts.This shouldn't come as much of a surprise--it's one of the primary charges that critics level at cap and trade schemes like the one included in legislation that passed the House of Representatives in the US last summer. The efficacy of offsets is difficult to quantify, as the system relies on sometimes fickle for-profit agencies to designate carbon reducing projects (most often in developing nations) as valid. This issue was the subject of (perhaps overly paranoid) Harper's piece a couple months ago.
The AP reports:
To avoid the high cost of becoming greener, power companies and steel makers are using offsets to meet emissions-reduction requirements, and thus undermining the EU's cap-and-trade program that would otherwise punish them financially for not cleaning up their operations, the group Sandbag said.It's a tricky problem, because including provisions to buy offsets as a way to effectively reduce emissions in carbon trading schemes is seen as necessary to make them politically viable--the US's ACES, for instance, was loaded with them. Which is why Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth refused to support the bill.
So how bad is the offset buyout practice in Europe? Here's the AP:
Spanish energy company Endesa SA bought offsets worth a quarter of its total emissions, Sandbag said, while German steel maker ThyssenKrupp AG offset 29.6 percent of its emissions and Italian power firm Enel SpA purchased offsets for 12.4 percent of its carbon output.
It is a problem, to be sure--we can plant all the trees we want in Bolivia, but unless coal plants in the developed world start going offline, or at least are made seriously cleaner (but mostly just going offline), we're going to continue to exacerbate our climate problems. And I hope that the restrictions do get tightened in the EU--but let's not forget that here in the US, we're neither taking coal plants offline nor forcing our companies to buy offsets to balance their emissions. First steps are always going to include some rocky ones, as the entirety of the EU trading scheme's implementation thus far can attest to.
How about we take ours?