UN to fight for future of carbon offset scheme

Amid calls for the Clean Development Mechanism to be axed, the UN climate chief has weighed in on its behalf

Forestry projects are common sources of carbon credits (Photo: Deposit Photos)

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The UN climate chief has jumped to the defence of a carbon offset scheme, amid calls to scrap it.

Next week, at talks in Bangkok, negotiators will consider whether to replace or repurpose the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) as part of the Paris Agreement. A final decision is due in December.

In a statement released on Friday, Patricia Espinosa touted the scheme as a success story.

“Work under the CDM shows that actions to mitigate climate change bring many co-benefits in human health, green jobs, poverty reduction and other aspects of development,” said Espinosa. “As we look towards establishing a new sustainable development mechanism under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, we should bear these successes in mind.”

The CDM was set up under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, allowing rich countries to meet some of their carbon-cutting commitments by funding projects in the developing world.

More than 8,100 projects in 111 countries have registered with the CDM. As the CDM held its 100th executive board meeting, it said these had driven $303 billion of investment and 2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions cuts.

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However, a 2016 EU-commissioned study found most of those projects would have gone ahead without the CDM, so the carbon savings were not truly additional. For example, hydropower dams make enough money through electricity sales irrespective of the CDM revenue.

In an comment article for Climate Home News on Friday, NGO Carbon Market Watch called for the CDM to be axed, arguing that it allows big polluters to duck their responsibilities.

“Today’s celebration of the ‘achievements’ of the CDM continues an un-mandated push by [UN Climate Change] to promote a scheme that has caused harm to local communities, failed to address human rights violations, and increased global greenhouse gas emissions,” said policy researcher Gilles Dufrasne. “The CDM is a defunct system and we call on negotiators to scrap it and learn from its mistakes in the design of the new sustainable development mechanism.”

Comment: Withdrawn UN advert shows why carbon offset scheme should be scrapped

A botched attempt to promote credits to individuals and businesses on Wednesday raised the profile of the debate.

UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) published a video entitled “Keep calm and offset” on social media, but took it down within hours after viewers complained about the tone.

Niclas Svenningsen, a UN Climate Change official, told CHN there was a “collective decision” to withdraw the ad in response to negative feedback. “We were trying to be a bit more humorous about how we are messaging this,” he said. “Humour is difficult, people do take it in different ways.”

He defended the underlying credit scheme, which UN Climate Change markets through its Climate Neutral Now platform. The executive board had learned from and responded to criticisms, Svenningsen said: “I think it would be a pity to kill 8,000 emission reduction projects in developing countries.”

In addition to the UN debate, there are ongoing discussions at the International Civil Aviation Organization on potentially using CDM credits to offset airline emissions.

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