the Climate Change Convention to the Kyoto Protocol
the world’s governments joined together to sign the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change, with the aim of curbing
global warming. Using 1990 levels as a baseline, the scientists
comprising the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
warned that if greenhouse gas emissions were not immediately reduced
by at least 60%, the planet’s very survival would be endangered.
Convention, the countries that have been polluting the atmosphere for
the last century, and are thus primarily responsible for climate
change, were clearly identified as the countries that should
drastically reduce their emissions. Nevertheless, five years later,
when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, contrary to what might be
reasonably expected, extremely limited restrictions on them were
imposed , calling for a mere 5.2% average reduction in greenhouse gas
emissions over 1990 levels by the year 2012.
climate change had already become evident to the majority of peoples
of the South, it was only recognized as a global problem when the new
climate change business schemes were set up.
materializing the objectives of the Climate Change Convention through
concrete and effective measures, the Kyoto Protocol created a series
of strategies, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and
Joint Implementation (JI), that, instead of confronting the problem
by changing patterns of production and reducing fossil fuel
consumption, transfer responsibility for emission reductions onto
third parties and create new business opportunities for the
majority of projects that use these mechanisms – such as
hydroelectric projects (e.g., dams on the Bhilanguna and other rivers
in India), methane capture from landfills, refrigerant HFC-23
or nitrous oxide destruction schemes (e.g., in México, India, China
or Korea), wind power projects, tree plantations (e.g., the Plantar
project in Brazil), among others – could actually be provoking
serious social and environmental impacts in the countries where they
are being implemented, and do not curb the increase in emissions
Protocol has failed not only because its proposals cause local damage
where CDM projects are implemented, mainly in countries of the South,
but also because it has not succeeded in starting the process of
controlling global warming. That is because it sidesteps the main
problem, which is hydrocarbons. Also, Kyoto proposes false solutions,
deliberately ignoring constructive approaches, such as leaving fossil
fuels underground, the indispensable, measurable core of any solution
to climate change. The Kyoto Protocol should take more into account
hundreds of low-emission ancestral and newly-developed technologies
that could serve as an example of how to live in a non-oil-based
does the carbon market work?
the Kyoto-based carbon market, pollution-creating countries are
granted emission permits, which are equivalent to their 1990 levels
of greenhouse gas emissions minus – or plus – their emission
reduction commitment. In other words, industrialised countries are
being compensated for their emissions. And most are increasing them.
Emission rights are calculated in units of carbon dioxide, which is
one of the main greenhouse gases. One ton of carbon dioxide equals
one Certified Emission Reduction (CER) credit.
words, those who pollute the atmosphere most are rewarded the most,
by being given free licences to continue polluting up to the limits
established under the Kyoto agreements. Governments, for their part,
pass these permits on to the most highly polluting industries in
that have not used up all of their permits or that want to continue
polluting can sell or purchase excess credits to or from other
companies, a system known as cap and
can also invest in projects in countries of the South that will
supposedly reduce emissions and thus generate new “credits” that
the companies can use to “offset” any emissions of greenhouse
gases over the permitted levels. The European Union has proposed
allowing its members to use carbon credits for up to 25% of their
required national emissions “reductions” up until 2020.
while carbon offset projects are often misleadingly presented as if
they are reducing emissions worldwide, in fact, any savings in carbon
emissions that they bring about are automatically cancelled out by
extra emissions in some other part of the world.
calculating the number of carbon credits
that companies can obtain through these projects or trades involves
predicting something very difficult to measure: what would be
difference between the level of emissions created with the project
and the level of emissions that would be produced in a hypothetical
future without the project?
words, the more hypothetical emissions reduced, the more carbon
credits that can be claimed by the companies investing in these
projects. This leads companies to paint disastrous scenarios about
what would happen in the future if their projects are not undertaken.
The consequence is that, instead of reducing emissions globally,
carbon offsets are most likely increasing them.
the carbon market is a new business opportunity derived from the
climate change crisis. Emissions-producing companies and
intermediaries are making millions in profits (the global carbon
market is predicted to grow to USD 90 billion in 2008). Yet
while it is impossible to calculate how much, if any, carbon dioxide
will be reduced, the commodity being bought and sold in the carbon
market is materialized in forests, protected areas, and other large
tracts of land for which ownership deeds or mortgages are handed
that these shortcomings are the result of market failures or errors
in market design , but they in fact lie at the heart of the the
scheme. The carbon market was not created to help people or to
protect the environment, and these objectives would contradict its
core function: to profit from carbon – and from the climate change
crisis – and enable continued use of hydrocarbon fuels.
should we also oppose the voluntary carbon market?
voluntary carbon market is even more dangerous than the market
set up under the Kyoto Protocol. While the latter is at least
somewhat regulated, and sets an emissions quota for each country,
which is then passed on to individual companies, the voluntary market
is growing without any form of regulation.
parallel market allows the countries of the North, including their
institutions, companies and individual citizens, to delay serious
action on fossil fuel emissions, while providing profits to a new
business sector at the same time.
look at a few examples from the voluntary carbon market:
corporation, in collaboration with environmental organizations, is
investing tens of thousands of euros in a tree plantation project in
Costa Rica that will in theory capture around 40,000 tons of carbon
dioxide from the atmosphere. Based on this initiative, the company is
selling its products under an eco-friendly guise, claiming to the
Spanish public that it is neutralizing its emissions and “completely”
offsetting the carbon it uses. The company’s clients believe they
are doing something good by purchasing its products. But they are not
aware that, on the one hand, the project in Costa Rica could be
causing social and environmental problems locally, while on the other
hand, there is no way of proving that the plantation is actually
capturing the same volume of emissions produced by the company and
its clients. And in the meantime, the company has not changed its
level of consumption of resources, and continues to emit the same
volume of greenhouse gases. It is simply another way of doing
business, and it helps to improve its corporate image, but it does
nothing to contribute to curbing climate change.
context, the voluntary carbon market will actually encourage
industries to pollute even more than they used to and produce even
more emissions, since these will purportedly be captured in another
increasingly common example of the voluntary market is that of
individuals from the North who travel by plane or use gasoline in
their cars and believe that by donating a bit of money they are
“offsetting” the emissions they have generated through their
lifestyle. For instance, numerous European airlines encourage
passengers to donate a certain sum of money to be used in projects
that will apparently offset the emissions they generate by flying.
This leads passengers to believe that by donating money, the carbon
dioxide released during the flight will be automatically absorbed
somewhere else, and this will compensate for the emissions involved.
For the average citizens of the North who take part in these
initiatives, it is easier to hand over a bit of money at a distance
than to consume less hydrocarbons, and they can still sleep at night.
problem is that many people in the North sincerely believe in the
possibility of becoming “carbon neutral”, and do not realize that
once the fossil fuel has been burned to allow them to fly on planes,
drive their cars, heat their homes and meet the rest of their daily
energy consumption demands, the carbon dioxide emissions involved
cannot be called back, but become a permanent part of the
above-ground carbon pool circulating among the oceans, atmosphere,
vegetation and soil.
that offsets are somehow increasing the capacity of this pool cannot
be verified. The companies involved can credit their accounts for
virtually whatever amount of carbon they wish, and sell shares in
projects to increase their profits even further.
voluntary carbon markets encourage the illusion that climate change
will be stopped through individual action, not through political and
economic structural change. The voluntary carbon market further
increases the power of the big polluters to carry on business as
usual while clearing the conscience of consumers in the North.
main arguments against the carbon market can be summed up as follows:
The carbon market ignores the key issue of fossil fuel
It benefits the polluters.
It privatizes conservation and environmental initiatives.
It fails to remedy climate injustice, by further increasing
wealth and wellbeing in the North, while increasing vulnerability in
the South through the implementation of projects that may violate
It does not recognize the existence of a historical and
current environmental debt.
What is paid for now is speculative future absorption, while
the emissions have already been produced.
It divides up the atmosphere, converts the carbon cycle into
a commodity, and places it in private hands, along with new rights in
air, wind, land, forests and water.
It privatizes responsibility for the climate, conservation
and environmental initiatives.
It is a way of selling environmental services (the natural
carbon cycle, carbon dioxide capture by forests and oceans, the natural
regulation of climate and other functions of nature) which would mean
in effect the alienation of many rights of use of lands and territories
currently exercised by their occupants.
It violates the rights of local communities and provokes
negative impacts on the environment.
It is speculative and
Its mechanisms are based on capitalist principles, the main cause of climate change.
It will worsen climate change instead of curbing it, because
emissions will continue to increase.
voluntary carbon market has other characteristics that make it even
It cannot be subject to effective state control.
It assumes that changes will result from individual actions,
and not through structural policies and decisions, when the solution is
not a matter of consumer choices, but rather of actions to correct
inequality, injustice and exploitation.
It uses deceptive advertising to fool consumers.
By leading people to believe they are compensating for their
current lifestyle, it encourages the continuation of unsustainable
patterns of consumption.
Yasuní/ITT proposal and the carbon market
all of the above, those of us who support the campaign to leave oil
underground as a path towards a post-petroleum civilization are
radically opposed to the carbon market, voluntary or otherwise.
market – voluntary or not – was not created to leave oil and
other fossil fuels underground, which is the only workable way to
control global warning. On the contrary, it functions to allow
corporations to buy and sell carbon permits and continue burning
coal, gas and oil.
carbon market and the parallel voluntary market are diametrically
opposed to the proposal to leave oil underground, which is the basis
of the original Yasuní proposal in Ecuador.
initial Yasuní/ITT proposal promoted the assumption of different
responsibilities, not environmental services, neither new business
opportunities for the polluters. It is a strong signal for
international action through a concrete proposal that definitively
buries the carbon market by leaving crude oil underground.
Keep oil (and
other hydrocarbons) underground
for past emissions.
damage caused and rewards for companies that pollute.
the historical and current carbon debt.
Privatizes the carbon cycle,
atmosphere, land and forests.
Carbon becomes a commodity.
the natural carbon cycle.
and sovereign control
over the land, forests, etc.
rights and the rights of nature.
assumes little responsibility.
Promotes the assumption of different
North: ending the consumption of
hydrocarbons, acknowledging the damage caused.
South: stopping the extraction of
oil, preserving the forests, respecting human rights.
South, since projects to “offset” emissions are generally
environmentally destructive and violate the rights of local
populations. In addition, those who oppose oil operations or these
projects are criminalized.
Compensates the people who decide to
leave the crude oil underground and thereby prevent further emissions
and preserve the forests.
Fossil fuels continue to be consumed
and emissions continue to rise.
Less oil consumption and development
of new sustainable energy sources.
Less climate change.
Fossil Fuels Underground the first
step in the transition to a post-petroleum society and energy