[OPE-L] Capital's Dangerous Gimmick

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun Dec 17 2006 - 10:02:38 EST


South Africa: Capital's Dangerous Gimmick

Third World Report (Africa) by Patrick Bond, Rehana Dada and Graham
Erion, December 2006

With climate change posing one of the gravest threats to capital
accumulation - not to mention humankind and our environment - it is
little wonder that economists such as Sir Nicholas Stern,
establishment politicians like Gordon Brown and Al Gore, and
financiers at the World Bank and the City of London have begun
warning the public. They are all pushing for more market solutions as
the way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This was the key theory motivating capitalist states' support for the
Kyoto Protocol. And since February 2005, when the protocol was
ratified by Russia and formally came into effect, a great deal more
money and propaganda has been invested in the carbon market,
including at a major Nairobi climate conference last month.

Rather than forcing countries or firms to reduce their own greenhouse
gas emissions, Kyoto Protocol designers created a carbon market -
from thin air - and gave countries a minimal reduction target (5
percent from 1990 emissions levels, to be achieved by 2012). They can
either meet that target through their own reductions, or by
purchasing emissions credits from countries or firms that reduce
their own greenhouse gasses beyond their target level.

One of the key carbon trading mechanisms instituted by Kyoto is the
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This is an arrangement which
enables countries to offset their carbon targets by investing in
emissions reduction projects in other countries - such as tree
planting or wind power projects in the Third World.

But as Larry Lohmann from the British NGO Cornerhouse and the Durban
Group for Climate Justice remarks, "The distribution of carbon
allowances [the prerequisite for trading] constitutes one of the
largest, if not the largest, projects for creation and regressive
distribution of property rights in human history."

Big oil companies, in particular, can win property rights to pollute
at the level they always have, instead of facing up to their historic
debt to the Third World for using it as dumping ground.

South Africa is a good case study of the abuses of carbon trading. In
mid-2005 Sasol, one of the country's largest companies, admitted that
its gas pipeline project proposal to the CDM bureaucracy lacked the
key requirement of "additionality" - the firm doing something that it
would not have done anyway - thus unveiling the CDM as vulnerable to
blatant scamming.

At Durban's vast Bisasar Road rubbish dump - Africa's largest
landfill - community protests against ongoing carcinogenic emissions
have derailed the World Bank and municipal state's plans to market a
methane-capture project at the site as a CDM project. According to
Sajida Khan, a cancer victim leading the fight, "The poor countries
are so poor they will accept crumbs. The World Bank know this and
they are taking advantage of it."

Similar protests across the Third World have targeted destructive CDM
schemes such as tree planting at Brazil's Plantar industrial timber
plantation and in indigenous communities mass demonstrations are
raising the profile of the dangerous market.

Carbon trading may also suffer classic contradictions of capitalist
markets, such as volatility, overproduction and manipulation. In
April, Gordon Brown made a strong pitch at the United Nations "for a
global carbon trading market as the best way to protect the
endangered environment while spurring economic growth".

But ten days later, the European Union's Emissions Trading market
crashed thanks to the overallocation of pollution rights, and the
carbon market price lost over half its value in a single day,
destroying many CDM projects earlier considered viable investments.

Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently explained why CDM schemes
like tree planting are so dubious: "While they have a pretty good
idea of how much carbon our factories and planes and cars are
releasing, scientists are much less certain about the amount of
carbon tree planting will absorb. When you drain or clear the soil to
plant trees, for example, you are likely to release some carbon, but
it is hard to tell how much.

"Planting trees in one place might stunt trees elsewhere, as they
could dry up a river which was feeding a forest downstream. Or by
protecting your forest against loggers, you might be driving them
into another forest. In other words, you cannot reasonably claim to
have swapped the carbon stored in oil or coal for carbon absorbed by
trees. Mineral carbon, while it remains in the ground, is stable and
quantifiable. Biological carbon is labile and uncertain."

The main force for a genuine alternative to capitalism's fake market
mitigation strategy will be public pressure.

With Third World communities and progressive environmentalists -
especially the Durban Group for Climate Justice - seeking and finding
allies serious about the climate crisis, there will be fewer
opportunities for Nicholas Stern and Gordon Brown to sell bogus
market solutions to capital's pollution problems.

Bond, Dada and Erion are the editors of the new book Climate Change,
Carbon Trading and Civil Society, available from Rozenberg Press,

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