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Carbon markets and offsetting

Rather than cutting their emissions, wealthy polluters want to shift the burden to the poor through carbon markets and “offsetting”. Carbon markets have not worked, are unfair, and risk deferring the urgent action needed to avert climate breakdown. Instead of carbon markets, there needs to be a focus on real climate solutions. 


Carbon markets are not a climate solution

  • Carbon markets enable polluters to buy "carbon credits" rather than reducing their own emissions.

  • The idea is they can keep polluting as long as they pay someone else to "offset" their emissions.

  • The obsession with carbon markets is result of decades of neoliberal ideology, which promotes the idea that commodifying and selling nature is a "cost-effective" way to address problems.

  • In reality, it has failed to reduce emissions, delayed effective action, perpetuated inequalities and served vested interests. 

  • More fundamentally, it will not work in a world that must reduce emissions effectively to zero, and remove and store more carbon from the atmosphere through safe natural solutions. 

Carbon markets are undermining real solutions

  • Carbon markets are closely associated with the idea that setting  a ‘price on carbon’ will deliver the necessary emission reductions. Setting a price on carbon is, however, more effectively done through carbon taxes.  

  • Carbon taxes can make polluters pay the real costs of the damage from their emissions, but the tax would need to be high to deliver the emission reductions required, potentially harming the poor. 

  • So carbon taxation must be complemented by stringent rules, regulations, bans, standards and major public investments, incentives and support particularly to the poor and middle-class.

  • While these policy tools are well proven, there are currently strong efforts to promote global carbon-markets like those in the failed UN ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM) and EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which risk derailing action for real solutions. 

Carbon offset markets are unfair and do not work

  • The UN offset scheme has been criticized for facilitating land- grabs and supporting projects without community consent. 

  • Offsets have been riddled with fraud and speculators, leading to loopholes that are increasing emissions and real costs to the public. 

  • Since CO2 stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, any offset must guarantee it has removed or reduce the equivalent emissions forever.

  • Any miscalculation, fraud or unintended release (e.g. a credited forest burning) means increased emissions into the atmosphere. The environmental integrity can never be guaranteed.

  • Trading carbon credits does not reduce emissions: the EU scheme has not driven a significant reduction in emissions, and analysis of the CDM scheme suggests it has contributed to an increase in emissions. 

  • Rather, they slow the transition and immediate action, letting big polluters avoid accountability, while continuing their climate crimes. 


A global carbon market magnifies these risks

  • Proponents of carbon markets want to expand into new areas to be commodified. This includes forests where the interests and rights of communities become increasingly subservient to the demand of the market. 

  • There are also proposals for trading in soil carbon, enabling corporations to buy up rights in the soil of poor farmers in the global South, while continuing the climate pollution that is harming those farmers. 

  • Farming should not be about off-setting pollution by the wealthy, but ensuring livelihoods and food security. Carbon stored in soil is an added benefit, but should not become subject to speculation, corporate market forces and land-grabs.

  • These and other kinds of offsets shift liability to the public and the poor. If emission reductions don’t actually result from carbon markets it’s the public and climate that bares the cost. 

  • There is a risk that linking different national emission trading schemes will enable the weakest rules to apply, further risking community rights and undermining environmental integrity. 


Stop carbon markets, and instead focus on real climate solutions

  • Carbon markets simply delay the transition, and enable those polluting the most to continue exacerbating the climate crisis, while pushing the costs to the poor and future generations.

  • Instead, focus needs to be on real solutions that transform the energy system, support ecological restoration, embrace agro-ecology, facilitate non-market approaches, respect traditional knowledge and community-led solutions, and ensure participation by all people and communities. 


For more information see: 
Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice
The People’s Demands for Climate Justice
Climate Justice Demands: Carbon Markets

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