Saturday, 30 May 2009

Carbon Expo CONference

I like Barcelona. In fact, I love the place. So it’s a shame that it just hosted a hideous rabble of bankers and investors punch drunk on the rich elixir of carbon trading, clamoring to learn how such an egregious, misguided ‘solution’ to climate change can earn them a bit more coin in the future.

These deluded beings were at Carbon Expo, an annual “global meeting point for companies operating on the CO2 market… [an] international platform to inform yourself about the latest CO2 projects and climate development.”

A key component of this CO2 market is something called emissions trading, something which is certain to be addressed at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen in December. One of the overriding feelings emanating from the Expo was the belief the industry should lobby policy makers to try and ensure a deal more conducive to the carbon markets is reached at Copenhagen.

The problem is; carbon trading is not an effective remedy. It ‘works’ by placing a cap on emissions whilst governments hand out permits to pollute, which can also be traded between people who have too many or too few. Over time, the cap is lowered, permits become scarce and their cost increases, forcing their owners to look towards renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.

The easiest way to rebuff this mechanism would be to point out that the price of carbon has actually fallen over the past twelve months.

But the real problem is more systemic. The reductions targets are based on the wholly inadequate Kyoto Protocol; reductions claims are privy to 'creative accounting'; the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is essentially offsetting, is nothing more than a license to print money for polluters; deforestation, which accounts for around one-fifth of emissions, is excluded from CDM; and there's a distinct lack of social justice, with the developing world forced to pick our carbon bill and emissions reduction projects forced on people who won't benefit from them. I could go on .

And if that doesn't scare you, how about the fact that this market is based on essentially the same phoney economics as the handcart-to-hell financial system that has now collapsed like a house of cards? One bigwig said of the carbon market: "I guess in some ways it's akin to subprime... You keep layering on crap until you say, 'We can't do this anymore.'"

This is reflected in the audience this particular conference attracts. As well as big, carbon intensive industry, "financial intermediaries, law firms, brokerage firms, accounting and auditing firms, and carbon market consultants" are cited in literature from the organisers, whose barometer for success would appear to be measured on the size of the previous year's conference rather than any direct effect on reducing the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere.

If anything is revealing of their actual commitment to tackling climate change, it's these words from Indra Nooyi, the chief executive officer of PepsiCo, who said: "The fact that I flew here for 1.5 hours to sit on a panel then I'm flying straight back to the US is an example of our commitment to environmental sustainability."

Ye Gods! The last thing we need is these pseudo-environmentalists pressuring the politicos to bow to their demands and make concessions to emissions traders to tie-in climate change prevention with unsustainable economic growth, all so they can make a bit of dollar.

Some things are simply too important to be left to the market. The carbon market is an artificial concept that commodifies something that can’t be valued, placing blind trust in the magical powers of voodoo economics to reduce emissions rather than taking positive action. Carbon trading is like trying to source the cheapest materials for an Anderson shelter whilst the German bombs rain down on your pretty little suburb. The markets are saying "here's the money" before figuring out what the solution is.

Climate change is happening, it's already affecting people in parts of the planet nobody cares about and no amount of quibbling over a few dollars here and there is going to stem global warming unless action is taken now. The only way to abate climate change is to stop extracting fossil fuels. It's all well and good making a few billion in the carbon market but if you have no planet to spend it on, what's the point?

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