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'Saving' the Kyoto Protocol Means Ending the Market Mania

Corporate Europe Observatory
July 16th, 2001

The following statement, released during the UN climate summit in Bonn (July 16-27), warns against a further weakening and distortion of the Kyoto Protocol, as governments try to accommodate the irresponsible position of the U.S. (and a growing number of other countries). To sign-on to the statement, please send an e-mail mentioning organisation and country to: ceo@xs4all.nl See the CEO website for an for updated list of signators.

Current attempts to entice the US government to recommit to the Kyoto Protocol are likely to further accelerate the corruption of the Treaty. To save the Kyoto Protocol, talks should urgently shift focus from the current market mania, to discussing effective and fair solutions to climate change, beginning with domestic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by the industrialised countries.

At last November's UN climate summit in The Hague (COP-6), Northern governments and corporations were only inches away from being allowed to 'fulfil' their reduction commitments through various inventive but seriously flawed market-based ('flexible') instruments. This included creating global emissions markets, encouraging a scientifically dubious trade in 'carbon sinks' (carbon absorption via trees, wood products and soil) for emissions, and the promotion of nuclear energy. These escape clauses would have allowed the industrialised countries to significantly increase their emissions (instead of reducing them by the average 5.2% as agreed upon in Kyoto).

The debate since COP-6 has revolved around the US government's open rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. Other governments are so eager to placate the US in order to get them back on board that they appear ready to compromise the Protocol's environmental, social and moral integrity. Therefore, there is a real risk that the UN climate summit in Bonn (COP 6, part 2) will result in an entirely corrupted treaty that would unleash a global market in fraudulent emissions credits and do nothing to help stabilise the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Many corporate ventures that might become eligible for emissions credits -- nuclear power plants, so-called 'clean coal' plants as well as industrial agriculture and large-scale tree plantations (including genetically engineered varieties) -- have extremely serious negative social and environmental impacts. Investments in 'carbon sinks' (such as large-scale tree plantations) in the South would result in land being used at the expense of local people, accelerate deforestation, deplete water resources and increase poverty. Entitling the North to buy cheap emission credits from the South, through projects of an often exploitative nature, constitutes 'carbon colonialism'. Industrialised countries and their corporations will harvest the `low-hanging fruit (the cheapest credits), saddling Southern countries with only expensive options for any future reduction commitments they might be required to make.

Carbon credits are envisioned to be sold through a global emissions market, a concept that suffers from fundamental flaws. Firstly, allowing immediate trade in emissions permits (carbon credits) in effect means granting unequal private property rights to the atmosphere. This system of property rights would consolidate the historic overuse by Northern industry at the expense of the South (80% of all CO2 emitted since 1850 has come from the North). A market without clearly defined property rights can never function and the unfair property rights that underlie the currently proposed emissions markets will eventually be rejected by those losing out.

Moreover, the proposed emissions markets lack a workable accounting system, another essential element of a functioning market. A market which assumes that emissions cuts are climatically equivalent to planting trees, constructing new 'clean coal' plants or engaging in other pseudo-solutions, is deeply flawed. Global carbon stocks and flows cannot be quantified in the way such a market requires. Unverifiable emissions credits would flood the market, turning the trading system into a farce. The net effect would be to subsidise greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbate the climate crisis.

The fact that the property rights issue is unresolved and deeply contentious and that the proposed accounting system is fraudulent, should be sufficient reason to call off the launch of global trade in emissions credits. Attempting to regulate (for instance with 'caps' or trying to close 'loopholes') a market with such fundamental flaws is bound to fail. If unleashed now, the multibillion-dollar global emissions markets would develop their own disastrous dynamic. Given the bias towards corporate interests by neoliberal governments and international institutions, once these markets have been allowed to operate and expand, it will be virtually impossible to close off the lucrative trade in fraudulent emissions credits.

The North has a moral obligation to make the deepest cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, instead of using the South as a carbon dump. In particular, transnational corporations and international financial institutions must be held accountable for their central role in fuelling the climate crisis. Reducing fossil fuel use, which ultimately means keeping fossil fuels in the ground, is the only effective way to avoid escalating climate change.

Therefore:

  • We demand that industrialised countries drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions at home.

  • We demand that industrialised countries do not seek to escape their reduction commitments through market-based mechanisms such as Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation or the Clean Development Mechanism.

  • We call for a just transition to sustainable economies (through policies that protect workers and vulnerable communities), as well as for support for countries and communities threatened by catastrophic climate change.

  • We call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and a moratorium on new oil exploration and drilling.

This statement is signed by:

ASEED Europe (Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment and Development)
The CornerHouse, United Kingdom
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)
CorpWatch, United States
EYFA, Europa Fern, United Kingdom
Indigenous Environmental Network, United States, Canada, Mexico, and Korea
Ecological Youth
Rainforest Action Network, United States
Southwest Workers Union, United States
Third World Network, Malaysia
Transnational Institute (TNI)
World Information Service on Energy (WISE)
World Rainforest Movement, Uruguay