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Brown's 'greenwash' failure

The government’s alleged environmental credentials are in ruins, with Gordon Brown’s announcement of support for a massive expansion of nuclear power, and the exposure of the “green tax” fraud. Brown has gone further than before by declaring that new nuclear power sites will be needed. And this is in addition to the even more immediate threat of a new generation of heavily polluting coal-fired power stations.

Last year the government was claiming its road tax policies were aimed at reducing car use – now the chancellor is planning to scrap them, as Labour MPs wake up to the fact that they will only drive the poorest people off the roads. The taxes also have precious little to do with changing behaviour, as they apply to cars bought as long ago as 2001!

Meanwhile, as speculators and hedge funds tighten their grip on the oil market, helping to send fuel prices soaring, the government is like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights. In the autumn the big utility companies are planning further increases in domestic fuel prices. Mark Todd, the director of, says: "This winter we have had the credit crunch. Next winter it will be the energy crunch.” He warned British consumers could face a 66% rise in gas prices by January, and similar increases in electricity.

Consumers got a taste of things to come on Tuesday, when several power stations shut down at the same time leaving half a million homes and businesses without power. After that, the price of gas for next winter reached a record 99.5p a therm, double the level a year ago. That increase will be passed on to the consumer, not only in higher fuel bills but in higher costs for food and other essentials.

The government was also forced this week to defend its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, in the face of new reports exposing it as an expensive fraud. Two academics at Stanford University, California, studied more than 3,000 CDM projects earning up to $10bn worth of carbon credits, and concluded that none of them should have qualified as they would have been built anyway. Almost every chemical, wind power or hydro electric scheme planned for China in the next four years has applied to register.

When it finally expires in 2012, it seems Kyoto will have saved a pitiful total of about 175 million tons of carbon, according to Professor Roger Pielke, Jr. at the University of Colorado’s Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research. Pielke totalled the cumulative emissions saved by CDM schemes already registered, or in the pipeline and found that the level emissions that would have been reached on January 1, 2012 will now happen just before noon on January 7, 2012. So at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, the CDM has given the planet about another 6.5 days. I suppose we should be grateful.

All the government’s hopes of meeting carbon emission reduction targets are pinned on the CDM, not on any real reductions. A note of desperation crept into their defence. A spokeswoman said: "We completely reject any assertions that it is fundamentally flawed. We've worked consistently for and seen improvement in CDM processes over the past few years of its operation. We believe the CDM is essentially transparent and robust, though we will continue to press for the environmental integrity of projects."

The facts are clear enough – the government is leaving it all to the global energy companies and to the market in carbon. It has no solutions to the fuel crisis or to climate change. The "green tax” approach has failed. Government policies are essentially a greenwash. There is an urgent need for a crash programme of energy saving and efficiency measures, along the lines of A World to Win’s Action Plan to Halt Climate Chaos. Join us today to help develop the strategy for implementing this urgent alternative.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
29 May 2008

Catherine says:

I think you should check your facts on the CDM before you go slating it off the back of a few articles in the national papers.

The UK does not "pin its hope"s on reaching emissions targets through the CDM - CER credits, generated from CDM projects can only be used to account for 8% of the UK's target set by the EU. The rest of the target has to be made up from European Union Allowances, or emissions cuts in the UK.

Back to an earlier point to made about the power cuts last Tuesday. Why have you related the power cuts to the price of wholesale gas? The cuts were brought about by reduced supply margins due to nine plants having tripped that day, the actual power cut was triggered by a nuclear reactor and a coal-fired plant tripping within seconds of each other. Yes, this is a taste of things to come if we don't build more power generators. Let's have 25 GW of windfarms around the UK coast - as the Crown Estate said on Thursday, but we're also going to need back-up plant for when the wind doesn't blow. Most current nuclear plants are going to close within a decade, so they'll have to be replaced.

Everyone loves energy but everyone also loves to complain about how it's generated or how much it costs (windpower costs more than twice that of conventional generation).

You failed to miss another fundamental point of the CDM - which AWTW should be in favour of, and that is technology transfer. The CDM provides an incentive for developing countries to install "cleaner" energy generators rather than rely on cheap dirty coal power stations

Penny says:

It is not A World to Win that is casting doubt on the CDM. In addition to the two academic reports quoted in this blog, we could also point to a 2006 United Nations investigation which found that a third of CDM-approved offset projects in India would have happened without Kyoto funding. In China, almost every new hydroelectric and natural-gas-fired power plant has applied for CDM money, casting doubt on whether they really require the offset revenue to be built. In effect, the CDM is funding the massive growth in Chinese energy use.

As Stanford University climate policy export Michael Wara said: "It looks like the CDM is just turning into a production subsidy, and that's not a good way to spend our money."

The CDM also creates perverse incentives. 51 percent of the offsets have been generated by paying refrigerant manufacturers to incinerate HFC-23. Since the price of HFC-23 offsets can be worth more than twice the market price of the refrigerants themselves, it encourages companies to produce and then destroy even more greenhouse gases in the name of "reducing emissions". It will cost just $150m to destroy the HFC-23 produced between 2003 and 2012 (the period of the Kyoto-backed CDM). But the process will generate $6 billion worth of carbon credits. There is therefore no incentive at all to create "cleaner" processes - rather the reverse.

Stuart says:

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), a central plank of New labour's supposed plans to tackle climate change, permits the purchase of overseas carbon offsets such as Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) set up under the Kyoto Protocol. They will be used to avoid making difficult decisions about reducing energy use.

CDMs were meant to be for projects that would not have been built without the fund being provided through the sale of carbon off-sets, create truly additional emission reductions and promote 'sustainable development'. They are failing on all accounts.

Almost three-quarters of CDM projects were already completed by the time they were approved - so they did not really need the funds from carbon off-sets (except to create new sources of profit, of course!). Up to two-thirds of CDM off-sets probably do not represent any actual cuts in emissions at all and very few projects channel any funding towards the World's poor. In fact money is being channelled into the hands of developers to create profits and a cheap supply of carbon off-sets. The fundamental point of CDM is that it is not about technology transfer, it is about creating a vehicle for profit from the commodification of carbon.

Rather than relying on market forces, the world needs to adopt a contraction & convergence approach to reducing carbon emissions. Contraction by the developed world (reducing emissions first through local not-for-profit approaches), allowing the developing world to converge their emissions to an equitably agreed per capita level. But this will mean tackling corporate greed and the role of global capitalism.

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