Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not carbon offsets, but carbon upsets

Douglas Kysar presents a striking idea in the Guardian (UK):…In theory, carbon offsets are a way to lower the cost of emissions reductions. Credits are awarded when a project is less greenhouse gas-intensive than it would have been in the usual course. These credits can then be sold to polluters and used to satisfy their emissions reduction obligations which would have been more expensive to undertake directly. In practice critics have pointed to numerous problems with offsets. Most fundamentally, they fail to incentivise the kind of structural transformation toward a low-carbon future that we desperately need.

Here's where "carbon upsets" come in: Rather than award credits based on development that moves us toward a cleaner but still very dirty future, why not award credits to legal and political actions that have more dramatic impact? For instance, rather than bribe fossil fuel companies to stop flaring natural gas, why not reward indigenous groups that entirely block new exploration activities? Rather than transfer money to logging operations for incremental replanting programs, why not award credits to forest-dwelling communities that successfully fight to stop logging altogether?

As with the existing offset approach, financial benefits could be shared in the case of legal and political activities that are "sponsored" by an international partner. …In that world, the landmark deal recently brokered by the UN development programme to preserve Ecuador's Yasuni national park would become a model of climate capitalism.

The carbon upset approach does not directly promote transformative clean-energy technologies. Instead, it aims to disrupt the political and economic inertia of the status quo. But that's precisely the disruption we need…..

San Rafael Falls in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park, shot by BankTrack

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