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January 18, 2009 / Mridul

UN Admits to Shortcomings in the Clean Development Mechanism

While reporting a 50 percent increase in the number of projects approved under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the administrators at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged that the carbon trading system requires an overhaul. This is the first time that the UNFCCC has conceded to the fact that the CDM has loopholes which need to be filled in order to make the next climate treaty a success.

CDM is a tool incorporated in the Kyoto Protocol which helps industrialized nations to meet their emissions-reduction targets through investments low-emission projects in the developing world. It has been an instrument to spread clean energy use across the world and providing monetary assistance to thedeveloping countries to reduce their carbon emissions. But the mechanism has had its fair share of criticism.

Critics say that projects which could have been set up without any monetary help have also been incorporated in the CDM. Many other projects which pose potential environmental threat have been approved to sell carbon credits. While approving projects like wind farms for selling carbon credits it must be ensured that the ecology of the area is not going to face any adverse effects, that no trees are cut to make space for the wind mills and that the local population has no objections with the project. These aspects have been ignored so far.

If a project has been established then it should not be considered in the application process. Thorough checks and extensive studies about the ecological, environmental and socio-economic effects must be made mandatory before the any project is approved for selling carbon credits.

For instance, for a hydroelectric project, it must be check if the displaced people have been successfully relocated to new areas, what biodiversity has been lost due to the submergence of land and what are the plans initiated to replenish it and whether the company/government has any plan about managing the methane emissions generated from the project.

Companies in India and China, which sell the lion share of global carbon credits, try to find ways of convincing their respective environmental ministries which further their recommendations to the approval agencies hired by UNFCCC. Therefore, it is important that more transparency brought in the manner in which these agencies go through the procedure of approving projects.

Taking yet another example, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) sells carbon credits under the CDM scheme for using the eco-friendly regenerative braking system in its trains. Now, the DMRC is one of the very few metro projects in the world which manage to generate profit so why does it require money to finance this braking system. More than half of this long-term metro project has been completed and Japan has provided a major portion of the funds but now DMRC is planning to get CDM approval for the whole project itself. The DMRC wants to get approval for selling carbon credits as commuters have shifted from buses/cars thus reducing carbon emissions.

The developed nations are least bothered as they are concerned only with meeting the set emission reduction goals while the developing countries are happy to receive practically free funding for their projects. But if transparency and responsibility is not brought into the system, this whole carbon offsetting scheme would be reduced to a mere eyewash.

Instead of monetary investments technological help should be extended to the developing and poor countries because it is difficult to keep track of the funds. Every entity involved in the process – the project managers, the company involved, the environment ministry and the approving agency – must be made accountable for its actions. We must stop fooling ourselves by selling and earning credits because in reality we have to go a very long way before the rising carbon emissions could be curtailed.

This article was first posted on Red, Green and Blue.

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