At the forum, I focused on an issue dear to my heart: climate change policy. There was a group of people promoting "Climate Justice." I was surprised to hear that this group was vehemently opposed to the Kyoto Protocol and other such market-based policies. I suppose I'm a bit out of touch with the lefties up here in my ivory tower.
They do make some valid points. Yet, the complete dismissal of carbon trading and any economic solution is, perhaps, going too far. I'd be more forgiving of their dismissal if they proposed viable alternative solutions. But the focus was on tearing down the system with little discussion on what would be put in its place.
Here is my response to the Durban Declaration on Carbon Trading: http://www.carbontradewatch.org/durban/durbandec.html.
On the point of the distribution of carbon permits, I couldn't agree with them more. Giving out permits for free is like giving away free money to companies that have polluted the most. Auctioning permits is far more equitable and generates revenues which can be used for the public good (reduce taxes, pay for healthcare, R&D for clean energy). If you are selling rights to a public good (the atmosphere), shouldn't the public get the revenues? This comes back to the polluter pays principle, which I firmly stand by.
For CDM, additionality is very difficult to prove. When I asked a few different developers of projects receiving CDM credits in India whether the projects would have been pursued without CDM credits, they seemed to be almost surprised at the naivety of such a question. Their stance was that, yes, the CDM is nice, but this project would have happened either way. This has been a widespread criticism. Yet that does not mean that all projects are "hot air." Not to mention that even if the projects are not "additional," it still amounts to a money transfer from the global north to the global south. Especially since most of the projects have been initiated from within the country, not by foreign developers. There may still be cases of some local people losing out with these projects, but I have not been convinced that these projects have had a net negative impact on the communities around them.
So yes, you are likely to lose some of the reduction that would have otherwise occurred when you allow CDM offsets. Yet, there are potential benefits generated as well, such as increased clean infrastructure, efficiency investments, and wealth transfer. Plus, while all of these certified emissions credits are not likely additional emissions reductions, some of them are. So the emissions reductions are not all lost.
As for the commodification of carbon, it is hard to sympathize with this argument. Environmental economists generally support "commodification" as an solution to the tragedy of the commons. People have very negative emotional reactions against the idea of making a natural resource or a public good a "commodity." But with the exception of the issue of pricing the poor out of access to resources, this argument does not seem to have much of an empirical basis for rejection. There are mountains of research that show these methods are unbelievably effective. I understand that people don't like the idea of putting a price on nature, but that appears to be the most effective way of saving it from destruction. I feel that continued survival of a fishery or the stabilization of our climate trumps the discomfort people may feel about a certain concept.
A lot of the problems that Climate Justice raises about carbon markets are answered by carbon taxes. I brought this up at the World Social Forum and the response was generally, "Yes, carbon taxes are better than carbon trading, but they still will not get us where we need to go because they work within the capitalist system."
So for some, it boils down to the fact that nothing but the overthrow of capitalism will save the planet. I am not saying that this is wrong. I am not saying that it is right. I just think that we need a plan B just in case that doesn't pan out.
Diversity in the environmental movement can be a virtue in this way. We don't have to agree on tactics. We should all pursue the methods that we feel will work. Through this diversity of efforts, perhaps one will emerge and generate widespread success or perhaps each will add positive incremental change.
Yet, the venom I found at the World Social Forum against carbon markets seemed a bit over the top. This particular document seems more reasonable, but I feel that they should be better informed on the issues they are discussing. I wonder how many have actually looked at the effectiveness of market policies and environmental taxes. I would be willing to bet that number is very small.
It is amazing that people with such passion on the same issue, and presumably on the same side of the issue (i.e. reduce climate change) can be so out of touch with one another's ideas. We ought to work on that.