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Carbon Offsets : Dangerous Distraction

Well, Friends of the Earth are not to be found beating around any bushes or mincing any words today. It’s up front and confrontational on the matter of Carbon Offsetting coming out of the Clean Development Mechanism, and how it’s going to fail us. The new report is titled “A Dangerous Distraction : Why Offsetting is Failing the Climate and People : The Evidence” and its language is brutal :-

Speaking to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, which the United Nations will hold in December 2009, whose agenda is already set in stone as far as I can see :-

“…offsetting must not be expanded at Copenhagen. New proposed offsetting schemes must be dropped from negotiations, and existing offsetting mechanisms need to be scrapped.”

That’s not going to happen, is, I think, the correct response. Negotiators seem all too fond of trading our way out of Carbon, as if this is some common ground that all the parties, including the Businesses, can share.

The Climate Negotiators are bashing away at it this week in Bonn, Germany, for the “Sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies” ahead of the “deal-making” Copenhagen talks, and here’s what their agendas look like :-

I don’t see any plans here to drop the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), or any of the Carbon Trading strategies being developed that would rely on CDM.

A Carbon Cap is not a Carbon Cut, as I keep trying to explain to people I meet. Yes, if a Cap is ratcheted downwards, year on year, by some mechanism of enforcement, then yes, a Cap can become a Cut in the end.

But no, if I continue to burn, and I pay you a sum of money to avoid burning the equivalent amount that I burn, that does not make an overall Cut in burning.

Yesterday evening, a keen American, Paul Kelly of J. P. Morgan Climate Care, was telling me about Carbon Emissions Reductions. I had put it to him that Voluntary Emissions Reductions of the kind his company currently sells, cannot shut down coal-fired power plants. And shutting down coal-fired power plants is what we need to do.

“That’s not going to happen”, he said. He then went on to enthuse about regulatory control of emissions from equipment, cars, appliances and other manufactured goods, and how this would be very beneficial (possibly implying that he could make money out of that, too).

“Ah yes, the Energy Intensity argument”, I responded. It’s a good old George W. Bush argument – making everything work more efficiently is a great improvement – except that as Economies continue to grow, emissions still creep back up as more things get sold that use Energy.

I remonstrated : if I buy a new refrigerator that’s twice as efficient as my old one, I’m going to buy two. Paul Kelly seemed amused that I would suggest having two of anything. I explained to him about the growth of “two car families” – how people really do keep up their Energy spend even as machines get more efficient.

“Jevon’s Paradox” is what most people refer to this as : or the “Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate” according to some, like George Monbiot.

Paul Kelly asserted that he didn’t have two cars, although he tried to impress me with the old Ponzi-Madoff pyramid scheme salesman’s pitch “I can have any car I want”.

At this point Guy Turner of New Carbon Finance started earwigging from the side. Look, I pointed out, at some point in the near future, it’s not going to be a question of which car you drive. You’ll only be entitled to a fifth of a car or so.

Guy Turner mentioned Energy Rationing. “That’s where it will end up”, I asserted.

I moaned about the UK Government, and by extension the European Union and the US Administration. I said that all they seem to be interested in is promoting expensive technological non-solutions like Carbon Capture and Storage to plug the gaps in Emissions Reductions, as “Voluntary Behaviour Change” isn’t working :-

Paul Kelly said “That’s where Technology comes in”. I moaned about Technology and asked them if they understood the Laws of Physics, the limitations caused by Entropy and the high octane fuels we currently depend upon.

Guy Turner mentioned that various Coal technologies are helping. He uttered CCGT when I mentioned CCS. I thought he might mean IGCC, so I asked “Combined Cycle” ? He nodded.

I explained that burning Coal for power, regardless of the technology, had only improved in efficiency by about half a percent a year over a hundred years. Instead of burning Coal directly, at 39% efficiency, some of the new thermal technologies use Coal for Energy at 43% – 45% efficiency, “50% if you’re lucky. It’s not going to get any better.” :-

We have to power down Energy demand whilst also improving Energy efficiency and Energy intensity. We need to power up Renewable Energies. Developed and Developing nations, all. There is no other option.

Here’s a report I contributed to that said the same thing for the UK in 2007. Seems like a long time ago now, and yet nothing’s changed. People are still wallowing about in the technical details for Carbon Trading and the Clean Development Mechanism, not realising that if we don’t take our heads out of the tar pits, we’re going to manufacture the End Of The World As We Know It :-

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