REDD+: The Paradox of International Carbon Trading

By Vancil, Stephanie | Washington Report on the Hemisphere, August 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

REDD+: The Paradox of International Carbon Trading


Vancil, Stephanie, Washington Report on the Hemisphere


The National Climate Plan issued by the United States on June 25 demonstrates a growing recognition that the threat of climate change is one of the most pressing problems that the world faces today. The plan asserts, "America will continue to take on a leadership role in engaging the world's major economies to advance key climate priorities and in galvanizing global climate action through international climate negotiations." While the plan indicates increased attention to climate change, its proposal to incorporate aspects of the U.N. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Programme (REDD+) as a primary means of engaging in and leading the global struggle against climate change may be fatally flawed.

The REDD+ "silver bullet"-lauded for solving carbon emissions and environmental degradation issues while preserving the livelihoods of indigenous populations in the Global South-has proven to be made of little more than vapor. REDD+ has forced local peoples to bear the brunt of "green economy" consequences, including dispossession, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity without receiving any of the promised benefits. REDD+, in its current state, cannot be relied upon as a future international climate change mitigation strategy, as it is neither effective in creating real atmospheric carbon reductions nor is it socially or environmentally sustainable. Developed nations should look inward in advancing renewable energy opportunities and reducing emissions rather than expecting developing nations to serve as effective carbon sinks.

A Brief History of Carbon Trading and REDD+

Carbon trading was first established as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) created at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. Under the framework of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and went into effect in 2005 as a binding commitment to emissions reductions targets. Among other initiatives, the Kyoto Protocol established an optimal level of global emissions and specific amounts of carbon allowed to be emitted-referred to as Assigned Amount Units (AAUs)-to each of the different Annex I countries based on their specific targets; Annex I countries include industrialized countries such as the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, members of the European Union, and economies in transition like the former Soviet nations. Annex I countries are expected to reduce emissions while Non-Annex Countries-developing and least developed nations-are simply asked not to exceed their current levels of emissions. As of 2011, 192 nations signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The only nations that had not ratified the protocol were Sudan, Afghanistan, and the United States. Following Washington's example, Canada, Japan, and Russia have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol has allowed for the establishment of the "cap and trade" system, an international market in which nations are able to buy and sell carbon units. In this system, countries that exceed their AAU quota can purchase carbon units from countries that emit fewer carbon units than their maximum allowance, thereby allowing purchasing countries to continue emissions without penalty. Moreover, Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, j known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), allows Annex 1 countries committed to limiting emissions to administer reductions offset projects. Through these offset projects, governments and companies in Annex I nations can invest in emission reducing projects in Non-Annex nations and receive Certified Emissions Reductions units (CERs) in return. Finally, Article 6 of the protocol establishes Joint Implementation, a market mechanism that combines "cap and trade" with the CDM and establishes a legal market for CERs and permitting nations to use emissions reductions towards their targeted emissions reductions.

Today, REDD+ is the most prominent system of Joint Implementation under the CDM, incorporating offset projects such as hydraulic dams, solar electricity, wind farms, monoculture plantations, forest offsets, and methane capture from livestock into "cap and trade. …

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