The Dyson Effect
Carbon ‘Offset’ Forestry and The Privatization of the Atmosphere

Corner House Briefing 15

by Larry Lohmann

first published 31 July 1999

Summary

This briefing questions the view that tree plantations are a viable way of mitigating the climatic effects of industrial carbon-dioxide emissions. This “solution” to global warming is based on bad science, enlarges society’s ecological footprint, and reinforces neo-colonialist structures of power.

Contents

Acknowledgements

Larry Lohmann is grateful for help from Tim Forsyth, Chris Lang, Ricardo Carrere, Alvaro Gonzalez, Sarah Sexton, Bill Barclay, Patrick Anderson, Anna Fanzeres, Nick Hildyard, Aubrey Meyer, Lambert Okrah, Robert Mowbray, Mick Kelly, Yoichi Kuroda and Korinna Horta, none of whom bear any responsibility for the result.

Introduction

This briefing calls into question the increasingly fashionable view that vast tree plantations are a viable way of mitigating the climatic effects of industrial carbon-dioxide emissions. It argues that this approach to global warming is based on bad science, enlarges rather than reduces society's ecological footprint, and reinforces neo-colonialist structures of power.

Several decades ago, the British physicist Freeman Dyson, pondering the coming age of interplanetary travel, had a stupendous idea for propelling large payloads through space. Why not set off nuclear explosions underneath space probes and just blast them around the solar system?

Not many people found Dyson's brainwave attractive. But you can't keep a well-intentioned visionary down for long. In 1976, Dyson reemerged with another brilliant scheme: to soak up the excess carbon dioxide which the burning of fossil fuels was putting in the atmosphere by planting gigantic areas of trees.1

This was more like it. Many Western intellectuals had already begun casting about for ways of blunting the threat which global warming might pose to the industrial use of coal and oil. To some, Dyson's new brainstorm seemed a perfect fit. Norman Myers, a wildlife biologist, calculated that a eucalyptus or pine plantation the size of Western Europe, or perhaps Zaire, ought to be enough to remove three billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air. Gregg Marland, a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, figured that a tree farm the size of Australia could compensate for all current fossil fuel emissions.2 Roger Sedjo of the Washington-based think tank Resources for the Future thought that a plantation half the size of the US was more like it, and helpfully volunteered "degraded" lands in "the tropics" for the job.3 Most promoters of the idea acknowledged that, at best, such plantations could only absorb carbon as long as the trees were growing. But they insisted that setting up a country's worth of carbon-sucking plantations would be a relatively easy way of buying time for industrial societies to undertake the really "hard" tasks of reducing emissions by improving energy efficiency, cutting subsidies for waste, reducing demand, promoting solar technologies and so forth.4

While theorists like Marland and Sedjo thumbed through atlases looking for large land masses with which to stimulate their imaginations, other agencies got down to more serious business. In 1988, the World Resources Institute (WRI) brokered a deal between the US organization CARE and Applied Energy Services, Inc. of Arlington, Virginia, which was willing to spend US$2 million to make a proposed coal-fired power plant in Connecticut more acceptable to state regulators. Under the scheme, 40,000 smallholder farmers in Guatemala were to plant 50 million pine and eucalyptus trees and undertake agroforestry, terracing, and fire control to offset the plant's emissions,5 with the help of the US Peace Corps, USAID and the Guatemalan Directorate General of Forests.

At about the same time, the US anti-environmentalist Wise Use Movement began putting about the idea that a good way of soaking up carbon dioxide would be to clearcut old-growth forests (which do not subtract much if any carbon from the atmosphere) and replace them with fast-growing plantations (which, they claimed, do).6 Japanese scientists were then dispatched to South-East Asia for five years to research how to "create an ideal carbon dioxide-reducing forest" to offset emissions from Japanese industry.7 By 1994, an official at the US Department of Energy was exulting that "tree-planting will allow US energy policy to go on with business as usual out to 2015",8 while New Zealand's Environment Minister was describing how, with the help of pine plantations, his country was going to lower net CO2 output by relying 80 per cent on carbon dioxide-absorbing "sinks" and only 20 per cent on emission reduction.9 By 1998, international climate negotiators had agreed that putting money into large-scale tree-planting might be one way Southern nations could "assist" industrialized countries in "achieving compliance with their quantified emissions limitation and reduction objectives".10

In little more than two decades, in short, a far-fetched, arrogant scheme hatched by a single intellectual has nearly become received wisdom. No doubt it has been helped along not only by institutional politics but also by being associated with the commonsense view that says there can surely be no harm in planting trees. Yet it is crucial to make distinctions. Planting and maintaining an orchard or community woodland, creating village forest belts, establishing trees along roads, or putting saplings into a garden, is one thing. The global programme of carbon "offset" forestry now being proposed is quite another. The trend it represents is not only not harmless. It is dangerous -- dangerous for equity, for democratic politics, for soil, for trees, for forests, for climatic habitability itself. Seeing why requires taking a careful look at a complicated and expanding pattern of institutional politics, inadequate science, international relations, and the actions of a wide range of organizations working to assemble a new system of private property rights to the atmosphere and to land.

The International Climate Negotiations

In ten years of international negotiations on action to halt climate change, Northern governments have so far taken two main tacks. First, under the Kyoto Protocol (an agreement reached at the Third Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 1997) industrialized country governments have, after many delays and compromises, agreed to reduce their carbon emissions by a relatively insignificant11 average of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012, and many are prodding Southern countries to follow suit.12 Second, some Northern governments, led by the US, are pressing hard for countries or companies with enough money to be allowed to avoid emissions reductions by buying "carbon credits" from less polluting actors or by investing in forestry projects which purportedly "sequester" or "store" carbon.

Both approaches share the premise that existing inequalities in use of the world's carbon sinks and stocks are normal. Any measure requiring all countries to reduce emissions by similar percentages, for example, would allow the US to go on producing roughly one-quarter of the greenhouse gases released yearly, even though it has only four per cent of the world's population. Similarly, North-South "carbon trading" suggests that it is legitimate for rich countries or companies who already use more than their share of the world's carbon sinks and stocks to buy still more of them -- using cash which has itself been accumulated partly through a history of overexploiting those sinks and stocks.13

This "whatever is, is right" approach has not escaped the notice of some Southern delegates to the climate negotiations. They have insisted strongly that the industrialized countries -- those historically responsible for the problem of global warming -- must take action first, that their actions be directed at the industrial cause of the problem of skewed use of carbon sinks, and that carbon trading be at the very least strictly limited. As a result, the South has so far escaped being forced to commit itself to percentage emissions reductions, and until recently has resisted the idea that the North should be able to accumulate unlimited cheap carbon-sink rights from the South without reducing its own industrial emissions.

To avoid or delay emissions reductions, Northern industrial interests have deployed a variety of counter-tactics. In the early 1990s, for example, WRI attempted to demonstrate that the South bore comparable responsibility with the North for greenhouse emissions.14 No sooner was this gambit dropped than an industry lobby casting doubt on the whole idea of global warming went into high gear. This lobby in turn began to overreach itself in 1996, provoking a reaction from US scientists and even the Clinton administration.15 By 1999, many transnational companies which had earlier derided the idea of action over global warming -- including General Motors, British Petroleum, Enron, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, 3M, United Technologies, DuPont and Monsanto -- had recanted.16

Yet no sooner was the need for emissions reductions acknowledged than champions of Freeman Dyson's old idea -- backed by a lobby claiming, controversially, that these reductions would cost rather than save money17 -- emerged to claim that it would be far cheaper to take over inexpensive land to practise forestry than to reduce pollution at the source.18 Thus the Business Roundtable,19 recently joined by the Global Climate Coalition,20 has been pushing for limitless use of contamination credits, including those involving forestry, and in 1997 US negotiators dutifully made it a condition of their signing on to emissions limitations that emissions trading be allowed with countries which had not accepted such limitations.21 By 1998, climate meetings, as Daphne Wysham caustically notes, had come increasingly to resemble "trade shows" in which, "instead of focusing on how to prevent global warming, attendees jostled to get a piece of a lucrative emerging market: trading in pollution credits".22

One of the best tactics deployed so far to overcome Southern resistance to entrenchment of Northern privilege over carbon sinks is the so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to be funded by industrialized countries through multilateral development agencies. Under the CDM, now being developed under the Kyoto Protocol, both industrialized countries and private corporations could invest in tree plantations and forest conservation (as well as energy-efficient technology and renewable energy schemes) in developing countries and Eastern Europe. Credit for the plantations' carbon absorption, or the emissions supposedly avoided by forest conservation, would then go to the industrialized country or its companies. The tactical beauty of the CDM is that its premises do not need to make complete sense for it to be able to hold out the promise of providing elites and others in the South with the cash, resources, technology and prestige which are traditionally associated with development schemes. Many Southern delegations are now lining up to find out what kind of extra benefits might accrue to their countries, governments and elites under CDM and related measures.23

Beyond the Meeting Room

With one eye on the climate negotiations and the other on public relations and national or local regulators, utilities and other companies have meanwhile been taking their own carbon forestry initiatives.

According to Business Week, four million hectares of supposed "carbon-sink" plantations already exist worldwide.24 The Electricity Generating Board of The Netherlands, for example, is attempting to sequester part of the carbon dioxide emitted from its power plants by contracting with the Malaysian Innoprise Corporation (which manages the commercial exploitation of a 972,000-hectare timber concession granted to the state-founded Sabah Foundation to facilitate Sabah's economic and social development) to plant dipterocarp trees on logged-over land. The Netherlands utilities are also helping to plant thousands of hectares of pine and eucalyptus in the Ecuadorian Andes.25

Polluting US companies, meanwhile, have signed a US$20 million deal with Costa Rica to pay farmers to plant trees and maintain them for 15-20 years.26 Amerada gas company is to earn a "Climate Care" label from the Oxford-based Carbon Storage Trust as part of a deal under which trees are planted in western Uganda.27 And Suncor Energy (an oil-mining, refining and marketing firm based in Calgary, Canada) plans to join Southern Pacific Petroleum and Central Pacific Minerals in projects to plant more than 180,000 native trees in central Queensland to "offset" carbon dioxide emissions from future oil shale development.28 Not to be outdone, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile has arranged for 30,000 trees to be planted in Chiapas, Mexico, on lands inhabited by highland Mayan Tojolobal and lowland Mayan Tzeltal communities, to "offset" the 5,500 tonnes of carbon emitted annually by Formula One car racing, at a bargain price of £38,000 a year. The scheme is backed by the Mexican government and audited by a team from Edinburgh University.29

It is beginning to be possible, moreover, to get a tradable "licence to pollute" not only by planting trees but also -- odd as it may sound -- by logging. The trick is to be able to argue that by logging you are causing less deforestation than would "otherwise" have occurred. This intervention to "prevent" a certain amount of carbon fixed in trees from being released into the air is then held to entitle you to carry on emitting CO2 as usual. For example, New England Electric Systems of Massachusetts, a coal-burning public utility holding company, has paid the Innoprise Corporation to conduct "reduced-impact" logging on a part of its concession, hoping that by doing so it will be seen to be "sequestering" [sic] carbon at a price of less than US$2 per tonne.30 Another "reduced impact" logging scheme, backed by the United Nations Development Programme and brokered by COPEC, a Los Angeles based carbon-offset consultancy firm, has been tried in Papua New Guinea.31

The Costa Rican CARFIX project -- implemented by the voluntary organization Fundación para el Desarrolllo de la Cordillera Volcanica Central -- meanwhile earns its North American sponsors carbon credits by promoting "sustainable logging" and tree plantations on "grazed or degraded lands", the rationale being that these will provide locals with income they would otherwise have to earn through forest-endangering export agriculture and cattle production.32 In Belize, at the same time, Suncor has teamed up with several utilities including Wisconsin Electric Power Company and Detroit Edison to help a non-governmental organization, the Project for Belize, buy 6,000 hectares of endangered forest that would allegedly otherwise have been "converted to mechanized agriculture". The idea is to log this and other tracts of forest "sustainably", add value to the wood through milling and woodworking, and in other areas to conserve and "improve pine stocks through regeneration". The logging project, it is claimed, will prevent over a million tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent to the annual greenhouse emissions from hundreds of thousands of cars) from entering the atmosphere at a cost of less than $2 per tonne of carbon.33

Many more such deals can be expected. Mark Trexler, a leading broker in the carbon business, reckons carbon trading -- including schemes involving forestry -- could amount to $40-100 billion a year by 2020, while the World Bank projects a figure of $150 billion.34 The Electric Power Research Institute foresees the value of carbon-dioxide emissions permits reaching $13 trillion by 2050.35

Toward a Carbon Imperialism

To innocent middle-class enthusiasts of planting trees to take up industrially-produced carbon dioxide, the idea seems simple and unexceptionable. "It's like being polite enough to shut the door behind you when you leave the room," says Dan Morrell, a British advocate.36 To business, carbon "offset" forestry is a way of delaying emissions reductions at source -- or, to borrow the words of Monsanto, of creating a new source of "business value" out of the "world's desire to prevent the consequences" of pressure on resources.37 To many governments, carbon forestry helps to avoid alienating fossil-fuel-related industries while presenting an appearance of slowing global warming "efficiently".

To others, however, the enterprise does not look so sweet. Its vaunted "efficiency", for example, has two aspects. Efficient allocation means that forestry projects which purport to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide, other things being equal, will be located where land is cheapest. That suggests that it will be the poorest who must make room for them and deal with their effects. Efficient production of new carbon sink means that plantations will tend to be monocultures, either in the sense of species monocultures or in the sense of environments which are socially simplified from above to serve a single purpose.38 Worldwide experience with such plantations shows how damaging the effects will be to environments, livelihoods and democratic politics39 (see Box, "The Montevideo Declaration").

In short, the "efficiency" of carbon forestry (assuming -- contrary to evidence examined below -- that it were technically feasible) would not be one which reduces industrial society's "ecological footprint", but rather one which enlarges it.40 Carbon forestry proposes to lessen the atmospheric effects of the mining of fossil fuels by colonizing still other resources and exerting new pressures on local land and water rights; the community evicted by oil drillers today may find itself displaced by carbon-"offset" plantations tomorrow.

A market in which trees can be traded for emissions conceals this politics from industrialized societies' middle classes partly by transforming it into innocuous-seeming consumer choices. Responsibility for corporate decisions and state coercion of the rural poor is diffused across the affluent sections of society, who are isolated from those who will take the brunt of carbon "sequestration".

Take, for example, Mazda's new model car, the Demio. In the UK, this car is now sold complete with a year's "carbon-neutral driving". When you buy it, you are also automatically hiring a non-governmental organization (an outfit called Future Forests41) to plant five trees for you, which will supposedly absorb an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to what you generate in driving the car for a year. So while you motor around, trees are coming up somewhere in the world to "compensate" for your use of the world's limited carbon sinks.42 Your consumer choice of a means of transport commits you not only to participating in takeovers of land, water and air for oil and metal mining and refining, and not only to adding to atmospheric carbon dioxide, but also to using land on which trees are planted and which, in the rationality of "market solutions", somehow equalize and negate your car's use of that oil. Pretty soon, it may be expected, every time you turn an ignition key, flip a light switch, take a holiday, or cook some food, you will not only be using up fossil fuels but also planting trees on someone else's land.

It would perhaps be unfair to single out Mazda for special criticism. The company's "carbon contractor", Future Forests, is said to go out of its way to plant native trees on community forest and Wildlife Trusts lands in the UK -- wherever possible, it is reported, in forests near car owners' homes.43 It may well be that this land will never be needed for conflicting uses.

Yet the overall tendency of such schemes can hardly be in doubt to anyone acquainted with the global economics of tree plantations. Mazda itself is already contemplating planting trees in Thailand,44 one of many countries in which bitter social conflict has been engendered both by fast-growing tree plantations and by seizure of long-settled forest land for new national parks.45 The Venezuelan activist Maria Eugenia Bustamente recently remarked with wonder how ignorant Northern consumers are: of how much oil they consume, of where it comes from, of what the effects are of how it was extracted and produced. But ignorance of this order is hardly a natural human condition. It has to be cultivated. The Mazda Demio reveals some of the everyday practices by which this is done.

"Development and environment" initiatives have always laboured hard to reconcile capital accumulation with environmental responsibility. Making carbon into a global commodity goes them one better by making the two interchangeable. But let no one imagine that lowly village forest guardians in Guinea or Colombia are about to be transformed into holders of massive capital reserves, or Greenpeace anti-logging campaigners into owners of the means of carbon "production". On the contrary, it is the miners and burners of fossil fuels whom the commodification of carbon sinks will transform into the greatest bearers of environmental virtue. At the same time, the more that creating and maintaining tree cover becomes a matter of applying cash and technical expertise from a distance, the more local forest stewards are likely to see rights to the use of their land traded away over their heads. This is an "environmentalism" which, rather than redressing inequalities in power over the use of land, water and forests, re-institutionalizes, conceals and extends them.

Building a Market, Inventing a Product

Making a tradable "product" out of the right to emit carbon dioxide, or rights of access to global carbon sinks, is hard political work. It is not like opening a factory to produce goods which are already "on the market", or building a shopping centre to sell them. The market itself must be created: a notional place where, if you are rich, you can go confidently expecting to be able to buy a large quantity of rights to pollute without having to waste too much time -- and where, if you are poor, you can find someone to sell them to.

The first step in the creation of this market is to invent something called "tradable tree carbon". This step is difficult for the straightforward reason that it is impossible. Since the Industrial Revolution, significant increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have resulted from hydrocarbons being taken from deep in the earth's crust, where they are prevented from much interaction with the air, and burned. The main point of carbon offset forestry is to take some of this carbon out of the atmosphere again through biological means and keep it on or near the surface -- with the confidence that a specifiable quantity of it will remain as stable as if it were in underground coal or oil reserves -- for 100-150 years or more.46

No one has any idea how to do this. Unlike subterranean oil or coal (or sea-floor carbonate subducted beneath continental plates), carbon stored in live or dead trees is "fragile": it can quickly reenter the atmosphere at any time. Keeping it from doing so for a century or more would require forms of biological, political and economic policing unknown in human history.

Fire control measures would have to be undertaken of a kind which, on a planet much of whose biosphere is fated to burn regularly, would likely be quixotic in the extreme.47 New ways would have to be found to curtail the decay of mature or harvested trees or their products virtually indefinitely -- a challenging job given that, as researcher Piers Maclaren estimates, at present only 12 per cent of the carbon warehoused in commercial tree plantations has a life expectancy of more than five years48 and even plantation wood stored in structures such as housing frames begins to decay after around 40 years, releasing CO2 and methane.49 Century-long guarantees would also have to be issued against political strife or legal changes which could lead to plantation encroachment -- guarantees which few governments have ever been in a position to make.50

That is only the beginning. Carbon forestry projects, to be effective, could not be allowed to result in carbon being lost into the atmosphere outside project boundaries. For example, it would have to be shown that plantations occupying agricultural land were in no danger of causing forests to be cleared elsewhere to make up for lost food or other crops. Anyone displaced from carbon plantations or forests protected under carbon schemes would have to be policed, no matter where they had migrated to, to make sure that they did not encroach on forests elsewhere or otherwise cause more emissions than they would have done otherwise.

It would also have to be proved that carbon forestry projects were not usurping funding which had previously gone to carbon storage or sequestration. Guarantees would have to be made, moreover, that projects were not slowing the development of technologies which could prevent the mining of remaining oil or coal, or undermining existing technologies which prevent climatically-destabilizing forms of industrial land clearance.

Furthermore, measures would have to be taken to prevent crafty operators from threatening forests outside project boundaries in order to attract their own money for "protection". Otherwise, as the Carbon Storage Trust forthrightly admits, "carbon credits for forest protection could become the greatest incentive for deforestation ever conceived,"51 as well as a huge perverse incentive to abandon already-instituted good forest conservation practices. Carbon-credited logging, meanwhile, would tend to drive other timber operations out of business at the same time that carbon-credited forest protection projects could push up wood prices, increasing pressures for logging outside project boundaries.52 More broadly, carbon forestry schemes would have to show they had:

"eliminated the global demand for the forest's products [or] the equivalent amount of land. If they fail to do so, the consequence is likely to be the displacement of that demand and deforestation elsewhere."53

Added to this are more pedestrian scientific difficulties. It would need to be certifiable that plantations "compensating" for industrial emissions would not, under a number of possible climatic scenarios, result in a net increase in emissions due to releases from local soils, as plantation forestry has done in wet areas of Finland, where the draining of millions of hectares of peatlands for industrial forestry in the past few decades has transformed them from carbon sinks to carbon sources.54 It would have to be proved that carbon plantations did not deplete other forest or ground cover that had more carbon storage capacity, as happened in Jari in Brazil, where acacia plantations contained only a quarter of the above-ground biomass of the vegetation they replaced,55 and in Canada, where 250 years can elapse before a second-growth forest stores as much carbon as the old growth it replaces, and where a 450-year-old Douglas fir stand can have twice the carbon of a 60-year-old plantation.56 It would need to be shown that plantations did not make uncontrollable fires more likely, as has happened in Iberia57 and Indonesia.

In addition, the effect of plantations on erosion and carbon storage of soils downstream would have to be calculated for a century or more. Ways would also have to be found to anticipate and account for possible loss of trees from insect infestation, disease, or accident. For carbon credits to have even nominal validity, these predictions would have to be made to be as certain as the prediction that, when fossil fuels are burned, carbon dioxide will be produced. This is a tall order given that even today it remains unclear where all the world's carbon sinks are, how they work, how their CO2-fixing capacity will be affected by hotter temperatures, and so on;58 and that it is almost impossible to predict how social change brought about by large-scale plantation establishment might affect emissions in the long term.

Stop Making Sense: The Fictions of Institutions and the Institution of Fiction

The absence of a commodity to trade might strike the literal-minded as a decisive obstacle to the establishment of a market. Far from it. As long as there are institutions capable of working up a consensual fiction that a tree-carbon "product" exists, trading will be able to go forward. Hundreds of articulate technocrats solemnly developing "carbon sequestration certification methods" and repeating incantations about "flexible mechanisms", "secondary metabolites" and "can't do any harm" are already fashioning a social world in which inferences from known biological and social facts (for example, the differences between the underground pool of carbon in coal and oil reserves and the surface pool in vegetation and soils) are simply not made.

For example, when the consulting firm Margules Poyry certified that eucalyptus plantations under the stewardship of the New South Wales forestry agency were sequestering enough carbon for Pacific Power and its partner Bankers Trust to offset the power needs of 3,750 suburban homes, it simply did not mention that the specified time period of 10 years made the project, as it stood, pretty much irrelevant to global warming.59 Similarly, while The Netherlands Generating Board's agent is considered to have bought rights to the carbon in the trees its Malaysian concessionaire partner is to plant, the trees themselves will be logged within 60 years, beginning the process by which this nominally "owned" carbon is returned to the atmosphere.60 Meanwhile, at Technical Workshops of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, straight-faced delegates discuss "transaction structure" and "portfolio development" as if no one could imagine much difficulty in the concept of a tree-carbon commodity.61

By the same token, institutions whose future depends on certifying carbon offset plantations are unlikely to decide that what "would have happened" without the projects would have a better outcome for the climate. On the contrary, they will have strong incentives to reinterpret the impossibilities of trading in carbon forestry "offsets" as fixable problems which they are ideally suited to solve. When a carbon-sequestering forest project results in polluting activities (for instance, encroachment or logging) simply being moved elsewhere, this is already called, in the official jargon, "leakage"62 -- as if such results, like the minor drips from joints in pipes, were calculable aberrations from a norm of discrete transactions sealed off from each other. Then again, the relative instability of carbon stored above ground can be hidden by saying that fire, disease, poaching, and so forth can be "insured against" by a portfolio of other, equally dubious projects. According to the "tonne-year" accounting scheme, if growing one tonne of wood and preventing it from decay or combustion for the requisite century turns out to be too difficult, a similar result should be achievable by growing, say, 10 tonnes of wood and protecting it from decay or fire for 10 years.63 Here numerical manipulation hides the fact that of this 10 tonnes, none need actually be removed from the atmosphere for long enough to make much difference to global warming. Also unmentioned is the fact that growing 10 tonnes of wood instead of one is likely to require 10 times the amount of land, multiplying any damage to local livelihoods. "Insuring" against the instability of tree carbon by simply growing more is thus doubly questionable; but the capacity of carbon trade-promoting institutions to meet each such question by further, equally inadequate jury-rigs, ad infinitum, is considerable. As if the impossible job of commensurating underground and surface pools of carbon were not enough, further endless tasks for academics and consultants will be entailed by the need to craft ambitious global systems of quantifying and comparing the integrity and reliability of the various far-flung bureaucracies which will be responsible for carrying out carbon forestry.

In this way, in a pattern repeated elsewhere in development and other contemporary institutions,64 the inherent untenability of long-term carbon sequestration through forestry can ultimately be transformed into a reason justifying yet more sequestration projects. It is an open question whether the specialist committee of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which was delegated in June 1998 to try to determine, among other things, whether carbon trading involving forestry made scientific sense will be able to resist the peer pressure it is almost certainly under to issue a temporizing or ambiguous finding.65

Creating Private Property Rights

If the fiction of tradable tree carbon can be given flesh, then a second step in the creation of a carbon-sink market must be to make rights to that carbon privately ownable, transferrable, and accumulable. This is the way to make the putative market recognize the "scarcity" of carbon sinks66 -- "scarcity" here being a euphemism for the potentially disastrous effects of the CO2 increases arising from the historical overuse of those sinks by a small minority of the world's people.

Making rights to carbon sinks private property rights also functions politically to help transfer more of the burdens of global warming to the poor. In the limiting case, applying private-property rules to carbon sinks without restriction would make it acceptable for one person to buy up the world's entire carbon-fixing capacity while everyone else bargained away their individual rights to breathe. On a more everyday level, a full private property regime can add to the legal advantages large polluters enjoy over ordinary people. For example, under a global regime in which a company had legitimately purchased a right to emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, if affected island states with an understandable interest in surviving rising sea levels imposed discriminatory sanctions on the company, they could conceivably be hauled into court, subjected to trade retaliation, or asked to pay profits the polluter had lost as a result. To commodify necessities is to smudge the distinction between subsistence and luxury, which are made exchangeable degrees of the same thing.

Construing rights to carbon sinks as private property rights, unsurprisingly, is far from straightforward. This is not because there is necessarily something wrong with the whole concept of "rights" itself as applied to releases of carbon dioxide. As carbon-dioxide-producing organisms, all humans arguably enjoy rights to some use of tree carbon sinks. The question is what kind of rights these are. There are many sorts of rights, and many sorts of property. Some cannot be bought or sold. In the UK, rights of way and rights to use state roads or certain waterways fall into this category, as well as "human rights", "civil rights" or "rights to respect". In much of the rest of the world, rights to use certain forests, wetlands, irrigation systems, and even agricultural lands are seen in much the same way. Even a great deal of the world's individually "owned" land is untransferable except to one's heirs or at the discretion of the community, or can only be accumulated in restricted amounts. To assume that rights to carbon sinks and stocks must necessarily be treated, on the contrary, as private, transferrable, and indefinitely accumulable is to beg the question. There is nothing in law or the rest of culture which dictates that this must automatically be so, nor that the emissions of General Motors must be treated as differing only in scale from the releases of a smallholder's cow.

Yet there is strikingly little public, democratic discussion of what kind of rights rights to carbon sinks could be. In its place is a single-minded drive to create full private property rights out of nothing. The government of New South Wales, for example, has gone out of its way to propose new legislation to allow investors to own private property rights in tree plantation carbon "to pave the way for sharemarket trading in greenhouse gas emission contracts".67 The CDM, similarly, specifies that rights to carbon, or permits to emit, will be purchasable as Certified Tradeable Offsets (CTOs), while the Chaffee-Mack-Lieberman bill now before the US Senate would guarantee government credit that could be banked for later use or traded on a market, should the Kyoto treaty take effect, to companies making early moves to offset their carbon dioxide emissions.68

Choosing the Owners

One reason that many large corporations have been in such a hurry to establish private property rights to carbon is that they see this as one way of grabbing a disproportionate share of carbon sinks and stocks for free. They are well aware that in any regime of private property, rights must be assigned to a certain kind of owner, and they know from history that large corporations often get special consideration, on the principle (among others) that they already control much of the resource in question and possession is nine-tenths of the law. Negotiators from countries such as India and China, on the other hand, have incentives to argue that such rights nominally belong equally to all individuals but that states should have the power to transfer and accumulate them without public consent. Still other observers argue that private property rights to carbon sinks, while distributed equally among the public, should be managed by trusts which could provide dividends to individuals when they were sold.69 All in all, it is still unclear, even for privatization enthusiasts, who is to own what proportion of the carbon credits supposedly "created" by sculpting new carbon sinks out of trees in a Southern country -- the host state, the private project developer, Northern donor states, other investors, local landowners, or local residents.70

The language of carbon forestry itself carries a bias against rural dwellers holding rights to carbon sinks they have maintained or created. A carbon-sequestering or -storing "project" or "activity", for example, is seldom defined as something that rural dwellers might have carried out for generations, but generally as something executed over the short term by outside intellectuals and institutions. Although in one deal worked out by the German-based Climate Alliance, the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) receives funds from European municipalities for forest and land rights protection, most "projects" do not contemplate awarding carbon credits to ordinary villagers for any forests they may have defended for generations.71 Yet, by contrast, some carbon trade enthusiasts are proposing that (for example) the US government or US industry be awarded credits for the growth of forests in the US which has resulted from the abandonment of agricultural land in the 19th and 20th centuries -- a growth they did little to promote.

As a rule, similarly, only certain categories of actor are held to be capable of creating carbon credits through preventing "what would have happened to forests otherwise". "Low-impact logging", for example, gets carbon credits because it is held to be superior in its atmospheric effects to all the alternatives, but these "alternatives" often seem to be conceptualized as restricted to either high-impact logging pursued by corporations or the forest degradation which is assumed to be the "natural" result of leaving things to the locals. "Alternatives" which might involve helping to make space for local forest conservation initiatives which do not involve either development projects or commercial enterprises -- such as reducing foreign demand for certain forestry products -- are less often considered.

In practice, the machinery of carbon trading is bound to encode a set of biases -- racial, anti-poor, anti-rural, even anti-environmentalist -- behind a seemingly "neutral" language. Northern, urban-based, and European officials, companies, certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and consultants will be conceptualized as active value-adders who make the difference from what would "otherwise" have happened, while Southern, non-European rural dwellers will be seen as a passive, feckless background. It is these prejudices as much as anything else which will determine what kind of entity owns rights to carbon sinks or stocks.

Privileging Market Mechanisms, Distributing Rights

Creating a trade in carbon forestry "offsets" means giving special political privileges to market mechanisms. This move, too, helps transfer carbon sinks, or the raw materials used to make them, from poor to rich nations. In an efficient market, Southern and Eastern European elites eager to sell off cheap, plentiful resources which can be categorized as, or used to create, carbon sinks or stocks, such as land, forests and water, will compete with each other to offer the best deals to a bargain-shopping industrial North.72 In addition, both sides will have incentives to reduce costs further by exaggerating both the carbon emissions of the baseline case and the mitigation or reduction achieved by sequestration or storage projects.73

Any market for carbon sinks will require moral scaffolding. Business, governmental and NGO enthusiasts will need to make noises, for instance, about how markets "stimulate efficiency and innovation".74 What they will not explore so thoroughly is what kind of efficiency and innovation this is, and for whom. They will claim, for example, that carbon forestry will efficiently compensate for emissions -- but not that these emissions reflect a skewed and extravagant use of hydrocarbon resources, and that the compensation will require further skewing the distribution of land. In a similar way, many US officials praise the "efficiency" of their country's recently-created sulphur-dioxide emissions market -- which helped reduce overall emissions more quickly and at lower cost than anyone expected75 -- without mentioning the way that market has also "efficiently" deepened inequalities, ensuring that polluting industries are disproportionately sited in poorer communities of colour.76

In a carbon-sink market, the initial distribution of property rights must also be specified. In one sense, this may not be all-important. Even if such rights were initially distributed equally to all individuals, it is probable that in a well-oiled market peopled by enough industries and sectors reluctant to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, they would eventually tend to gravitate to those with the most capital.

Still, it is worth the effort to attempt to skew the starting distribution of rights in one's favour as much as possible. Thus the US, using as a model the provisions for sulphur-dioxide emissions trading enshrined in its 1990 Clean Air Act, proposes in effect that nations which emit more carbon dioxide per capita than others automatically be granted the right to do so -- that legal and political privilege be awarded to those with most economic power. Past and present national disparities in emissions, many US political and industry-lobby leaders imply, are not worth discussing, since in the future underdeveloped countries will "inevitably" become the more significant threat to climatic stability.77

Lubricating the Trade

If a fully-fledged market in carbon forestry "products" is to be created, finally, conditions have to be engineered so that the "laws" of supply and demand can operate smoothly. Liquidity must be created; transaction costs minimized; consumers cultivated; trades monitored and reported; liabilities in the case of project failure sorted out; and insurance offered. A certifiable "product" must be standardized and calibrated worldwide, so that photosynthesis in a Malaysian plantation can be guaranteed to "compensate" for combustion in a Wisconsin car or Tokyo factory.

Work is already underway on these tasks. As a recent article in Timber & Wood Products magazine notes, the "initial voluntary schemes and bartering transactions common in the early 1990s have already given way to more sophisticated market mechanisms".78 Costa Rica, for instance, already has a National Carbon Fund from which investors can buy Certified Tradable Offsets created through the channelling of Northern capital to forestry project developers. Carbon credits certified by SGS Forestry are meanwhile being offered on the Chicago Board of Trade, where Centre Financial Products Ltd. has already purchased US$10,000 worth to help "kick-start the market". The Clean Development Mechanism is being designed to subsidize transaction costs by providing a carbon bank or carbon stock exchange, while London's International Petroleum Exchange is trying to set up a carbon trading centres.79 The World Bank is using funding from utility companies and Nordic governments to develop a Prototype Carbon Fund whose purpose is to facilitate "global markets for greenhouse gas investments" and which features a portfolio of projects in the South.80 The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development is contributing tax monies to help set up an International Emissions Trading Association, a group of about 60 TNCs and environmental organizations which will help figure out how to "get the market moving",81 while the Environmental Defense Fund is ready to accept fees for helping utilities do the same thing.82 In Australia, the Sydney Futures Exchange is contemplating managing not only an emissions trading market but also a carbon derivatives market whose participants can hedge against risks such as changes to emissions targets and shortages of permits.83 Environmental lawyers are meanwhile working out how to divide up legal responsibility between buyers and sellers for the inevitable failures of carbon "offset" forestry projects.84


Box 1: Trading CO2 Emissions for Trees: Who Benefits?

Many groups stand to gain from an expansion of carbon "offset" forestry:

  • Fossil fuel mining and refining companies hope to use tree-planting to delay or avoid changes in established ways of doing business.
  • Utilities such as Detroit Edison and the Electricity Generating Board of the Netherlands see carbon "offset" forestry as a cheap way of persuading state regulators or consumers that they are taking action over emissions.
  • Car companies including Mazda and Fiat hope to gain a green image by planting trees.
  • Trading firms, brokers and investment and other banks expect to collect commissions for brokering carbon deals as stock markets and futures exchanges take shape in Chicago, London and Sydney. Organizations such as the International Carbon Sequestration Federation and American Forests are already helping market carbon credits. Companies such as Trexler & Associates stand to make fortunes from brokering carbon deals.
  • Consultants such as SGS Forestry and Econergy International Corporation can gain lucrative contracts to monitor, certify and justify carbon forestry projects.
  • Industry-friendly think tanks such as WRI find sequestration and storage programmes in line with their general ideology and benefit from helping to plan and justify them.
  • Elected officials in the US serve the energy companies who influence and fund many of them by insisting that most emissions "reductions" be achieved through carbon trading. The Australian government, sees opportunities for economic growth in creating trial markets in emissions permits and carbon credits. Among Southern governments, Costa Rica is perhaps most openly inviting carbon forestry deals.
  • Multilateral agencies plan to feast on carbon trades, exploiting the political infrastructure they already have in place for transferring wealth from South to North. Projects which claim carbon credit for "preventing deforestation" are congenial to the World Bank's traditions of claiming that it is effective in its operations but not responsible for their destructiveness -- the logic of trading carbon storage will allow it to insist that no matter how bad the result of a carbon project, "what would have happened otherwise" is worse.
  • State bureaucracies responsible for forests, agriculture and commerce may also benefit. In New South Wales, one official has spoken of a "dynamic new industry" which would create jobs out of a million hectares of new plantations. Another claims that one hectare of pine plantation, when viewed as a carbon sink, is "worth" about 1,400 hectares of mature subtropical rainforest.
  • Some plantation owners and their state backers hope to gain either investment or a greener image from carbon deals. A commercial grower of coniferous trees in Ireland, for instance, recently cited research showing Norway spruce stores more carbon than mixed deciduous forests, while Malaysia's Primary Industries Minister chimed in a few months later with the claim that his country's oil palm plantations are in fact "better than the developed nations' pine trees in terms of absorbing carbon gases".
  • Other forestry companies in a position to receive carbon sequestration investment are also likely to support trading: no sooner had global warming become a hot political topic, for example, than an American Forest Association official proposed planting 100 million trees to help ameliorate global warming.
  • Certain NGOs, by carving out a position for themselves as carbon brokers and "offset" specialists, can gain a reputation with patrons or peers in government and business as advocates of the fashonable "free market" approach. Through its participation in Environmental Resources Trust, for example, Washington's Environmental Defense Fund is to assist Suncor in working out ways of tracking forestry-related greenhouse gas emissions reductions. EDF also assisted in a failed 1996 scheme to head off environmentalist criticism of a self-chilling soft-drink can developed by The Joseph Company which used HFC 134a, a powerful greenhouse gas. In exchange for EDF's support for the can, the firm would have underwritten activities "offsetting" the can's climatic impact. The Rainforest Alliance, meanwhile, has joined the Forestry Research Institute and a University of Florida academic in helping to audit Suncor's carbon project in Belize.
  • Some environmental NGOs with staff working in particular forest areas, such as the Project for Belize or WWF, see sequestration projects as a way of raising money for conservation.

Many non-official organizations with vested interests in carbon "offset" forestry exert influence at meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Framework Convenstion on Climate Change by staging "side events". Present in Buenos Aires in November 1998 were SGS Forestry, the Nature Conservancy, WRI and Mark Trexler, as well as "offset" skeptics such as Greenpeace.


Source: Business Times (Singapore); The Age (Melbourne); Irish Times; Business Times (Malaysia), Canada News Wire, Health, PR Watch, The PIG Report for Non-Profit Accountability Project, news reports.


A New Enclosure

In his The Making of the English Working Class, E. P. Thompson remarked that the privatization of common lands in the period leading up to the early 19th century was, "when all the sophistications are allowed for":

"a plain enough case of class robbery, played according to fair rules of property laid down by a Parliament of property-owners and lawyers."85

The larceny involved in the privatization of carbon sinks is possibly even plainer. Poorer communities and nations are to be not only deprived of equal use of the atmosphere, but also dispossessed of land which, it will be said, is needed for carbon forestry. The "fair rules of property" in this case are being laid down not only by Parliaments of property-owners and lawyers but also by national governments, the World Bank, the Clean Development Mechanism, and certain NGOs, backed by think tanks, universities, consultancies and peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Of course, the differences between the English enclosures and the current privatization of global carbon sinks are deep. The atmosphere, which cannot be staked out, perambulated or otherwise bounded, is vastly harder to commodify than land.86 Yet at the same time it is difficult to defend, or even understand, as a commons: no clear use-rights and duties have ever been worked out for it, at least on a global scale. The result is that the multiheaded move toward private property rights is often unopposed. If it is difficult to calibrate factory emissions to photosynthesis in trees in a way which would allow both to circulate in the form of cash, it is also difficult for rural villagers to know when a distant nation is using up more than its fair share of a resource which, unlike trees and waterways, are not under local view. Conflicts may well break out at the grassroots only when forest or plantation land is actually taken over or when communities of colour recognize environmental racism in the way they are disproportionately being exposed to toxic emissions.

But the overall parallels are unmistakable. The modern European transformation of land and labour into what Karl Polanyi called "quasi-commodities"87 took a great deal of just the type of political and cultural struggle, trial and error, false starts, negotiation and strife which is now animating efforts to transform carbon sinks into an "efficiently"-managed and -manufactured "product".

Just as in pre-20th century England legal means had to be found or invented to allow landowners full private property rights over land and forests which would allow them to exclude commoners from sharing their pasturage, fuel, and food sources,88 so exclusionary legal mechanisms are now being formulated to give investors private property rights to parcels of the atmosphere or of forest or plantation carbon. Just as a deskilled, decontextualized abstraction called "labour time" had to be identified, isolated, and made into exchangeable property during the Industrial Revolution, so, in an equally wrenching, contradictory process, a fiction called "tradable carbon" is today being worked up which is loftily indifferent to the local social, political, photosynthetic, geological, or combustion circumstances surrounding various aspects of the carbon cycle. Just as in modern Europe social infrastructure was laid which allowed a welter of locally-valid "fair prices" for bread to be supplanted by abstract prices determined by "supply and demand", so the distribution of rights to carbon sinks is today being explicitly brought into line with the global distribution of economic power. If the commodification of land and work of the European past heralded a new age of estate agents and labour brokers, so too are carbon brokers about to ride into prominence today.

There is nothing "neutral" or "natural" about either process. Just as ordinary people in an earlier period of European history were prone to express disbelief or outrage on being told that their labour or rights to use common lands could be transferred to someone from a distant part of the country simply through payment or state fiat, as they still do in many parts of the world, so many people today are beginning to express incredulity on learning they are being robbed of something which hadn't seemed possible to purloin: the air itself. In time, the language of "win-win-win scenarios" used by apologists of atmospheric enclosure ("the North wins, the South wins, and the environment wins"), may come to be as bitterly resented as the talk of the classical economic theorists and moralists William Cobbett scathingly referred to as "feelosofers" -- or as devastatingly criticized as the writings of historians who claimed that, "in the aggregate", enclosure must have benefited rural dwellers.

The Mystique of the Equals Sign

It's a very odd thing--
As odd as can be--
That whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.

Walter de la Mare

One central, if only implicitly-held, premise legitimizing carbon offset forestry is the equation:

more trees planted = less emission of CO2

Only on this assumption does it become possible to suggest that some portion of Northern industrial emissions can be "cancelled out" by carbon forestry, or that businesses, individuals or countries can become "carbon-neutral" by planting trees.

For the educated, idealistic middle class, including many Northern environmentalists, the equation is self-evident. It has a beautiful, clean, universal logic. Who could deny the reality of photosynthesis? Who could deny that a carbon atom in a tree is the same kind of atom as one coming out of a smokestack? Carbon equals carbon. Hence, once you stick the proper constants and units of measurement into the equation, a tree must "equal" an emission.

Many, particularly in the South, will take a different view -- not only out of a sense that a thing is what it is and nothing else, but also out of a wariness learned through experience that new sorts of equivalencies always turn out to have distinctive political functions. Here the equals sign, with its textbook clarity and high moral gloss, serves a number of propaganda purposes. It hides the way land would have to be redistributed in order to produce a new "export crop" of climatic stability; supplants the notion of equal rights with one of biochemical equivalence; consigns difficulties of plantation scale, centralized management, and the incommensurability of different kinds of carbon pools to the status of mere details which can be worked out over time by technocrats; morally equates industrialists and subsistence farmers; introduces a new monoculture of carbon; and legitimizes the redistribution of risk, sanctioning the gift of guaranteed carbon credits to the rich in exchange for projects of uncertain benefit to the livelihoods of the poor or to global climatic stability. Environmentalist Witoon Permpongsacharoen recently marvelled over the irony that, while "Communism" has long been a dirty word in much of the world, "privatization" enjoys an ever-increasing aura of "neutrality". It is partly through the alchemy which equations like this one perform that this becomes possible.

If the equation symbolizes a new moral economy, it also introduces a new aesthetic economy, in which progress is painted as involving both more emissions and more plantations simultaneously, producing a vista filled to the horizon by fast-growing eucalyptus harmlessly punctuated by smoking factories, hydrocarbon mines and sweeping autobahns. In this vision, trees become "high-tech sustainability machines",89 growing carbon instead of fruit or wood, while corporations have names like "the Utilitree Carbon Company" and NGOs attach to themselves labels such as the "Climate Neutral Network".

This aesthetic is the outward expression of the inward logic of business as usual. It has been embraced perhaps most warmly by the World Bank, which plans to benefit both from supporting massive new fossil fuel developments and from "cleaning up" afterwards.90 By helping to build badly-polluting projects today -- despite its own admissions that climate change is a particular disaster for the South and that efficiency and renewables are the best way of getting electricity to the two billion rural poor who lack electricity -- the organization hopes to ripen "low-hanging fruit" it can harvest tomorrow. Nor is the Bank alone in contemplating an ever-larger, Miss T.-ish corporate feast. An Australian pundit speaks for many when he says that the best way of abating global warming is to increase logging and woodchipping, step up production of housing kits, and use paper for landfill instead of recycling it: "the more papers we print and sell, the more we contribute to the solution of the greenhouse effect".91


Box 2: The Montevideo Declaration

A call for action to defend forests and people against large-scale tree monocrops

In June 1998, citizens of 14 countries around the world gathered in Montevideo, Uruguay, out of urgent concern at the recent and accelerating invasion of millions of hectares of land and forests by pulpwood, oil palm, rubber and other industrial tree plantations.

Such plantations have little in common with forests. Consisting of thousands or even millions of trees of the same species, bred for rapid growth, uniformity and high yield of raw material and planted in even-aged stands, they require intensive preparation of the soil, fertilisation, planting with regular spacing, selection of seedlings, mechanical or chemical weeding, use of pesticides, thinning, and mechanized harvesting.

... [T]he resulting radical conversion of the landscape ... can threaten the welfare and even survival of local communities.

The following are the most frequently cited environmental impacts:

  • reduced soil fertility;
  • increased erosion and compaction of the soil;
  • loss of natural biodiversity;
  • reduced groundwater reserves and stream flow;
  • increase in fires and fire risks.

These effects frequently extend far outside plantation boundaries, with ... radical, sometimes irreversible changes in the local flora and fauna. ...

Industrial tree plantations have in many cases been preceded by firing or clearcutting of native forests. ... In agricultural areas, industrial tree plantations have undermined food security by usurping productive cropland and pastures. ... In many cases they have resulted in forced displacement or forced resettlement of local people, in widespread human rights abuses and in violation of local peoples' land rights. Nearly everywhere they have been established, industrial tree plantations have destroyed people's livelihoods in agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry and gathering. The pitiful number of jobs they create -- insecure, seasonal, badly paid, frequently dangerous, ... -- cannot compensate. ...

The cost of reengineering and simplifying landscapes [for industrial plantations] can be paid only through massive ... subsidies -- including tax breaks, government handouts, infrastructure, research and suppression of labour organization ... The power exercised by the industry locally tends to result in ... contempt for local needs and landscapes.

The plantation industry is increasingly moving to the South, where cheap land, labour and water, fast tree growth, and loose environmental controls result in lower production costs. ... Assisting or underwriting[their] spread ... is a set of supporting actors ranging from the World Bank and bilateral "aid" agencies to research institutions and university scientists. Money badly needed to support the development of local livelihood security ... is directed into forestry research supporting the use of ... biotechnology, cloning and a Green Revolution-like package of techniques which has proven to be detrimental to local environments and livelihoods. ... other public monies are diverted to forestry consulting firms... and pulp and paper companies which are often also involved in logging native forests.

... In view of these concerns, we pledge our support to an international campaign to:

  • support local peoples' rights and struggles against the invasion of their lands by these plantations;
  • encourage awareness of the negative social and environmental impacts of large-scale industrial monocrop tree plantations; and
  • change the conditions which make such plantations possible.

We therefore commit ourselves to joining the movements opposed to such plantations -- movements which have already achieved significant successes. We are confident that the struggle against the industrial forestry model will at the same time help enable local communities to implement local solutions to local problems -- solutions which will simultaneously have positive impacts on the global environment, and whose continuing evolution we also pledge ourselves to support.

Montevideo, June 1998

Instituto Brasileiro de Analises Sociais e Economicas (Brazil), Comite Nacional pro Defensa de la Fauna y Flora (Chile), Third World Network (Ghana), Japan Tropical Forest Action Network, Sobrevivencia (Paraguay), Timberwatch Coalition (South Africa), Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Thailand), Down to Earth (UK), Forest Peoples Programme (UK), FERN (UK), The Corner House (UK), Instituto del Tercer Mundo (Uruguay), Red de Ecologia Social (Uruguay), Imagenes (Uruguay), Red del Tercer Mundo (Uruguay), Voluntad Internacional de Defensa Ambiental (Uruguay), Consumer's Choice Council (USA), Rainforest Action Network (USA), Greenpeace International, and the World Rainforest Movement.


Full version available at igc.apc.org/wrm


Influence and Alliance

The public will shortly be hearing lots of talk from US negotiators, large corporations and the World Bank, together with the more credulous or careerist of their environmentalist intimates, about the "inevitability" of trading trees for emissions on a global scale. What must strike more seasoned and serious activists, however -- those forced to live in a world politically more complex than that bounded by Washington corridors and corporate boardroom walls -- is how obscure and obstacle-strewn the path to carbon-sink privatization remains. When even an organization with a name like the Carbon Storage Trust is skeptical about large-scale carbon offset forestry,92 and when CARE, one of the pioneers in the field, has abjured further carbon forestry projects,93 to treat the process as if it were not up for grabs would be simply naive. The struggle over the commodification of carbon sinks is a history unfolding before everyone's eyes, and if it is, as always, one whose conditions no one has chosen, it is one which all will have a part in making.

To assume that the damage threatened by wholesale carbon forestry can be limited only by joining in the carbon-trading game, moreover, is to commit the classic errors of confusing proximity with power, endorsement with engagement, and playing the game with influencing its course. Activists who pledge allegiance to the institutions of global carbon forestry "offset" trading in the hope of having some influence on them, while they may play a useful monitoring role, will remain powerless to effect useful change without the activities of more radical, grassroots groups who maintain a foothold in the complicated political realities of particular plantation, logging and conservation projects, or of communities affected by carbon-credited industries.

One of the first tasks of concerned activists may be not to formulate abstract, all-purpose positions "for" or "against" carbon offset trading, but to analyse the current balance of power and the interest-group politics involved. Who gains what from carbon "offset" forestry? (See Box, "Trading CO2 Emissions for Trees: Who Benefits?") Who loses? Who is politically strong in which arena? Only through considering such questions does it become possible to foresee what the effects of activism will be, and to coordinate strategy, undertake alliances and organize statements and other actions accordingly.

For activists choosing to make common cause with communities who will be forced to defend land and water from carbon "offset" forestry, a number of further actions may be worth considering:

  • Monitoring the relevant agencies, companies, and NGOs with an eye to providing advance warning to likely affected groups.
  • Monitoring international climate negotiations to give groups working at the grassroots notice of what may lie on the horizon.
  • Making independent case studies of existing carbon forestry projects and their effects available to communities for which new ones have been proposed.
  • Organizing informational meetings for NGOs with interest in plantation and forestry issues.
  • Exploring the possibility of new alliances among, for example, activists concerned about the effects of oil drilling and refining, plantation activists, forest activists, anti-roads groups, environmental justice organizations concerned about emissions from carbon-credited factories, and climate activists.
  • Reaching out with information and analyses to other NGOs not yet committed to the fictions of carbon forestry.
  • Exchanging information and analysis with governments with an interest in insisting on per capita property rights to carbon sinks, even if this is within a private-property framework.
  • Working with organizations such as Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment and the Global Commons Institute, who emphasize the importance of an equitable property rights regime as a prerequisite for a "contraction and convergence" agenda for action on climate change, and who argue that such a regime has the greatest potential for ensuring that negotiation, rather than economic power, decides the question of who makes emissions cuts when, and under what conditions.94
  • Helping throw obstacles in the way of corporations or nations which are bent on gaining disproportionate legal private control over global carbon sinks or who, like the US, plan on meeting their climate-stabilizing obligations mainly through carbon trading.
  • Exposing NGOs who are already committed to full support for enclosure of the atmosphere and unequal distribution of carbon sinks, and forcing them to reveal their hand by compelling them to explain (say) why they believe equal per capita rights to carbon sinks are not possible.
  • Exposing the bogus science involved in carbon "offset" forestry to audiences likely to be receptive, while not wasting time with institutions or individuals who are likely to continue propagating the science regardless.
  • Helping to enunciate the anti-democratic and inegalitarian foundations of global carbon "offset" forestry projects in ways which might help link and unify widely-separated local movements.

Not the least ingredient of such actions must be ridicule. Credibility is power. Lampooning the frictionless Cloudcuckooland posited by carbon forestry true-believers, in which a stable climate is to be promoted through more monoculture plantations, more logging, more fossil-fuel plants and more Mazdas, can help return the resources of the imagination to the conflict-ridden, power-saturated real world, in which the facts of class, race, history and institutional politics must be confronted rather than denied.

Notes and references

1 Dyson, F. J., "Can We Control Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere?", Energy 2, 1976, pp.287-291.

2 Booth, W., "Johnny Appleseed and the Greenhouse: Replanting Forests fo Mitigate Global Warming", Science 242, 4875, October 1988, p.197.

3 Sullivan, J. R., "The tree decade: replenishing our forests and cities could buy the earth desperately needed time", Health 22, 5, May 1990, p.60. See also Walsh, B. W., "World Forests", American Forests 95, 11/12, November 1989, p.28 and Sedjo. R. and Solomon, A.M. "Climate and Forests" in Rosenberg, N. J. et al. (eds.) Greenhouse Warming: Abatement and Adaptation, Resources for the Future, Washington, 1989. Chris Upton of SGS Silviconsult claims that in Brazil alone, there exist 20 million hectares of deforested and now abandoned low-grade land suitable for carbon forestry ("Trading off trees for pollution", Timber & Wood Products, 6 February 1999, p.32). Richard Houghton and colleagues believe there to be 3.2 billion hectares of tropical areas suitable for management practices designed to accumulate carbon ("Current land cover in the tropics and its potential for sequestering carbon", Global Biogeochemical Cycles 7, 2, 1993, pp.305-320). Another research team gives a figure of between 620 million and two billion hectares as being theoretically available in tropical forests to store additional carbon through forestry practices (Dixon, R. et al. (eds), Assessment of Promising Forest Management Practices and Technologies for Enhancing the Conservation and Sequestration of Atmospheric Carbon and their Costs at Site Level, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, 1991). According to Alan Grainger, 758 million hectares of degraded tropical watersheds, drylands, forest fallows and logged rainforests could be restored to forest, although he is wise enough to remember that "those who use the land may be unwilling to convert it to forest." ("Modelling the Impact of Alternative Afforestation Strategies to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions", in Proceedings of the Conference on Tropical Forestry Response Options to Global Climate Change, 1990). Mark Trexler estimates that 126 million hectares of the tropics are available for reforestation, over half of that through plantations, and another 217 million for assisted regeneration, although he cautions that land is less likely to be a limiting factor than labour, management, and "administrative restrictions" (Trexler, M. and Haugen, C., Keeping it Green: Tropical Forestry Opportunities for Mitigating Climate Change, World Resources Institute, Washington, 1995).

4 Sullivan, J. R., op. cit. 3; Myers, N., presentation at Issue Dialogue on "Tree Plantations: Benefits and Drawbacks", Centre for Applied Studies in International Negotiations, 23-24 April 1991; Myers, N. and Goreau, T. J., "Tropical Forests and the Greenhouse Effect: A Management Response", Climate Change 19, 1-2, pp.215-25.

5 Michaelowa, A., "AIJ Cannot Function without Incentives", in Riemer, P., Smith, A. and Thambimuthu, K. (eds.), Greenhouse Gas Mitigation: Technologies for Activities Implemented Jointly, Amsterdam, 1998, pp.403-408; World Resources Institute, "Mitigating Climate Change through Forestry" www.wri.org, accessed 27 March 1999; Sullivan, J. R., op. cit. 3; Walsh, B. W., op cit. 3.

6 "Trading off trees for pollution", Timber & Wood Products, 6 February 1999, p.32.

7 "Japan to Launch Project on Rain Forest Plantation", Japan Economic Newswire, Kyodo News Service, 29 February 1992.

8 Pearce F., "All Gas and Guesswork", New Scientist, 30 July 1994, p.14.

9 Ibid. By 1995, the New Zealand government was happily announcing that by the year 2000 its enlarged pine plantations would be absorbing more than 85 per cent of its gross CO2 emissions, halving its net emissions (Australian Financial Review, 15 February 1995).

10 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of the Parties, Third Session, Kyoto Protocol the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, FCCC/CP/1997/L.7/Add.1, Article 12.2, p.13, Kyoto, Japan, 11 December 1997.

11 One group of scientists has calculated that fully implementing the Kyoto Protocol would reduce the expected warming of 1.4°C by 2050 by only 0.05°C (Houlder, V., "Beginning of the End", Financial Times, 15 April 1999).

12 The US Senate, fearful of the "costs" to energy corporations of abating global warming, feigns to hold the position that, because growth in emissions is faster in the South than in the North, even the minor emissions cuts mandated by the Kyoto Protocol are unacceptable because they exempt, for the time being, large developing nations like China and India. See (e.g.) Gelbspan, R., "Putting the Globe at Risk", The Nation, 30 November 1998, p.20.

13 The common law of first possession, which is reflected in the attitudes of the US and other industrialized countries is, as Carol Rose notes, biased in favour of those who mark and transform nature through cultivation, manufacture, and development in a commercial system, presupposing that human beings are "outsiders to nature" ("Possession as the Origin of Property," in Property and Persuasion: Essays on the History, Theory and Rhetoric of Ownership, Westview, Boulder, 1994, p.20). The result of the first-possession approach, unsurprisingly, is that each country has an incentive to set a baseline which is as large as possible, since, as officials at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Environment concede, the baseline can be viewed as a country's entitlement (Centre for Science and Environment, "Politics in the Post-Kyoto World", CES Briefing Paper 2, New Delhi, n.d., p.4). Thus just before the Kyoto negotiations, both the US and Japan tried to change the date for basing each country's cuts from 1990 to 1995, and the South has an incentive to increase emissions as fast as possible now in order to be able to reduce less later. Similarly, when a Regional Clean Air Incentives Market was set up in Los Angeles, companies which had formerly underestimated their emissions in order to reduce permit fees "suddenly reported elevated rates of air pollution", since the higher the pollution levels claimed, the greater their pollution allowance (Belliveau, M., "Trading Places: Lethal Lessons from Los Angeles", Trans-national Resource & Action Center, October 1998, www.corpwatch.org/trac/feature/climate/pollution/box.html, accessed 28 April 1999).

14 McCully, P., "Discord in the Greenhouse: How WRI Is Attempting to Shift the Blame for Global Warming", The Ecologist 21, 4, July/August 1991, pp.157-65.

15 Grubb, M., "Buying a Better Climate", Prospect, August/September 1997, p.60.

16 Carey, J., "Look Who's Thawing on Global Warming", Business Week, 9 November 1998; Hebert, H. J., "Fight over move to give credits to polluters who clean up emissions", Associated Press, 24 March 1999; Time, 9 November 1998.

17 Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has argued throughout the 1990s that the received wisdom that stabilizing CO2 emissions would cost rather than save money rests on ignorance of the "vast empirical literature on how much it actually costs to save energy, as documented by thousands of utilities and industries" (Gersh, J, "Capitalism Goes Green," Amicus Journal, Spring 1999, p.37; Rocky Mountain Institute Newsletter, various issues).

18 Smith, J., Mulongoy, K., Persson, R. and Sayer, J., "Harnessing Carbon Markets for Tropical Forest Conservation: Towards a More Realistic Assessment", Center for International Forestry Research, Jakarta, 1998, p.6; Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), "Twelve Principles to Guide Joint Implementation", CIEL website, www.igc.apc.org/ciel, accessed 18 June 1999. The US believes that reducing CO2 emissions at home would cost US$125 per tonne of carbon, while buying "emissions credits" on a world market would cost as little as $14-23 per tonne. Among the cheapest credits available would come from forestry projects. For example, the US has estimated the cost per tonne of sequestered carbon of approved forestry projects in Costa Rica as ranging from $3 to $16, as compared to a cost of $338 to $895 per tonne for energy sector projects in the country. Carbon forestry takes advantage not only of North-South cost differentials, but also, often, of urban-rural differentials.

19 Palast, G., "Fill Your Lungs -- It's Only Borrowed Grime", Observer (London), 24 January 1999: "The real drive beyond limitless use of the contamination credits originated with the corporate lobby Business Roundtable, which left a memo to that effect on a photocopy machine in November [at the Conference of the Parties meeting] in Buenos Aires."

20 ENN, 18 March 1999.

21 Goldberg, D. M. and Wiser, G. M. "Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Rethinking the JI Pilot Phase: A Call for Independent Evaluation and a Legal Framework," Widener Law Symposium Journal 3, Fall 1998, p.421.

22 "Profiting from Pollution", San Jose Mercury News, 22 November 1998. See also Wysham, D., The World Bank and the G-7: Still Changing the Earth's Climate for Business, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, 1998.

23 The CDM, which started life as a Brazilian-proposed Clean Development Fund which would have penalized industrialized countries if they did not comply with international agreements, was switched into its current form during the last 24 hours of the Kyoto negotiations. The CDM is attractive to Southern country delegations partly because it promises extra support for upgrading of energy technology, and to Northern delegations partly because it promises extra subsidies for their countries' exports, but in reality is likely to include a strong emphasis on plantations. In October 1998, some 26 African ministers meeting in Nairobi called for the CDM to be designed "in such a way that it is advantageous to Africa and the private sector", stressed that it "should not be used as a substitute for other 'mechanisms' such as official development assistance and the Global Environment Facility" and proposed an "'adaptation fund' for the poor and most vulnerable countries, and a 'seed fund' specifically to assist African countries to be better prepared for the CDM" (United Nations Environment Programme News Release, Nairobi, 23 October 1998). Argentina has reportedly toyed with the idea that it could earn US$700 million a year for "maintaining carbon dioxide-absorbing forests" established, with the help of $4 billion in foreign investment, on 10 million hectares of what is now mainly grassland ("Buenos Aires Hosts Follow-Up to UN Global-Warming Meeting at Kyoto", NotiSur: Latin American Political Affairs [University of New Mexico], 20 November 1998). Like Myers's Zaire-sized plantations, such schemes may be pie in the global warming sky. But they have consquences, even if they are unforeseen.

24 Carey, J., op. cit. 16. Mike Read Associates claims that "there are already over 100 [carbon sequestration and storage] projects around the world, with many more in preparation" (Read, M., Sink or Swim? How Can Forestry Be Used to Mitigate Climate Change?,report prepared for World Wide Fund for Nature, 1998, www.geocities.com/RainForest/Canopy/5632, accessed 9 April 1999).

25 FACE Foundation website, www.facefoundation.nl, accessed 8 April 1999.

26 Harris, B., "Costa Rica: 'Carbon Sink' Plan a Licence to Pollute, Say Critics", Sunday Age (Melbourne), 12 March 1995; Carey, J., op. cit. 16.

27 "Trading off trees for pollution", Timber & Wood Products, 6 February 1999, op. cit. 3.

28 Canada News Wire, 2 November 98. Much carbon forestry trading also occurs inside national boundaries. For instance, Delta Electricity and State Forests of New South Wales have established a joint venture pine plantation, with Delta providing the land in exchange for the future right to the carbon (Dodds, S., "Benefits of Forests Finally Sinking In", Canberra Times, 3 November 1998, p.A7). In New Zealand, the Minister for the Environment has ruled that the Electricity Corporation be granted an air-discharge consent for the 400-megawatt Stratford power station on condition that it plants a forest to absorb the plant's emissions (De Freitas, C., "Washing Funds down the Carbon Sink Won't Stop Global Warming", National Business Review, 2 June 1995). Planting trees in Britain to compensate for the pollution created by their business ventures are the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, Fulham Football Club, Whole Earth foods, musicians Julian Lennon, Neneh Cherry and Keith Allen, and artist and restauranteur Damien Hirst (Timber & Wood Products, 6 February 1999, op. cit. 3).

29 Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 27 July 1997; Independent (London), 3 October 1998; Climafor, "International Pilot Project for Carbon Sequestration and Community Forestry in Chiapas, Mexico", 1997.

30 World Resources Institute (WRI), "Mitigating Climate Change through Forestry", www.wri.org/climate/mitigate.html, accessed 27 March 1999; "Tropical Forestry Management Options for CO2 Mitigation".

31 Ibid.

32 WRI, op. cit. 30. Other projects which involve forest conservation are also under way in Costa Rica. For example, the country receives funds from Tenaska, a power company in Nebraska which has contracted with the Bonneville Power Authority to "offset" greenhouse-gas emissions with conservation and carbon storage, to set aside a portion of a national park which, it is claimed, would otherwise be deforested (Tenenbaum, D. "The Greening of Costa Rica", Technology Review 98, 7, October 1995, p.42; Kosloff, L. H., "Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Linking Climate Change Mitigation with Sustainable Economic Development: A Status Report", Widener Law Symposium Journal 3, Fall 1998, pp.379-80; Centre for Science and Environment, op. cit. 13, p.8).

33 Canada News Wire, 12 November 1998; WRI, op. cit. 29; Kosloff, L. H., op. cit. 32. The project was designed to meet the requirements for international action under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, conforms to US legislation concerning carbon offset registration, and has been approved by the government of Belize.

34 "'Billions' in Greenhouse Gas Market", Australian Financial News, 25 March 1999.

35 Houlder, V., "Salvation or Hot Air", Financial Times, 15 April 1999.

36 Thackray, R., "Stars Help Trees Make a Meal of Car Fumes", Independent (London), 21 June 1998.

37 Quoted in Shiva, V., "Monsanto Wants to Control the Water Business in India and Mexico", The Hindu, 1 May 1999.

38 Smith, J., op. cit. 18, p.15

39 Carrere, R. and Lohmann, L., Pulping the South: Industrial Tree Plantations and the World Paper Economy, Zed Books, London, 1996; World Rainforest Movement, Tree Plantations: Impacts and Struggles, World Rainforest Movement, Montevideo, 1999; Kerski, A., "Pulp, Paper and Power: How an Industry Reshapes Its Social Environment", The Ecologist 25, 4 (1995), pp.142-9.

40 For example, it has been estimated that to "offset" Britain's total CO2 emissions would require a tropical plantation about 1.5 times the size of the country (Independent, 2 March 1992).

41 Future Forests, run by Dan Morrell, has hired Pete Wilkinson, one of the founders of Greenpeace UK and Friends of the Earth (Houlder, V., "Wilkinson Joins Future Forests", Financial Times, 18 February 1999), and works with Richard Tipper of the Institute of Ecology Management at Edinburgh University (Pryor, M., "Planting Trees is a Gas, Gas, Gas", The Times [London], 12 June 1999). The organization has come up with a "carbon calculator" capable of telling anyone how much they would need to invest in forestry to "offset" their carbon emissions (Houlder, V., "Avis Goes into Trees to Earn Its Green Stripes", Financial Times, 31 May 1999, p.1).

42 Other car manufacturers may soon follow suit, including Fiat, Hyundai, Honda, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Mazda's owner Ford, which is talking about adopting the scheme throughout Europe. Fiat's Ceicento model adopted the scheme in March 1999, as it "sees the little city car as the perfect advert for its green credentials" (Davis, B., "Good News for the Greens", Bristol Evening Post, 24 February 1999). Avis Europe, too, is to plant one tree for every car in its rental fleet to "compensate" for CO2 emissions (Houlder, V., op. cit. 41.). The travel firm Discovery Initiatives, meanwhile, offers UK customers the option to "offset" the CO2 produced by their holiday in Kenya for a mere £12.31 extra (Carbon Storage Trust, "Climate Care Products", Oxford, 1999).

43 Boley, J., "Car Firms Keen to Plant Trees and Make Motoring Greener", Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 13 March 1999, "Car Firms Take a Breather", Western Daily Press (Bristol), 7 June 1999.

44 Ibid.

45 Lohmann, L., "Peasants, Plantations and Pulp: The Politics of Eucalyptus in Thailand", Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 23, 4, pp.3-17, 1991; Carrere, R. and Lohmann, L., op. cit. 37, pp.229-245; "Forest Cleansing: Racial Oppression in Nature Conservation", Corner House Briefing No. 13, January 1999; Sathira-thai, S., "The Role of Property Rights in the Adoption of Conservation Practices in Northern Thailand", Thai Environment Institute Quarterly Environment Journal, April-June 1995, pp.41-54.

46 This is how long carbon emissions from fossil fuels are currently believed to retain their "radiative forcing qualities" in the atmosphere (Schimel, D. et al., "Radiative Forcing of Climate Change", in Houghton, J. T. et al., eds., Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 1995). After finally being deposited on the ocean floor, much carbon is eventually subducted under continental plates. In a sense, native forests and industrial plantations also belong to distinct carbon "pools" due to the difficulty in many places of re-establishing ecosystems which perform the functions of the original forest once land has been industrially cleared. It would be theoretically possible, of course, to use carbon plantation wood to replace some fossil fuels, thereby slowing depletion of the underground carbon pool. But this is not, in reality, what most carbon "offset" schemes are aimed at.

47 Pyne, S., World Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth, University of Washington, Seattle, 1995.

48 De Freitas, C., op. cit. 28.

49 "ANZAAS Congress: Efficiency Key to Carbon Cutback", Melbourne Age, 16 February 1990, p.16. See also Cullet, P. and Kameri Mbote, A. P., "Joint Implementation and Forestry Projects: Conceptual and Operational Fallacies", International Affairs, 74, 2, 1998, p.393.

50 Understandably frustrated by the difficulties involved in sequestering carbon stably on or near the surface, many scientists have drawn the logical conclusion that making sequestered atmospheric carbon climatically "equivalent" to the carbon in fossil fuel deposits would require re-burying it. Thus Norman Myers has suggested deep-sixing logs under ocean sediments, while other scientists have proposed pumping CO2 into oil wells, liquefying it and injecting it into deep ocean layers, or establishing floating kelp farms thousands of square kilometres in size which, growing heavier as they consumed CO2, would eventually sink to the ocean floor. A scientist at the University of Stuttgart has meanwhile suggested firing dry ice "torpedoes" into deep ocean areas, while others nourish the hope that landfilling huge amounts of paper will be effective. See Normile, D., Scott, D., Stover, D. et al., "Science Gets the CO2 Out", Popular Science 244, 2 February 1994, p.65. Such schemes irresistibly call to mind the literary critic Fredric Jameson's observation that the modern imagination can more easily conceive of global environmental disaster than question the permanence of contemporary forms of capitalism.

51 Carbon Storage Trust, "Carbon Offsets in Forestry", Oxford, 1999, p.8.

52 Smith, J. et al, op. cit. 18, p.8.

53 Carbon Storage Trust, op. cit. 51, p.12.

54 Isomaki, R., "Paper, Pollution and Global Warming: Unsustainable Forestry in Finland", The Ecologist, 21, 1, 1991, pp.14-17.

55 Fearnside, P. M., "Tropical Silvicultural Plantations as a Means of Sequestering Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide", Manaus.

56 Suzuki, D., "Defense of Clearcut Logging Is Specious", Toronto Star, 29 May 1993, p.D6.

57 Pyne, op. cit. 47.

58 Houghton, R.A., Davidson, E. A. and Woodwell, G. M., "Missing Sinks, Feedbacks, and Understanding the Role of Terrestrial Ecosystems in the Global Carbon Balance", Global Biogeochemical Cycles 12, 1, 1998, pp.25-34; Woodwell, G.M. and Houghton, R. A., "The Mystery of the Great Northern Forest", in Proceedings of the 7th Annual Conference of the International Boreal Forest Research Association: Sustainable Development of Boreal Forests, ARICFR, Moscow, 1997, pp.37-44.

59 Dodds, S., op. cit. 28.

60 FACE Foundation, op. cit. 25.

61 International Institute for Sustainable Development, Earth Negotiations Bulletin 12, 98 (UNFCCC Technical Workshops), April 1999, www.iisd.ca. As noted above, many scientists of international reputation have already tacitly assumed, without any visible discomfort at lack of evidence, that the problems of political control and biological stabilization of plantation wood which would make the status of carbon in plantations equivalent to that in hydrocarbon reserves are resolvable.

62 Environmental Resources Management, Ltd., "Lessons from the World Bank for the Kyoto Mechanisms: A Review of World Bank Reports", confidential report to the World Bank, Washington, April 1999.

63 The equation can be refined to favour earlier or later emissions reductions. See Smith, J., op. cit. 18, p.9; Goldberg, D. M. et al., op. cit. 21; Chomitz, K., "Baselines for Greenhouse Gas Reductions" and "The Permanence and Duration Issue in Carbon Offsets Based on Sequestration", Carbon Offset Unit, World Bank, Washington, 1998; Heister, J. "Towards a Methodology for Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Offsets from Joint Implementation Projects and Activities Implemented Jointly", World Bank, Washington, 1997; Fearnside, P.M., "Monitoring Needs to Transform Amazonian Forest Maintenance into a Global-Warming Mitigation Option", Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 2, pp.285-302, 1997; Ridley, M.A., Lowering the Cost of Emission Reduction, Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1998; Smith, J., S., Mourato, E., Veneklaas, R. et al., "Can Slash-and-Burn Farmers Contribute to Environmental Protection? An Example from the Peruvian Amazon", CIFOR, Bogor, 1998; CIEL, op. cit. 18.

64 "Missing the Point of Development Talk: Reflections for Activists", Corner House Briefing No. 9, August 1998.

65 The approved Outline of this IPCC Special Report on "Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry" already begs enormous questions by including sections on "carbon accounting rules" and "operational implications of uncertainties" (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change document No. 12327/M/IPCC/SRLFC, Annex 1, Geneva, 27 May 1999). As David Bloor remarks, "We do not [stop reasoning scientifically] in order to protect our institutions from collapse under the pressure of logical criticism. Rather, it is because we routinely accept [their] activities ... that we adjust our reasoning" (Knowledge and Social Imagery, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1991, pp.142-46). See also Cohn, C., "Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals" in Laslett, B., Kohlstedt, S. G., et al. (eds.), Gender and Scientific Authority, Chicago, 1996, for a parallel discussion on how, in the 1980s, the issue of the impossibility of "limited nuclear war" or "surgically clean counterforce strikes" could not easily be raised within the language used in nuclear war-planning institutions. For different views of the phenomenon, see Davidson, D., "Paradoxes of Irrationality" in Wollheim, R. (ed.) Essays on Freud, Penguin, London, 1982, and Ferguson, J., The Anti-Politics Machine: "Development", Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990.

66 Barnes, P., "Trillion Dollar Windfall: Who'll Get the Manna when the Heavens Charge Rent?", American Prospect, April 1999. For sophisticated recent analyses, from a broadly "free market" perspective, of the importance of property rights definition to environmental problems, see Hill, P. J. and Meiners, R. E. (eds.) Who Owns the Environment?, Rowman & Littlefield, Boston, 1998.

67 Macleay, J., "Seeds Sown for SFE Greenhouse Trade", The Australian, 27 October 1998.

68 "Environmentalists Oppose Bill", Los Angeles Times, 24 March 1999; "US Senate Bill on 'Greenhouse Gas' Polluters Draws Fire", Dow Jones Newswires, 24 March 1999.

69 Barnes, P., op. cit. 66; Gersh, J. op. cit. 17.

70 Goldberg, D. M. et al., op. cit. 21.

71 A "Brasilia Letter on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol" sent by a diverse group of Latin American organizations on 23 October 1998 appealed to the President of Brazil not to permit reforestation projects for carbon sequestration in intact natural areas or areas in advanced stages of [natural] restoration but did call for carbon credit to be considered for CO2-reducing agroforestry, management, sink-protecting and other "sustainable production projects" in extractive reserves, indigenous areas, conservation units, or [projects] that benefit other rural forest communities (ECO: The Climate Action Network Newsletter, Buenos Aires, 24 October 1998).

72 This scenario is implied by Smith, J. et al., op. cit. 18; Kosloff, L. H., op. cit. 32; Trexler, M. and Haugen, C., Keeping it Green: Global Warming Mitigation Through Tropical Forestry, World Resources Institute, Washington, 1994; Grainger, A., "Estimating Areas of Degraded Tropical Lands Requiring Replenishment of Forest Cover", International Tree Crops Journal 5, 31, 1988; CIEL, op. cit. 18.

73 Richards, K. R., "Joint Implementation in the Framework Convention on Climate Change: Opportunities and Pitfalls", in An Economic Perspective on Climate Change Policies, ACCF Center for Policy Research, 1996, cited in Goldberg, D. M., op. cit. 21, p.402.

74 See (e.g.) Testimony of Fred Krupp, Executive Director, Environmental Defense Fund, before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition, 5 March 1998.

75 Grubb, M., op. cit. 15, p.59.

76 Environmental Research Foundation, Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly No. 577, Annapolis, 18 December 1997. According to Michael Belliveau, the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market in Los Angeles resulted in "no discernible emissions reductions" between 1993 and 1997 and, but for community action, would have threatened "toxic hot spots" created by polluting facilities that buy credits. Another Los Angeles trading scheme which purported to be capable of reducing smog at a "lower cost" to business than mandatory regulation allowed large industries to avoid emission restrictions by buying up and scrapping old, heavily-polluting cars. Working-class Latino communities located near participating oil company terminals filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the civil rights of communities of colour, claiming that they were being disproportionately exposed to toxic emissions. The scheme was also riddled with fraud -- many of the 20,000 cars scrapped under the plan were barely running. Allowing a polluting corporation to purchase CO2 emission rights by sponsoring carbon forestry is perhaps no less likely to harm poor communities in the neighborhood of its factories than to harm rural communities in the neighborhood of its "sequestering" plantation projects. As Belliveau points out, "whenever a company forgoes reductions in carbon dioxide emissions because it purchased a credit, much more than carbon dioxide continues to flow from that company's stack. Every combustion source also emits dozens of other co-pollutants that pose deadly health risks locally and regionally. These include cancer-causing products of incomplete combustion such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, unburned toxic hydrocarbons, and fine particulate matter linked to excessive death rates" (Belliveau, M., op. cit. 13 and "Smoke and Mirrors: Will Global Pollution Trading Save the Climate or Promote Injustice and Fraud?", Transnational Resource & Action Center, October 1998, www.corpwatch.org/trac/feature/climate/pollution/belliveau.html, accessed 28 April 1999).

77 Frassrand, T., et al., interview with Senator Chuck Hagel, CNN Newsroom Worldview, 15 December 1997; United Mine Workers, "United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts Praises Senate Action on UN Treaty", PR Newswire, 25 July 1997. For a rebuttal, see World Resources Institute website, www.wri.org/cpi/cop4.html.

78 Timber & Wood Products, op. cit. 3.

79 The Guardian (London) 9 April 1999, p.15.

80 Centre for Science and Environment, op. cit. 13, p.7.

81 Houlder, V. "Salvation or Hot Air", Financial Times, 15 April 1999.

82 Palast, G., op. cit. 19.

83 Baker, R., "Trading in Greenhouse Gas Permits to Become Big Business", South China Morning Post,2 November 1998.

84 Center for International Environmental Law, "Responsibility for Non-Compliance under the Kyoto Protocol's Mechanisms for Cooperative Implementation", CIEL, June 1998.

85 Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class, Penguin, London, 1963, p.218.

86 "Carbon is not a commodity like wheat or coffee," the Carbon Storage Trust acknowledges. "Buying any normal agricultural commodity involves paying a farmer for what he has extracted as a result of past actions. Buying a carbon credit, however, involves paying a farmer for what he will not extract as a result of his future actions" (op. cit. 51, p.9).

87 Polanyi, K., The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, Boston, 1957 [1944].

88 For a brief survey of this process as it relates to English woodlands, see Lohmann, L., "Forests: Myths and Realities of Violent Conflicts" in Suliman, M., ed., Ecology, Politics and Violent Conflict, Zed, London, 1999, pp.158-80.

89 Sullivan, J. R., op. cit. 3.

90 Wysham, D., op. cit. 22.

91 McGuinness, P. P., "Forests to Fight the Greenhouse", The Age (Melbourne), 7 January 1995.

92 Carbon Storage Trust, op. cit. 51.

93 Kosloff, L. H., op. cit. 32, p.371.

94 "Climate and Equity: After Kyoto", Corner House Briefing No. 3, December 1997; GLOBE website: globeint.org; GCI website: www.gn.apc.org/gci.

 

Related articles