Kyoto and the smoke sellers

Kyoto and the smoke sellers

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Per Green Pepper *

From the new era of "scarce" air, an economy of air will necessarily emerge. As a result of the climate crisis, the consecration of these new property rights will happen soon.

From the new era of "scarce" air, an economy of air will necessarily emerge. As a result of the climate crisis, the consecration of these new property rights will happen soon. And then the owners of the air are going to accumulate rent, and this is going to flow to the market, just as it is today with the land.

Peter Barnes and Rafe Pomerance,
‘Pie in the Sky’, 2001.

Is Kyoto better than nothing?

Every time something that until then had been free starts to be sold, we exclaim "soon we will have to pay to breathe!" Until now it had been a joke, the classic device of the cartoon. No longer, the Kyoto protocol is here and its main mechanism is just that: sell the air. They call it “emissions trading” and it consists of the establishment of a fixed number of permits to emit greenhouse gases, for their distribution and to allow them to be commercialized.

The idea is that each country that is a signatory to the protocol has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. According to this, emission quotas have been distributed among the states, setting an overall reduction of 5.2% with respect to 1990 emissions. In turn, each country distributes its emission permits among its polluters, especially companies.

And what do polluters do with their permits? It may be that they pollute below their limit and then they keep the permits for the following year or sell them on the emissions market. The opposite can also happen, then the one who has become dirty can “clean” his payroll by buying pollution permits from others who have not used them. Additionally, new pollution credits can be obtained through Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) or Joint Implementation (CI). These consist of investing in pollution reduction plans in other countries and thus "earn" emission rights through these projects. CDMs are aimed at countries that are not signatories of the protocol, while CIs can only be given between signatory countries. They call this "flexibility mechanisms." Taking into account what the famous labor flexibility of the 90s has consisted of, what will now be hidden behind such an elastic expression?

In this way, the Kyoto protocol achieves the squaring of the circle: it creates an emissions reduction system that nevertheless, as if by magic, allows polluting above the imposed limit, shielding the current status quo and multiplying the opportunities for deal. Business virtuosity? Synergies of capital?

Let's see it in parts:
How have we come to commodify the air? Well, organizing, once again, the lack. The neoliberals have recognized that the atmosphere is polluted because we are using that resource in an irrational way, to immediately argue that if clean air is scarce, we must put a price on it so that it is not wasted. Thus, the market has gone from being the cause of the problem ... to being its solution. Kyoto is this pirouette. But how is carbon transformed into a commodity? "It is simple, and perverse: it has already been seen that there are activities that release carbon (industries) and others that extract it (trees), that is, it is produced and consumed, all that remains is to put a price on it" (1). It is currently around $ 20 per ton (2).

The new colonialism of coal

Behind the green rhetoric hides a climate apartheid, a system in which:

-The responsibility is externalized, since the reductions will not need to be made in their place of origin, allowing companies to continue polluting where they already did or to move where it is cheaper; or buy emission rights elsewhere, thus diverting efforts for a reduction at source.
By transferring pollution to countries or regions with lower labor costs, laxer legislation and without reduction protocols, what happens in England is reproduced on a global scale with the Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS). This plan assigns the management of urban and industrial waste to the market. Result: 50% of incinerators are located in the poorest 10% of the country. And with the additional advantage of “relocating” political responsibility and putting decisions in the “invisible hands” of the market.

-The bill is passed to the south or to the next generations: The first International Forum of Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change has declared that "the carbon sinks provided for in the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) constitute a global strategy to expropriate our lands" Why? Because if forests are capable of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Kyoto concludes that large-scale monoculture tree plantations must be promoted. The problem is that these ‘compensation’ processes will usurp land needed for agriculture, replace valuable native ecosystems, deplete water resources, increase inequity in land tenure, increase poverty and lead to the expulsion of local inhabitants. It is not science fiction, the nonsense of "destroying forests to plant trees" is already a reality. The fight against plantations and their socio-economic-environmental impacts extends to impoverished countries. One case is the Brazilian company Plantar, which evicts farmers to plant eucalyptus. The resistance generated in this case has become the flag of the incipient movement against emissions trading (see table Plantar S.A. or when trees are the enemy).

Other expanding CDMs include gas extraction from landfills and hydroelectric dams. But in reality, "much of the reduction in CDMs will likely be made by large companies by offering cleaner coal-burning equipment to China" (David Elliot, Open University) (3).

Another widely publicized mechanism is "carbon capture and storage." What is achieved by liquefying carbon and storing it under the ground or the ocean. The problem is that this system hides the garbage under the carpet, passing the risk to nearby residents and future generations, due to the high instability of the liquefied carbon and the toxicity of CO2 in high concentrations. The same could be said of the proposal to create transgenic trees for carbon absorption (4)

-It is unverifiable, because it is also not at all clear that trees really absorb carbon. In the first place, because this storage is temporary, since at the end of its life cycle carbon returns to the atmosphere. Second, because the current knowledge about the flux of carbon through the atmosphere, the biosphere and the lithosphere is still very limited. The mineral carbon, while it remains in the soil, is stable and quantifiable. Biological carbon is fickle and uncertain. Without going any further, the journal Nature (5) has just published a study in which it is stated that plants also produce methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas, especially when temperatures rise. Although trees do not stop being net carbon capturers, this data gives an idea of ​​the extent to which we do not know the exact functioning of Gaia (6).

-False accounting is triggered and corruption is encouraged, since the number of credits earned by each CDM is calculated by the difference between the level of emissions that the project will achieve and the hypothetical level of emissions if it is not done. "This can only lead to arduous conflicts of interest, causing fraud and, finally, reducing the possibilities of a real reduction in emissions, because it also allows an almost limited number of credits to be earned" (7). Pricewaterhouse Coopers or Cantor Fitzgerald, for example, are already simultaneously playing the role of accountants for polluting companies, verifiers of emission reduction projects and consultants.

-It is incoherent, because emissions cannot be significantly reduced if at the same time the same international institutions are promoting an increase in the use of fossil fuels. The accounts do not come out. The World Bank, involved in the emissions market with the Prototype Carbon Fund (PCF), is simultaneously supporting the construction of 850 new coal plants in India, China and the US that, according to Christian Science Monitor, will emit 2.7 billion tons in 2012 annual CO2. At that point, the Kyoto signatory countries should have reduced their emissions by… 483 million tons!

Not to mention the refusal of the US to jump on the bandwagon, since to its credit it has 24% of global emissions, equivalent to those of the 135 countries in the tail. In any case, it is not necessary to be outside of Kyoto to fail to comply with it: in Catalonia a Plan de l'Energia 2006-2015 has just been approved that foresees an increase in emissions of between 94% and 127%, radically far from the 15 % assigned.

-It is insufficient. David King, head of the British government's scientific advisers, believes that the goal of avoiding an increase of more than two degrees in the average temperature of the atmosphere "is, I fear, impossible." Just to stabilize the concentration of gases at twice the level existing at the beginning of the industrial revolution ... 30 Kyoto protocols would be necessary (8).

However, it is unlikely that the agreed emission reduction will even be achieved. Among other things, because the emissions market is already beginning to deviate from its initial objective due to the low price of emission rights, since it ends up buying more emission rights than investing in real reductions. At the head of this phenomenon is the “hot air” of Russia, which blows prices by having an enormous amount of credits, allocated by the enormous forested area of ​​the country. Is it now better understood why Putin agreed in 2005 to adhere to the protocol?

Everybody wins?

According to the weekly The Economist “the next green revolution has already started. Whether environmental groups join or not, we are emerging from a dark era of costly, authoritarian and ineffective environmental regulations to a new green age of innovative, lucid and dynamic management based on the stimulus of the initiative ”But does anyone believe that this“ revolution green "has the winning ticket been taken for being less" ineffective "? In reality, it is more likely that it is a consequence of the current correlation of forces. In the Kyoto negotiations, the good new deregulation of large companies preached by dozens of lobbies, together with the need to seduce the US - a pioneer in emissions markets with sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). ) - have allowed to turn the tables and have seduced NGOs and countries highly affected by climate change (9). If in the first climate negotiations there was talk of “controlling business activity”, in the end what has resulted is a new transfer of sustainable development to the private sector, in which the new Carbon Exchange takes on a leading role. As Carbon Trade Watch warns, “the Kyoto Protocol stated that emissions trading must be supplementary to reductions directly at source. However, what supplementary means has not yet been quantified… ”.

In the end, many NGOs have not only deviated from the initial objective but have positioned themselves as verifiers, which legitimizes the broadcast market and will also monopolize their time and resources. And we, will we let the Market win this new battle "in minds and hearts"?

* Green pepper
recommended websites

(1) "When Don Dinero loves trees" Carlos Amorín, BRECHA, November 21, 2001.
(2) The human economy emits 7,400 million tons of Carbon equivalent per year, an average of 1.2 tons / year per person, but the responsibilities are very different: the emission of Carbon equivalent in India is 0.3 tons / year per person for 6.1 tons / year per person in the US.
(3) More information on CDM projects and their consequences in
(4) About transgenic trees: . About GMOs in general:
(5) “In a recent article (Nature, January 12, 2006), scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland, revealed that plants produce methane, a greenhouse gas (…) However, the climatic benefits gained from carbon sequestration by afforestation far exceed the relatively small negative effect, which can reduce the effect of the carbon response by as much as 4 percent ”.
(6) More information at
(7) “Heaven is not the Limit: the emerging greenhouse gas market. Carbon Trade Watch, 2002. available at
(8) For example, the Kyoto Protocol does not include the aeronautical industry, which of all those that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions is the one that is growing the fastest
(9) Greenpeace is one of the most important guarantors of the Kyoto Protocol. Although the organization also points to the shortcomings of the treaty, according to Carbon Trade Watch “Greenpeace's increasingly silent opposition to emissions trading and its tactical support of companies that support the Kyoto Protocol has been the greatest ideological victory of sophisticated groups of business pressure ”. However, Greenpeace insists on the possibilities offered by the new framework, and defends that "the only acceptable CDMs are those based on renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements" and that "the misuse and abuse of emissions trading must be prevented ”. Greenpeace, together with other organizations, encourages the monitoring of the CDM in

Video: Sleepy Baby Birds. Life in a Shrike Nest (June 2022).


  1. Hererinc

    Yes, it seemed like that to me too.

  2. Atworth

    I understand this question. We can examine.

  3. Bragis

    Bravo, your idea is very good

  4. Calder

    Thank you for the article

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