It’s time to dump the ETS

The current public debate over the relative merits of Labour’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) and National’s scheme is not getting us anywhere. We’re arguing about the difference between quite useless and rather useless.

Because the fact is, as a means to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the ETS approach is wholly ineffective. And not only is it ineffective, it is unjust as well.

The climate crisis we face is of such a scale that we can’t afford to wait years for empirical data to show us that ETSs are fatally flawed. We have to break out of the ETS mindset right now. So, what I’ve done here is describe some of the problems with ETSs in the hope that it clears the space for another debate to begin – what approach will actually make real and just progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a lot of analysis of the weaknesses of ETSs around the web and some of the best comes from Larry Lohmann (here).

Some of his observations are as follows:

1. Emissions markets do not encourage the development of low or zero emission technology. The market focus on economic efficiency dictates that the purchase of permits will be preferred to expenditure on research and development, structural shifts in public investment, redirection of subsidies away from fossil fuels, and other measures.

2. The science, technology and enforcement required for an extensive emissions trading scheme is not available, even in industrialized countries. That opens the way for Enron-level scams.

Underlining the potential for scams, Rachel Morris in June 2009’s Mother Jones magazine (here) describes the consequences of the US getting into carbon trading: within 5 years a $2 trillion derivatives market in which carbon credits will be “securitized, derivatized, and speculated by Wall Street like the mortgage-backed securities market.”

These incentives for profiteering will exacerbate the worst aspects of ETSs that are already visible in so-called offset projects.

In such projects, developing nations are becoming a ‘carbon dump’ for the industrialised world, as communal land is enclosed and converted to exotic forestry or occupied by windmills, and as rivers that have been used sustainably by local communities for generations are dammed for hydro schemes. See, for example, Tamra Gilbertson’s devastating photo essay here.

In May 2008, in response to the worsening injustices, 39 climate justice groups published a statement indicting carbon trading and offset schemes as the “false solutions” of “a new 21st century phase of colonialism” (here).

The conclusion is plain enough: we must stand in solidarity with the climate justice movement and oppose false solutions. It’s time to reject the ETS approach and lead the debate toward the real and just answers to climate change.


7 thoughts on “It’s time to dump the ETS

  1. Emissions Trading is a sdangerous distraction from what where we need to be going with Climate Change. Rather than leaving it to the market – we need to leave carbon in the ground!

    Emissions trading, or carbon trading is the main way in which wealthy industrialized countries and companies are avoiding their emissions reduction targets – by trading carbon credits amongst themselves, either between countries (as happens under the Kyoto Protocol) or between companies (as happens under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme). Essentially, it’s the way that industry can continue as usual, while encouraging the poor and disadvantaged to sell their rights to pollute.

    Come to Climate Camp in December and let the polluters and profiteers of Climate Change and their false solutions to it know how you feel about their selling our childrens future on the Carbon Market.

    Our Climate is not their Business!!!

  2. parker62, I opposed Labour’s ETS, at least partially on the grounds you mention in your post.

    The problem we have now is that it will be watered down to an extent that it will not reduce greenhouse emissions at all, and may even permit them to increase.

    The Greens obviously will not vote for National’s gutting of what was already a fatally flawed scheme. But what do we do?

    Should we be up front an promote a carbon tax? Like a serious one – not the whimpy thing ACT proposes that would be ineffectual, because they don’t actually “believe” (despite the science) in AGW anyway.

    Or do we just campaign to be the major party in the next government, and have the numbers to do it? Problem is that historical election results and current polling doesn’t indicate that is a practicable achievment.

    I suspect the Greens won’t be polling at levels to do that for many years, despite the environmental degradation that occurs over that time.

    parker62 – I’m with you all the way on the economics and the science.

    New Zealand has been a world leader before (as in women’s suffrage and in social security). How do we do it now with climate change?

    The problem is the politics – not the science.

    This is a global issue, and I can’t see how we can achieve what parker62 and I agree needs to happen to avert a global climate disaster without a global consensus.

    Shit happens, but I am feeling rather depressed about this topic, and the lack of optimistic comment on this thread.

  3. we need green jobs and climate justice – not pollution markets. the greens need to convince labour or national not to keep mining hordes of coal –

    otherwise if the greens cant get policy through, they need to either grow or go for direct action. if parliament can’t make climate policy.. another way will have to bring it about.

  4. an alternative to Emissions Trading / offsetting isnt neccesary when emission trading isnt a solution itslef, its an obstacle.

    we would be much better off with no ETS at all – regadless of whatever else we have to do.

    It shouldnt b entertained any longer,
    it should be opposed, removed and forgotten about immediately swe can get back to the real issues.

    And by the way – the Greens are actively supporting behind closed doors REDD too [yuck!]

    & if you want alternatives / ways forward – theres loads here

  5. I’m all for planting trees and applying thrift to use of fuels, but why o why can the Greens not let AGW theory go – there is still an environment out there in need of protection, even if it turns out that CO2 is not the ultimate driver of climate change..and the science would suggest this, don’t you think..has anyone seen today’s story on people having to be rescued from the Napier-Taupo road because of snow????

  6. There might be global warming or cooling but the important issue is whether we, as a human race, can do anything about it.

    There are a host of porkies and not very much truth barraging us everyday so its difficult to know what to believe.

    I think I have simplified the issue in an entertaining way on my blog which includes some issues connected with climategate and “embarrassing” evidence.

    In the pipeline is an analysis of the economic effects of the proposed emission reductions. Watch this space or should I say Blog

    Please feel welcome to visit and leave a comment.



    PS The term “porky” is listed in the Australian Dictionary of Slang.( So I’m told.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s