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Green Groups at COP 25 Warn Against Market-Driven Solutions to Climate Emergency

"Now is not the time to offer an escape route to polluting Northern country governments and big oil."

Young climate activists protest carbon markets at the UNFCCC negotiations in Bonn in 2012. (Photo: Young FoEE/flickr/cc)

As the United Nations climate summit COP 25 kicked off in Madrid, Spain on Monday, environmental advocacy groups warned that market-driven approaches to tackling the global emergency are an obstacle to real solutions to rein in emissions and making those most responsible for the crisis pay.

At issue are international carbon markets, which, as a DW headline put it, will "take center stage."

"Big polluters must be rubbing their hands in glee that carbon market mechanisms, which further dilute the already weak and inadequate Paris emissions targets, are back on the agenda," said Dipti Bhatnagar, Climate Justice and Energy Program coordinator for Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), in a statement.

As Nature explained Monday,

At last year's conference, nations agreed on a set of rules for tracking and reporting greenhouse-gas emissions and for reviewing collective progress. However, they failed to establish clear rules around carbon markets through which emissions made in one country can be offset by investing in low-carbon technologies elsewhere. Although it is unclear whether negotiators will be able to reach agreement this time around, Article 6 of the Paris agreement—which aims to promote voluntary international cooperation between nations—is a central point on the agenda, and offsetting will almost certainly be discussed.

Climate groups have treated with suspicion carbon markets, whether they take the form of "cap and trade"—where one polluter can trade its surplus units of allowable carbon emissions to another polluter—or carbon offsetting—in which some activity is done to "offset" the carbon created a polluter.

In briefing paper last month, Friends of the Earth and other climate groups said that not only do carbon markets not work to adequately limit emissions, the market approaches can unleash harmful consequences for local and indigenous communities.

"Carbon markets operate on the false and unscientific assumption that offsetting emissions and selling permits to pollute will reduce global warming," the groups said.

The briefing paper details a number of problems with the scheme, including that carbon prices are too low, the markets do nothing to remedy local impacts of fossil fuel projects, "offsetting" projects can lead to evictions of forest dwellers, and trading can allow fossil fuel companies—whose voices are uplifted over those of communities—a decade or more of time to continue planet-warming projects.

Global Justice Ecology Project and Biofuelwatch also addressed carbon markets in a statement on Monday, saying the approach was being pushed by Chile at this year's climate conference. 

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The groups condemned the scheme as "commodification of the Earth" that enables "climate-destroying business as usual under the pretense of climate action."

"The climate crisis is already devastating lives," said FOEI's Bhatnagar in her statement. "Emissions are still rising. Now is not the time to offer an escape route to polluting Northern country governments and big oil."

"Carbon markets fail to deliver emissions reductions or adequate climate action and impact horrifically on Indigenous Peoples and local communities," Bhatnagar continued. "They only serve to strengthen corporate power and impunity, deflect responsibility from rich historical polluters, and prevent urgent and equitable action on climate change."

Speaking to reporters in Madrid Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres laid out what's at stake at the climate conference in stark terms. 

"We are confronted now with a global climate crisis," Guterres said. "The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us."

That threat drew young people to the streets on Friday for another global climate strike ahead of COP 25.

Youth climate leaders Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Luisa Neubauer of Germany, and Angela Valenzuela of Chile wrote Friday in an op-ed for Project Syndicate that "Striking is not a choice we relish; we do it because we see no other options."

"We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold," they continued. "Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world's governments—the same governments that allow fossil-fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit."

The youths' message to those at the COP 25 "is simple: the eyes of all future generations are upon you. Act accordingly."

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