Carbon offsetting has become a way for some of the world’s most polluting companies to establish new profit centres. In return for a certificate claiming that they are cleaning up some part of their operation, a polluting company can sell credits to a carbon offset scheme.Readers may recall that in the Wizard of Oz , the scarecrow wanted a brain and was given, instead, a certificate. Well the principle here is much the same. For example:
- the Chhatisgarh iron works in India is selling credits for claimed improvements in its coal-fired operation which continues to spoil farmland, displace villagers and contaminate water supplies
- in Ecuador peasants are losing money on a contract they signed to maintain trees planted to offset a Dutch coal-fired power station
- in Maharashtra, India, wind farms are displacing farmers. One of News Corporation’s first ‘green’ actions was to buy carbon offsets from Indian wind farm companies
- around Mount Elgon in Uganda, villagers are forcibly kept out of a "national park" established by a Dutch foundation and the Uganda Wildlife Authority to plant "offset" trees.
The main result of Kyoto, with all its pious claims, is that the principle of polluter pays is being replaced by the polluter gets paid. Global corporations carry on emitting CO2, but charge premium prices for products they claim are environmentally friendly. And most of their claims to be green are based on buying cheap carbon credits from companies many of whose operations are destroying land and communities. Whilst contraction and convergence principles could play a useful role within a new global environmental agreement based on democratic control of politics and the economy, carbon offsetting has no useful role. It is a substitute for action to reduce emissions and a smokescreen behind which the global corporations are continuing business as usual.
Penny Cole, environment editor