08 December 2008

U.S. Criticizes, U.N. Defends Global Carbon Trading System

By Libby Rosenthal, New York Times, December 5, 2008, 7:36 pm

Yvo de Boer

The U.N. climate chief, Yvo de Boer, called the skeptical American report “constructive criticism.” (Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty)

After a an American government report this week called into question the efficacy of the United Nation’s global trading scheme to reduce greenhouse emissions, the U.N.’s top climate official defended the program and said he expected the United States to commit to emissions targets under a new Presidential administration.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, called the report “constructive criticism,” rather than an excuse not to participate.

“This is trying to foster a debate about how we can make what we’re doing more effective,” he said.

The report questioned whether the United Nations program, called the Clean Development Mechanism, led to environmental improvements in the developing world that were significant and verifiable.

Under the auspices of the United Nations, climate officials from around the globe are meeting in Poznan, Poland this week and next to discuss a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, the world emissions treaty that expires in 2012. They must reach an agreement by next December.

The Unites States, the world’s leading industrialized emitter, has yet to indicate its intentions with regard to any new climate treaty. The country never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, in which dozens of other industrialized nations pledged to reduce their emissions.

During the recent presidential campaign, President-Elect Obama has said United States should be party to a future climate treaty and should cap its emissions. But the United States is currently being represented in Poznan by the Bush Administration.

Under the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism, countries that have set targets to reduce emissions can accomplish this in two different ways: They can reduce emissions in their home country, or pay for new projects to reduce emissions in the developing world, gaining so-called carbon credit. Such projects might include paying to clean up a cement factory in Central Asia, for example, or supporting a hydropower project in Africa.

The report, dated last month but released on Tuesday by the General Accounting Office, said that the system did not always have the desired effect because it was hard to monitor and assess the distant projects. Some people were gaming the system, the report concluded, earning offsets for projects that would have occurred anyway, or which not actually have beneficial environmental effect.

“Carbon offsets involve fundamental tradeoffs and may not be a reliable long-term approach to climate change mitigation,” the report said, adding: “Is not possible to ensure that every credit represents a real, measurable and long-term reduction in emissions.”

Mr. De Boer said a number of safeguards are in place to insure that emissions reductions were real, but noted “We’re in a learning experience.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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