Monday, 18 January 2010

The great carbon credit con -- by Nadene Ghouri

Excerpts from Nadene Ghouri's investigation for UK Daily Mail Live Magazine 1 Jun 09. Photos: Ash Sweeting. Gujarat Fluorochemicals (GFL) website boasts that it exports to 75 countries, and has a branch plant in China. With World Bank approval, foreign investors have poured $12 billion into Gujarat's 175-mile chemical corridor between Mehsana and Vapi, one of the world's 10 worst-polluted places. Political pull has spared prosecution of polluters. Gujarat's chief minister says carbon credits are "a good business opportunity".
In the fields around this giant chemicals factory in Gujarat, the barren soil smells of paint stripper and the water from the well makes you gag. Radha, a tough, sinewy widow and the only female farmer here, says that the well, which draws from deep groundwater, used to adequately supply the village and surrounding farms. ‘We have plenty of water – but water is the problem,’ she says. As the bucket returns to the top, we can make out a white, almost oily-looking film on the surface of the liquid, which has formed little snowflake shapes.

She scoops up some water and asks us to smell it. It has an odour so acrid it catches in the back of our throats, making us cough. ‘We can’t irrigate our crops with it,’ she says. ‘It’s the water of death. It kills most crops we put it on. A few years ago, I grew spinach, potatoes, lots of different crops. Now… look at my plants. Weak, useless.’

We’re in a field of cotton that should be ready to harvest. But there’s nothing to reap – just a few little tufts that blow mockingly in the breeze. Radha picks up a handful of soil. The surface has a faintly visible white crust, as if talcum powder has been sprinkled over it. Hold it close and it has the same caustic smell as the water, a bit like paint stripper.

Overlooking the fields like a hulking metal skeleton is the factory the villagers claim has polluted their water and land. The plant, owned by Gujarat Fluorochemicals (GFL), produces refrigerant gases for air-conditioning units and fridges. A by-product is a greenhouse gas [one of the worst] called HFC23.... one ton of it is equivalent to 11,700 tons of carbon. Under the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), GFL installed new technology to capture and recycle HFC23.

The technology was provided in 2005 by the UK’s largest chemical and oil corporation, Ineos, formerly part of ICI [Imperial Chemical Industries]. Both GFL and Ineos benefited handsomely. By installing the technology, GFL made €27 million in the last quarter of 2006 – triple its total earnings for the same period the year before due to carbon credits. Ineos was also given a substantial number of credits for helping a company in the developing world cut its emissions, [to "offset" Ineos emissions exceeding] UK government limits....
polluted well in Ranjitnagar
GFL is part of a worldwide carbon-trading scheme, centred in London, which is supposed to be helping to save the planet from global warming. On paper the scheme, which was ratified under the Kyoto agreement and supervised by the UN, looks like an efficient way to cut global carbon emissions. However, a Live investigation has exposed a series of major failings and loopholes in the scheme.
The great carbon credits merry-go-round
-- Daily Mail (click on image to see details)
As you dig below the surface it would appear that the UN programme – with backing and finance from Britain – is as polluted as the questionable companies it chooses so generously to reward. In the middle of the City of London is a large anonymous-looking building, home to the European Climate Exchange (ECX). About 98 per cent of the carbon-emissions trading in Europe is done in this office, with more than 25 million tons of carbon traded daily. Last year this market was worth £80 billion worldwide, and it’s set to grow to £97 billion this year, despite the recession. Here traders sell our planet’s future in the form of carbon credits... each credit represents a ton of CO2. Chief executive Patrick Birley meets us in the glass-panelled reception. He points out where climate protestors camped on the doorstep during the G20 protests in March. ‘I care just as passionately about saving the planet as they do,’ he says. ‘But the difference is that I believe environmentalism and capitalism can converge.’

Companies that cut their emissions gain credits. If, on the other hand, they exceed their [pollution cap] quotas, they have to acquire credits... trading involves Europe’s biggest banks, including RBS and Barclays. Until the global slowdown, carbon was one of the most profitable ‘commodities’, nearly doubling in value between 2007 and 2008.

But concerns are now being raised about this market approach to controlling emissions, with heavily polluting companies seemingly being financially rewarded. The hulk looming above Radha’s fields was the first factory in the world to profit from the UN scheme, and is something of a flagship project. Yet for the villagers, the scheme is rewarding the very factory that’s brought them misery.

Narendra Modi
We arrive in Gandhinagar, the state capital, to meet Gujarat’s controversial right-wing chief minister, Narendra Modi. ‘You can have big industry and be green' ... but he admits carbon credits can be a ‘good business opportunity’. ‘It’s a typical Western capitalist system, cash- and profit-based. In the East we think differently; caring for nature and the environment is something that comes naturally to us. But of course we’ll take the carbon-credits money if it is offered to us. Why wouldn’t we?’
8 year old Nita, born without an elbow joint
In a village near GFL, scores are sick with joint aches, bone pains, unexplained swellings, throat and nerve problems and temporary paralysis. The farmers can’t put any names to their illnesses and, as low-caste dalits (or untouchables), most of them are too poor to access proper medical services.

Dr Alison Doig, senior climate-change advisor at Christian Aid, says, ‘
Live’s investigation highlights exactly what’s wrong with this flawed system, which is focused only on exchanging carbon credits globally, with no accounting for other environmental or social damage. All carbon credits are doing is making some companies rich, while doing nothing to prevent global pollution. It needs either abolition or total reform.’

‘The carbon-credits business operates rather like the financial-services industry did,’ says Kevin Smith of campaigning watchdog Carbon Trade Watch. ‘Insufficient scrutiny and transparency, dodgy projects getting money when they shouldn’t be. And we all know the consequences of what happened in financial services. But this is potentially much more serious, because unlike the Government, nature doesn’t do bailouts.’
This report is quoted in a new study by United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) Climate Justice for a Changing Planet: A Primer for Policy Makers and NGOs (Dec 2009), fourth in a Climate Justice series: Nick Dearden and Tim Jones, Developing Nations Unite Around Justice In Barcelona Talks; Richard Sherman, Climate and Development Goals: Is there need for a post-Copenhagen Framework?; Natalia Cardona, Placing the Right to Development and Justice at the Heart of the Response to Climate Change.
See also World's Most Polluted Places 2009; Enron's toxic coverup in India by corrupt officials -- Enron was the biggest US corporate lobbyist for carbon-trading; the infamous Summers Memo of 1991 by the World Bank's chief economist, who now heads the US Board of Economic Advisers; criticism of CDM credits for HFC23 by Carbon-Finance Online 15 Feb 07.

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