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Carbonoffsetsarealltherageagain.Butcantheybeusedtoraiseglobalclimateambitions?

碳补偿都风靡一时一次。 但他们能用于提高全球气候的野心?

【标签】: {{b}}
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【时间】: 2019-11-25
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Carbonoffsetsarealltherageagain.Asrecentlyastwoyearsago,onemighthavewrittenoffthevoluntarycarbonmarketasyesterday’sanswertoclimatechange.Today,evidencesuggestsa180-degreeturnaround.Growingawarenessoftheeffectsofclimatechange,theflightshamingmovement,andwhatmightbecalledtheGretaThunbergeffectarealldrivingamajoruptickinvoluntaryoffsetting.Absolutenumbersarehardtocomeby,butforageneralindicator,therecentannouncementthatalumniofaniconic(butdefunct)offsetfirmfrom10yearsagoarenowgettingtheirbandbacktogetherisilluminating.Recognizingthistrend,SEIandGHGMI–buildingonpriorcollaborationsgoingbacktothesametimeperiod–havepublishedanewguidetousingcarbonoffsets.
Allofthisrenewedinterestisprobablyagoodsign.Itsuggestspublicattentiontoclimatechangeisgrowing,atatimewhenactiontoaddressitismoreurgentthanever.But,alongwithgreaterdemandforcarboncreditscomealotoffamiliarcriticisms.Doesbuyingcarboncreditsreallymakeadifference?Won’tlettingcompaniesandconsumersbuyoffsetsjustletthemoffthehook,insteadofcompellingthemtoreducetheirownemissions?Or,worse,allowthemtofeelliketheyaresolvingtheproblemwhenwhatisreallyneededisstrongnationalandinternationalpolicyaction?
Asoutlinedinournewguide,thesearevalidconcerns.Notallcarboncreditsareequal,andsimplybuyingcreditsratherthantakingstepstoreduceyouremissions–byflyingless,forexample–isnotadefensibleapproach.Aresponsibleapproachtooffsettingrequiresastrongplanforfirstreducingone’sowngreenhousegasemissions,andthenspendingtimetounderstandandseekouthigh-qualitycredits.Furthermore,whileaninterestinacceleratingactiononclimatechangeisgreat,consumersshouldneverlosesightoftheneedforambitiousgovernmentalpolicyresponses.
However,thesearefamiliarpoints.Lesswell-recognized,butjustasimportant,isthatthewholegloballandscapeforvoluntarycarbonoffsettingisabouttogetmuchmorecomplicated.
ParisAgreementrulesforoffsetsonthehorizon
InDecember,internationalclimatenegotiatorswillbemeetinginMadridfortheUNclimatechangeconference(COP25)withthegoalofhammeringoutrulesforinternationalcooperationunderArticle6ofthe2015ParisAgreement.InthelanguageofArticle6,“internationalcooperation”referstothepossibilityforcountriestocollaboratethroughinternationalcarbonmarkets.Ineffect,thismeanscountriesmayoffsettheirnationalgreenhousegasemissionsbyacquiringemissionreductions(alsoknownas“mitigation”)achievedinothercountries.

Suchoffsettingisnotnew.UndertheKyotoProtocol,forexample,offsettingwasanexplicitandprominentstrategy:industrializedcountriescouldfundoffsetprojectsindevelopingcountries,providingthemwithneededinvestmentandpromotingsustainabledevelopment.Inexchange,industrializedcountriescouldmorecheaplymeettheirobligations,byclaimingthereductionsachievedbytheseprojects.ThedifferenceunderParisisthat,now,everycountry–developedanddevelopingalike–hasofferedanexplicitpledgetoreduceemissions.Thefactthateverycountryhasagreedtoreduceemissionsmeanstherewillbefeweropportunitiesforadditionalreductions–i.e.,reductionsthatgobeyondwhatcountrieshavepledged(andwouldotherwisenothappenintheabsenceofacarbonoffsetmarket).
Negotiatorshaveyettoresolvearangeofissuesrelatedtohowandunderwhatcircumstancesinternational“transfers”ofreductionswilltakeplaceundertheParisAgreement.Atoppriority,however,isensuringthatemissionreductionsarenotdoublecounted.Specifically,ifacountryallowsanemissionreductiontobeclaimedbyanotherparty(eitheranothercountryorsomeotherentity),itshouldnolongerbeabletocountthereductiontowardsitsownGHGtarget.TheParisAgreementhaslanguageexpresslyprohibitingsuchdoublecountingamongcountries.
Currently,itisenvisionedthatdoublecountingwillbeavoidedthrough“robust”accountingmethods(thelanguageusedinArticle6).Specifically,ifacountrytransfersanemissionreduction,itwilladjustitsgreenhousegasbalancesheetssothatthereductionisnotcountedtowarditsnationalpledge,whileacountryreceivingthetransfercanapplythereductiontoitsownbalancesheet.Similaraccountingwilllikelybedoneforemissionreductionsfundedbytheinternationalaviationindustry,whichhaspledgedtooffsetanyincreaseinitsGHGemissionsafter2020.And,inprinciple,thesamemethodscouldbeappliedtobackstopclaimsforcarbonoffsetcreditspurchasedbyprivatevoluntarybuyers.
Twooptionstoavoiddoublecounting
Avoidingdoublecountingiswherethecomplicationcomesin.Currently,offsetprojectdevelopersmaketheirinvestmentsexpectingtoclaimemissionreductionsandsellcarboncredits.But,ifthosereductionsoccurwithinthescopeofacountry’sParispledge,theywillbedoublecounted–unlessthecountryformallyagreesnottocountthemandthenadjustsitsUNreportingaccordingly.Thisconstraintcreatesatruedilemma.Ifthecountryrefusesatransfer,thenforanoffsetprojectdeveloper–whomayhavebeeninvestinginmitigationprojectsformanyyearsalready–itcouldlooklikeanunfairappropriationoftheiremissionreductions.Fromthecountry’sperspective,however,itcouldseemlikeprojectdevelopersaretryingtomakeoffwiththecountry’slow-costemissionreductions,makingitmoreexpensiveforthecountrytomeetitsParispledge.
Canthisdilemmabereconciled?Withappropriateguardrails,thevoluntaryoffsetmarkethasthepotentialtodrivesignificantmitigationinthenearterm;itwouldbeashamenottoharnesstheenergyandgoodwillofcarboncreditbuyerstoachievethispromise.Doingso,however,willrequiresomeexplicitaccommodationofthevoluntarymarketinthenewregimebeingconstructedbyUNnegotiators.Therearetwooptions,eitherorbothofwhichcouldbeformallyencouraged:

Recognitionforvoluntaryoffsetclaims.Oneoptioncouldbeforcountriestoformallyacknowledgethevoluntaryoffsetmarket,andindicatetheirwillingnesstotransferemissionreductionclaimstovoluntarycreditbuyers,followingthebasicaccountingrulesagreedunderArticle6(whatevertheseturnouttobe).Thisoptioncouldlookverymuchlikearrangementstoaccommodatetheinternationalaviationindustry’scarbonoffsettingscheme(CORSIA).Voluntarybuyersshouldbeawarethatthisapproachislikelytoraisethepriceofcarboncredits.Countrieswouldbewithintheirrights,forexample,tochargeafeeforsuchtransfers,withtheideaofraisingfundstoinvestinmoreexpensivemitigationmeasures.Fromaglobalperspective,however,thisoutcomecouldbedesirable.Ahigherpriceforcarboncreditswouldbeasignalthattheworldisstartingtotakeclimatechangemoreseriously.


Recognitionofvoluntarycontributionstocountries’mitigationefforts.Thisoptionwouldrequiresomethingofaparadigmshift,inthatitwouldredefinewhatitmeanstobuyacarboncredit.Ratherthanbuyinganoffset,forexample,acreditbuyercouldinsteadclaimtobesupportingacountry’seffortstomeetitsParismitigationtarget.Underthisoption,noformaltransferwouldberequired,becausethecountrywouldstillcountthereductionstowardsitsnationaltarget.Thecatchisthatvoluntarybuyerswouldnotbeablecountthereductionsagainsttheirowntargets.Carboncreditswouldinsteadrepresentakindofcharitablecontributiontothecountry’smitigationgoal.Atleasttwovoluntaryoffsetprogramshaveexplicitlyentertainedthispatrioticconceptandofferedproposalsforhowitcouldwork.Sofar,however,themarkethasnotbeenenthusiastic.Theresulthasbeenaninclinationtomuddlethroughtheseissuesuntilthereisgreaterclarity.WhatcouldchangethegameisiftherewereaformalrecognitionattheUNlevelofthevalueofvoluntaryclimateactionbyprivatesectoractorsandthebenefitsachievedthrough“charitablecontribution”carboncredits.Suchrecognitioncouldsteerthevoluntarymarkettowardsraisingtheambitionofcountries’climatepledges.Thebiggestroadblockisarguablythemindsetofcreditbuyers,whoremainenticedbycarbonneutralityclaims.Perhapsthesebuyerswilleventuallycomearound,butaformalendorsementofthisparadigmundertheParisAgreementcouldacceleratethetransition.

TherulesforArticle6haveyettobeagreed.Itisnottoosoon,however,forpartiestoactivelyconsiderhowtoleveragethesurgingvoluntarydemandforclimateactiontohelpdrivegreaterambition.