Having followed climate politics and in particular the clean development mechanism (CDM) for the first half of this year in the northern hemisphere, I will spend the rest of this “climate” year in a CDM host country to closely look at some CDM projects on the ground. Five years on to the registration of the very first CDM project in 2004, the aim is to check whether the two principles of the CDM – emission reduction and sustainable development – are still valid, or whether the profitable carbon market has made it impossible for host governments to resist lucrative offers of foreign investors and credit buyers of often not so clean and sustainable projects.
For now, my mission will lead me through India which hosts most CDM projects after China. It has a strong and vocal civil society movement and plays a key role in international climate talks. While investigating different project types, I will talk to local communities which are directly affected by the potential positive/negative impacts of several key CDM projects, including municipal solid waste, large hydro, afforestation and HFC projects. The final result of this research will point out the flaws and inefficiencies of the CDM which have to be addressed in the urgent reform of the CDM by the end of this year in Copenhagen, where a post-2012 mechanism will be discussed. Policy makers and delegates must listen to the voices of local communities directly affected by CDM projects.
The CDM has faced serious criticism since the Kyoto Protocol, its legal basis, entered into force in 2005. The scope of this criticism is large, focusing inter alia on the design of methodologies which allow inappropriate technologies to qualify for the mechanism, the principal institutional bodies which constantly face accusations related to conflicts of interests and the project developers and validating institutions where fraud and manipulation is said to be happening on a daily basis.
But most worrying is the consequence of this weak structure. On the basis of modified documents and manipulated data, a huge amount of non additional CDM projects is said to be registered every year. This means that rich nations offset their domestic climate duties with credits that are not reducing any emissions. This consequently allows industry from Europe, Japan and Canada to keep emitting and pay off their national reduction obligations with cheap credits.
The principle philosophy of CDM intends to make up for the benefit for Annex I countries of cheaper emission reductions by contributing to sustainable development in the host country. This could be done for instance by creating job opportunities, deploying new technologies, improving energy access and improving local environmental standards. But the profitable business of CDM projects makes it almost impossible for host countries to decline lucrative offers of foreign investors of often not so clean and sustainable technologies.