Carbon offsetting projects challenged over their sustainability impacts

Ibenefit trackern Lima, Carbon Market Watch together with local Indian organisations launched the ‘CDM Benefit Tracker India’, an interactive map that compares the sustainable development objectives outlined in CDM project application documents with eye witness accounts from local communities. Project owners have now been invited to comment on the results that find severe discrepancies between claims and local realities.

The UN’s carbon offsetting mechanism, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was designed to bring sustainable development to developing countries while enabling industrialized countries to reduce emissions in the most cost-effective way. In 2014, the CDM Board published a Sustainable Development Tool for project developers to highlight co-benefits of their projects.

While the CDM sustainable development tool is a positive step it does not do the job. The tool is voluntary, does not require monitoring or verification and does not offer opportunities for public input. This makes it useless to understand the sustainable development impacts of carbon offsetting projects. From the 8000 plus CDM projects implemented, only 16 projects have made use of the SD tool to date.

In order to address these limitations, Carbon Market Watch together with local groups in India developed the ‘CDM Benefit Tracker’, a publicly accessible interactive map that compares the local realities witnessed by local communities living in the vicinity of the CDM project’s sustainable development catchment, outlined in the project application documents.

For example, the Sasan coal power plant in Singrauli, India which was registered in 2010 promises that the increased electricity generated by the project will support economic growth of the region and address the electricity deficit situation. It also claims that through its implementation, major pollutants would be reduced with positive effects for the local environment.

However, two fact finding missions by several organisations to the project in 2014 show that these claims are in stark contrast to what was promised. The groups found that “Electricity is not made available for local residents who still depend on generators. Sasan does not offer positive effects but contaminates the Singrauli area with fly ash that pollutes the water and poisons the harvest, and even worse, residents who protested the forced relocations were abducted and never found.”

Prior to registration, each project must consult with local stakeholders. The Sasan project information states that an open consultation meeting took place with overwhelming positive response for the project, including a “request for the implementation of another such project by Reliance Power, deploying supercritical technology as it would benefit them, being environmentally friendly, and would create several livelihood opportunities”.

At its initial stage, the tracker includes information from 27 CDM projects located in 10 different states in India. The respective project developers have now been asked to review the findings and provide comments as to how the sustainability objectives have been achieved.

Clarity and transparency about achieving initially planned sustainability objectives is not only important for the implementation of the individual CDM projects. Experience with implementing CDM projects can also provide valuable lessons for designing other climate mitigation instruments that have similar objectives, e.g. reducing emissions and contributing to sustainable development.

An improved version of the CDM SD tool could become a useful and important quality check instrument not only for already implemented projects, but could also be used as a blue print for criteria to select projects that may receive results based finance in the future.

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Carbon offsetting projects challenged over their sustainability impacts

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