COP26: The many shades of activism

COP26 protesters in Glasgow.
Image: Francis Mckee, Flickr

Emissions offsetting has drawn fresh fire from some activists for its patchy human rights and environmental record. At Carbon Market Watch, we are convinced that emissions trading, like it or not, is here to stay and so we must find a way to make it best serve communities and the climate.

On day four of COP26, two initiatives to regulate the voluntary carbon market – its supply side and its demand side – were discussed at an event on ‘High integrity in the voluntary carbon market’. Greenpeace and Action Aid called one of the initiatives a scam and questioned its backing by banks and oil companies. 

Activists have an ethical duty to oppose each and every corporate attempt to deflect responsibility, unfairly profit from the current situation or violate human rights. Holding market interests engaged in governance initiatives to the fire is a valid role. 

As a watchdog, Carbon Market Watch makes every effort to expose malpractice, spotlight greenwashing and champion human rights. Here are some cases in point. Just prior to COP26, we released the results of a months-long investigation into the latest worrying trend: so-called carbon-neutral fossil fuels, which we concluded amounted to brazen greenwashing. We have also released research on how hot air forest credits are being used to avoid carbon taxes in Colombia. And much more.

We are also determined to continue shedding light on what is out of sight. For that reason, we recently started encouraging whistleblowers to come forward securely and confidentially to share information with us that is in the public interest.

Room with our views

Disruptive protest is powerful but we are also convinced that being part of serious conversations with governments and industry is vital. This is primarily because, whether we like it or not, markets for emission reductions exist and no amount of protest will change that for the foreseeable future.

If there is a reasonable chance to clean carbon markets up, we need to take it and provide a counterweight to sometimes cynical market interests. This is why we carefully decided to work inside the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM) during its first year. We have also joined the Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity (VCMI) initiative and are set to continue contributing our critical, demanding voice.

And sorting out the voluntary carbon market includes fixing international compliance markets, such as Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, because the accounting framework of the latter will shape the voluntary market. This is why we are once again at the COP to #FixArticle6.

We want new targets to be met with new reductions. We want human rights and the rights of indigenous people to be promoted, protected and respected. We want accounting rules that ensure that one tonne of CO2e is never counted more than once. All these principles should not be confined to the UN system. They must also be an essential component of voluntary markets. We’re fighting for them at the COP, and we’re fighting for them in VCMI and TSVCM, because they are pivotal principles which must apply independently of artificial market segments.

At Carbon Market Watch, we watch carbon markets. Not just from afar, but from close up and at the points where the rules that will determine them are made, wherever we consider that we have a chance to influence outcomes for the better.