Some of the world’s biggest carbon polluters, including colossal fossils Royal Dutch Shell and BP, may be on the verge of receiving a “get out of jail free” card by exerting influence on the design of a new global market for voluntary carbon offsets, DeSmog UK reports.
The details were expected to show up this week in an implementation roadmap published this week by the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets, an initiative launched four months ago by UN climate envoy and former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, DeSmog says.
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“Carney’s group wants to hugely scale up the existing market, making it ‘large, transparent, verifiable, and robust’,” to help private corporations align with the targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement as well as national net-zero plans, the news report explains. “But critics have questioned whether the task force’s membership—which includes oil majors, banks, and airlines—is best placed to shape the future of that market, given their problematic histories of delivering carbon offsetting projects.”
With 20 multinational corporations contributing one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, “corporations often claim they are using offsets as a last resort, after decarbonization and carbon capture and storage options have been exhausted,” DeSmog writes. But “the practice of offsetting is itself controversial,” and “Carney has cited these concerns as a motivating factor for the task force”. He’s called current offset markets “opaque, cumbersome, and fragmented”, while a recent UK news investigation branded them a “Wild West” of ineffective schemes.
While environmental NGOs are a part of the process, there’s still concern the task force has been captured by corporate participants, many of which appear on a top 20 list of carbon polluters published by The Guardian in October 2019. DeSmog’s coverage goes into detail on Shell, BP, and UK airline Easyjet, which “was recently revealed as one of the 15 biggest polluters in the UK, but has marketed itself as a climate-conscious airline which was the first to offset fuel used for all its customers’ flights.”
Based on their “problematic past experiences of carbon sequestration and offsetting programs,” climate campaigners are concerned that task force members “are not best placed to make strong recommendations for an effective voluntary carbon market,” DeSmog says.
“The key objective should be to drive more finance towards concrete mitigation projects that deliver emission reductions and benefit local people and the environment,” said Carbon Market Watch Policy Officer Gilles Dufrasne. “The task force places a lot of emphasis on increasing the volume of transactions in the market. I think we shouldn’t assume that more transactions necessarily translate into more emissions reductions.”
He told DeSmog there are “still legitimate concerns about the integrity and transparency of voluntary markets,” adding that a concept of “core carbon contracts” in the task force’s consultation document “seem to be designed by and for the financial industry” and could “make it difficult to track what the underlying climate projects really are”.
Dr. Jeremy Woods, a reader in sustainable development at Imperial College London, responded that initiatives like the voluntary market are “hugely overdue, urgent, and very much needed”. He told DeSmog the process “needs to have core representation of big business, as this is where virtually all the investment capital will come from to drive material change to the global value chains needed, and against the almost impossibly short timelines that are implicit to the climate crisis.”
But Greenpeace UK Chief Scientist Dr. Doug Parr warned that “the lack of transparency in many of these companies’ plans, and the failure of Carney’s task force to impose strict emission reduction requirements on them, suggests they are banking on offsetting as a get out of jail free card in tackling the climate emergency.”