Carbon trade set to explode
Although it still sounds a bit odd, there’s a strong chance that our children will grow up wanting to be carbon traders as much as stock brokers or fire fighters. In a nutshell, carbon traders will trade carbon over specially created commercial exchanges, some of which exist already, and some of which are under development.
The essentials of a basic carbon off-set scheme – let’s say re-forestation – are clear. Rich companies / countries pay poor countries / projects to keep their forests intact, or to grow the new forests that are so essential to absorbing the carbon emissions we release into the atmosphere. The rich countries / companies do this by purchasing carbon credits, and the money accruing from the purchase goes to the third world country and / or reforestation project, via an intermediary agency.
While the world’s countries squabble endlessly about the provision of targets and incentives to guide the use of such credits, companies such as Plan Vivo – a European carbon offset concern – are already up and running and servicing various clients. Plan Vivo has reforestation projects underway in Mexico, Mozambique and Uganda. According to the Economist “Plan Vivo itself admits that it can’t guarantee that the trees will not be cut down in the distant future—although it insists it is very conservative in its estimates of emissions reductions.”
“Carbon, of course, isn’t like the old commodities we’re used to, such as gold or oil,” writes the Vancouver Sun. “With carbon, it’s all backwards; you make money for not producing it and get paid for trading the resulting “carbon credits” to those that produce too much. In the [British Columbian] government’s latest budget, carbon is valued at $25 dollars a tonne. Once the country introduces its carbon-cap-and-trading system, that means if you can reduce one tonne of carbon, you theoretically create a $25 carbon credit. That can then be sold to a company (or a government) anywhere that is one tonne over its carbon cap, and thus in need of a carbon credit to offset its greenhouse gas emissions and thus avoid more expensive government penalties.”
The World Bank estimated the 2006 global carbon trade to be an astounding $30 billion, even though it still predominately focused on Europe. One can only imagine what sort of levels the trade will reach as the business model expands across the globe.
Business as usual: re-considered
Over the last few decades the global economy has created an amazing network of globalised food production, with food products being flown all over the world as a matter of course. Equally, plastic bags have become a fixed feature of modern life, creating a packaging context we all accept as the status quo. The reality of environmental degradation and soaring oil prices, however, will see these core pillars (along with many others) change shape. In many of the world’s major cities there is already a strong focus on eliminating the use of plastic bags altogether. From November 2007, for example, large grocery stores with more than five locations in the city of San Francisco are forbidden from bagging groceries in petroleum-based plastic. Checkout bags must be made either of recycled and recyclable paper, or of certified ‘compostable’ plastic materials. In May 2008, San Francisco’s plastic bag ban was extended to major pharmacies. Trendwatching.com reports that ‘similar measures are being considered in Boston, Oakland, Portland, Santa Monica, and Steamboat Springs (Colorado).’ Similarly, in Australia, the impending Totem shopping centre at Balgowlah could be the first council-enforced plastic-free zone in the country, with all retailers being banned from providing plastic bags and ‘from handing out food and drink containers made out of plastic or non-biodegradable foam.’
Locally, with food prices going through the roof, we can also expect to see a renewed emphasis on localised food production and permaculture, as an antidote to the costs associated with globalised food production and consumption. The Woolworths Trust, the Department of Water Affairs, SABC Education and LandCare SA, for example, sponsor EduPlant, a food gardening and greening programme that promotes and supports schools in the growing of good food using permaculture techniques. The sponsorship has allowed EduPlant to run free workshops that assist school teachers in creating food-rich, sustainable environments for South African schools. In coming years we can expect a proliferation of such projects, which will steadily move from the remote realm of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) into a point of serious societal focus.
More scandals, of course
In 2008, Enron and WorldCom are corporate scandal benchmarks which define the range of public expectations as to what major global corporations are willing to do to make more money. In coming years, however, we can expect these limits to be pushed much, much further. And we can expect a great deal of this pushing to happen within the context of eco capitalism.
The room for dubious accounting and reporting when it comes to carbon trading and offsets is simply enormous, and is already the subject of intense debate in global political circles. Lobbyists are active all over the globe, working on behalf of major polluters in an attempt to set the ‘business as usual’ emissions benchmark as high as possible, to give their clients room to demonstrate clear reductions. And, ironically enough, it is the major polluters who are being granted credits, or emissions allowances, that equate to significant wealth (given that these credits can be traded on exchanges) by bodies such as the The European Union Emission Trading System (EU ETS), the largest multi-national, emissions trading scheme in the world.
The quick (and often ad hoc) evolution of carbon trading and off-set schemes means that there is plenty of room for confusion and interpretation – exactly the sort of turf that encourages dubious accounting and corporate practices. So, expect the standard of corruption set by WorldCom and Enron to be comfortably outstripped in the world of eco-capitalism in years to come, and expect the public outcry that results to be far louder than before. Because this time, the consequences of such actions will impact profoundly on the very air we breathe and ground we walk on.
Article by Janice Sparks