The United States and Norway this week announced (1) they would offset the greenhouse gas emissions from their aviation industry by buying voluntary emission reduction credits from reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical forests. The plan would violate the Rio Declaration in two ways.
The Declaration says that States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
By continuing to emit greenhouse gases from their aviation industry, Norway and the US are damaging the environment of other countries that are suffering temperature rise due to climate change. This is the first violation. And by planning to buy voluntary emission reduction credits from developing countries they are depriving those countries of the sovereign right to exploit their own resources, and are violating the Declaration a second time.
The joint statement by the Governments of Norway and the United States claims the plan is being made under the Paris Agreement. In fact neither Norway nor the US have signed yet. Only 17 out of 197 countries have signed that Agreement so far, and the emissions of those who have ratified cover just 0.4% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, this does not stop the US and Norway claiming “Together, our efforts aim to help securing the multiple benefits forests provide for local communities, and for humanity as a whole.”
This humanity-as-a-whole talk is of course precisely what the Rio Declaration and the three Rio treaties were designed to outlaw. In international law there is no humanity as a whole, just like there is no global benefit. But western countries have not taken a blind scrap of notice.
Norway and the United States call their plan a form of support to developing countries to adopt a Global Market Based Measure that will in turn enable carbon neutral growth in international aviation from 2020.
Do these countries really believe that such a measure for aviation could catalyze incentives for reduced deforestation through demand for large-scale forest emissions reductions? Currently one tonne of carbon dioxide is trading at around 50 cents. They themselves have their doubts. They admit that their proposed International Civil Aviation Organisation’s emissions unit program will have to reflect relevant developments in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Haha. Could those developments possibly involve a refusal of the Group of 77 and China countries to participate in this farce?
Nonetheless, Norway and the US consider it worth a try.
Everyone and their uncle know by now that “offsetting” is a hilarious non-thing. It is a no-thing. Someone pollutes, and then claims they are paying for someone else to soak up the pollution. But if that person who is polluting were to stop polluting there would be twice as much benefit. There would be the avoided pollution in the western country on the western country’s tab and the sequestration in the developing country for the developing country’s benefit done by that country at their own cost and for their own advantage. So emission offsetting in the absence of legally binding emission reductions for both parties is no offset at all, rather there is a halving of the potential climate mitigation. If the Clean Development Mechanism experience is anything to go by, the developed countries will not be setting tough legally binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement. Therefore there is an abundance of emissions they will permitting themselves to make, and there will not be an incentive to pay high prices for verified emissions reductions. Thus even on their own terms their plan to reduce emissions and enhance sinks by stealing other people’s resources will be ineffective because the prices will be too low to attract even the most corrupt dictator.
They further state that “forests may contribute up to one-third of the pre-2030 mitigation.” Yes, but for whom? There is no such thing as “global climate neutrality in the second half of this century”. The whole purpose of the Rio Summit was to ensure that States use their own resources for their own benefit and also avoid damage to other States.
Finally Norway and the US claim the offset arrangement will allow the western public to keep flying in order to contribute to a world where “economic growth and food security benefit from, and support, efforts to conserve and restore natural forests and reduce land-based emissions.” What a ridiculous elision of economic growth and food security into a single unity! The sentence is completely meaningless. Like much of environmental talk by western governments the phrase is a string of words held together by commas and a full stop.
Equally no one should hold their breath for these countries to enhance sinks on their own lands. The whole emphasis is on ”helping partners attract additional support for their efforts, including from the private sector.” It’s always used to be the developing countries that had to clean up the shit of western civilization. But not anymore. And now those western countries are imploding precisely because no one is giving them our resources anymore, and they sure cannot manage without them.
Anandi Sharan is an environmental historian and blogger based in Bangalore. She specialises in the global environmental treaties, especially the conventions on climate change and biodiversity. She currently serves as a Board member of the CBD Alliance, a global civil society platform. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org