A coal fired electric generation plant in China. Photo: iStock/Getty Images
A coal-fired electric generation plant in China. Photo: iStock / Getty Images

This week’s United Nations climate negotiations in Bangkok begin four months of summits on the issue that could make 2018 the year that world governments chart a path toward tackling climate change.

But if polluting countries and corporations are successful, ineffectual interventions – such as carbon markets and geo-engineering – will become central to the global response to climate change. The result: soaring emissions, lives lost, hundreds of millions of people displaced and species extinction.

This is the path we are on. We are here because of decades of mass deception and political manipulation by big polluters that have allowed them to undermine international, national and subnational climate policy to guard their profits. This political interference is directly correlated with the emergence of carbon market schemes as a “solution” to today’s crisis, despite their consistent failure.

Carbon pricing – putting a price on carbon and regulating it through markets including cap and trade and offsets (that is, commodifying the air we breathe) – has been pushed by corporations and countries of the Global North as a failsafe for the planet.

Carbon markets have not proved an effective way to reduce emissions. Instead of the developed countries making emission reductions domestically, Global South companies are given small monetary sums to cut emissions themselves. The resulting “carbon credits” are counted as emission cuts by the North.

Instead of holding developed economies accountable to change their production systems and consumption patterns, carbon markets allow for business as usual, leaving the Global South to offset the rich countries’ emissions and endure the impacts.

Such schemes are criticized for being rooted in the colonialism and environmental racism that are at the core of fossil-fuel extraction. Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, forest peoples, youth, communities of color and women are most impacted by these schemes

Such schemes are criticized for being rooted in the colonialism and environmental racism that are at the core of fossil-fuel extraction. Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, forest peoples, youth, communities of color and women are most impacted by these schemes.

For example: Kenya Forest Service guards have violently evicted the Sengwer indigenous people in Embobut forest because of pressure from voluntary international offset schemes that provide financial incentives for forest preservation.

One such scheme, REDD+, has many shortcomings, including overlooking the real drivers of deforestation and lacking safeguards to protect communities and ecosystems. This has clearly been seen in Indonesia, where the true cause of deforestation (industrial palm-oil production) has gone unaddressed while thousands of communities have lost their homes in corrupt land grabs.

In Colombia, indigenous Wayuu fight for the ancestral rights to land and water because of impacts from the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America, Cerrejon. Cerrejon has used the Clean Development Mechanism – which lets rich countries purchase credits to continue polluting in developing countries – to sell offset credits from a few wind-power generators placed next to the looming mines.

Despite the documented failures of carbon market schemes – in addition to the above, they have failed from the European Union and Canada, to California and Australia – big polluters are seeking to make these schemes the centerpiece of climate policy at upcoming milestones in Bangkok, San Francisco, and the Polish city of Katowice.

At the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), they are promoting an expansion of carbon pricing mechanisms that guarantees more fossil-fuel extraction, despite the need to keep the vast majority of fossil-fuel reserves in the ground to curb temperature rise. At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the guidelines for Paris Agreement implementation are being used to link up international carbon markets. This creates an official space for polluters to continue such actions unregulated.

These upcoming meetings will chart the immediate future of climate action. Real, just solutions must receive the priority they deserve. We call on governments to listen to the people without delay at the UNFCCC, reject false solutions stemming from GCAS, and take urgent steps to protect our lives.

Instead of permitting the very actors that fueled the climate crisis to advance their own agenda, it is time governments embodied true climate championship by embracing the meaningful solutions communities on the front lines of climate change already have. They are feasible, are affordable, and they work.

They include a managed decline of fossil-fuel production; pacts to keep fossil fuels in the ground in the Global North immediately, with a phase-out for the Global South; finance and technology transfer; a total and just transition to community-led renewable energy; and a singular focus on keeping big polluters out of climate policymaking.

This article was co-written with Asad Rehman, the executive director of War on Want, UK; Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environment Network; and Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation. It was previously published on Climate Home News and was first published on Buzzflash.

Meena Raman

Meena Raman is legal adviser and senior researcher at Third World Network.