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Empty promises

The Clean Development Mechanism has failed to deliver

Tessa Toumbourou

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   Biomass is aerated on-site to ensure aerobic composting
   Image courtesy of myclimate

The United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is a way for companies, banks and governments in industrialised countries to invest in projects located in developing nations such as Indonesia, that promise to reduce net carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Yet the United Nations is approving Indonesia-based carbon offset projects that do not meet any of Indonesia’s own sustainable development criteria, including requirements for open consultation with local communities. There is also debate over whether many of the approved projects will actually reduce carbon emissions, much less deliver on promises of sustainable development for Indonesia.

Under the CDM, a central part of the Kyoto Protocol, carbon emission reduction projects are approved based on UN standards and on sustainable development criteria set by the host country. Emission reduction credits from approved CDM projects registered with the UN may then be sold in the emerging global carbon trade market. The CDM works by providing developed countries with a cheap alternative to reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions. It promotes cost-effective carbon reductions through projects located in developing countries while allowing developed countries to continue business-as-usual. This process, called ‘offsetting’, is the only aspect of the Kyoto Protocol that formally links developing countries to the international climate change treaty. The CDM has the secondary objective of promoting

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