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Trading Loopholes at The Hague

We've been here before. On 28 June 1997, The Guardian in the U.K. announced: "EARTH SUMMIT ENDS IN FAILURE". Six months later, on 12 December, it ran a related story: "KYOTO DEAL LEAVES U.S. FREE TO POLLUTE". On 16 November this year, after only three days of talks at The Hague, came the headline we well could have anticipated: "CLIMATIC TALKS STALEMATE AS E.U. REJECTS U.S.A. FOREST PLAN".The current round of talks in The Hague are about reviewing progress since the December 1997 agreement which set targets for industrialised countries for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The problem now is over the issue of loopholes-well anticipated at Kyoto-which allow countries to avoid cutting back on carbon emissions.

Whilst the European Union (E.U.) insists that countries should in the first instance cut back on fossil fuels, there is an umbrella group of countries-the U.S.A., Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia-which believe in alternative methods of "reducing" carbon dioxide emissions. The latter are taking the "flexibility mechanism", allowed under the Kyoto Protocol, to new extremes. Instead of cutting their fossil fuel (carbon) emissions they buy carbon credits from countries that are not likely to exceed their carbon emission quota as laid down at Kyoto and thus continue to pollute as before.

As the quotas are based on 1990 levels of emissions, countries, for instance of the former USSR which since 1990 have seen a drastic reduction in heavy industry, are selling their unused entitlements to the U.S.A.. In this respect even ethical Britain is just as guilty of carbon trading as those countries it criticises, with the UK hoping to sell carbon dioxide it would have produced were the coal mines not closed.

Whilst the E.U. insists the U.S.A. must make at least half of its reduction from genuine energy cutbacks at home, the U.S.A. is adamant that the loopholes it exploits must remain in place before it is prepared to sign up to any agreement to curb emissions. As well as the carbon trading loophole, there are indeed other loopholes and dodges the U.S.A. and others are taking advantage of, such as "carbon sinks". As forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere, the U.S.A. and other countries, now plant and indeed buy forests, at home and in other countries, and count the carbon this is estimated to save against their own emissions. This is already proving a lucrative business. One Malaysian logging firm is presently replacing the forests it depletes with new plantations and selling pollution permits to the U.S.A.. Another loophole is to be found with countries paying for a project in a lesser developed country, with the aim of reducing carbon and counting it against their own emissions.

You name the dodge and the profit-greedy have thought of it. This includes feeding cattle, pigs and sheep new diets that help reduce the amount of methane they emit when they pass wind and pumping carbon dioxide into the ocean to be absorbed by the seas and sprinkling iron filings across the surface of the ocean to stimulate plankton growth (then calculate how much plankton dies and sinks to the bottom of the seam, taking the carbon with them, and claim credit for it).

The perennial problem is that countries are reluctant to promote the investment in more environmentally friendly methods of production and transport because their respective governments, being the executive arm of the capitalist class, prefer to bow with suppliant knee to powerful oil, coal, iron and steel lobbies, rather than openly acknowledge that ecologically we risk approaching the point of no return.

When we consider that at Kyoto, it was announced that a global 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions was necessary to maintain a stable climate, with the U.S.A. asked to reduce their emissions by 7 percent of 1990 levels (which would mean a 34 percent reduction now), and that the U.S.A., with 4 percent of the world's population is currently responsible for 24 percent of global carbon emissions, we get some idea of the pathos of the whole issue.

In spite of all the evidence that suggests that deforestation and present production and transport methods are primary responsible for climatic warming-the disappearing polar icecaps, global flooding, rising sea levels, vegetation dieback, the loss of thousands of species of life, and that the speed and scale of global warming has no precedent-the world's governments still insist these wasteful, though profit-generating methods must remain. And this in spite of recent evidence from the hundreds of scientists that inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change that suggests the atmosphere will warm at twice the rate predicted ten years ago.

At the Rio Summit in 1992, at the Earth Summit in New York in June 1997 and at the Earth II Summit in Kyoto, Japan, six months later-all at which carbon emissions were the core issue-the delegates fought and bickered over deals that would best suit their respective paymasters, their countries reneging on the agreements they signed up to. We can well expect this current round of talks to be another waste of time whilst providing us with further evidence that capitalism has long outlived its usefulness and that it is time to hand over control of the world to those who could best decide its future-a global socialist majority. That companies can get exited about the profits to be made from trading in pollution credits-whilst the planet we inhabit faces environmental catastrophe from pollution-says much about the insanity of the system we live in.