2000s >> 2007 >> no-1235-july-2007

Cooking the Books 2: Who will verify the verifiers?

In his book on the dangers of global warming, Heat, George Monbiot endorses a scheme, thought-up by Mayer Hillman and called “contract and convergence”. The basic idea is that a target should be fixed for reducing average world CO2 emissions per person to a level much lower than at present. Countries above this average should commit themselves to reducing their emissions while countries below it should be allowed to increase theirs up to the average. The countries above this average will of course be the developed capitalist countries while those below will be developing capitalist countries such as China and India.

So, it’s a proposal that the developed capitalist countries should voluntarily shackle themselves in the competitive struggle with their developing rivals to produce and make a profit from selling goods on the world market. Which is why it will never be adopted. There is simply no way that the capitalist corporations of the West and the states that protect their interests are going to agree to this. Given capitalism – as Monbiot and Hillman assume – each capitalist state will defend its own in the battle to realise profits on the world market. No capitalist state is going to undermine the competitiveness of its capitalist firms by imposing more expensive energy on them while its competitors in the developing world are not subject to this. It’s just not going to happen.

A front-page article in the Guardian (2 June) gave another reason why it wouldn’t work even in the unlikely event of its being adopted. Headed “Abuse and incompetence in fight against global warming” and subtitled “Up to 20% of carbon savings in doubt as monitoring firms criticised by UN body”, the article concerned the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) set up under the 1997 Kyoto treaty.

The CDM is a “carbon trading” scheme, which supporters of capitalism are lauding as the way to solve the problem within the profit system. Under this particular scheme, projects are started in the developing countries which are certified as reducing CO2 emissions; the firms carrying out these projects can then sell these “carbon credits” to firms in the developed countries for them to emit (a lesser amount of) CO2 instead.

But it hasn’t worked as planned:

“Within the world of carbon trading there are numerous cases of projects which are widely regarded as breaking CDM rules. Some existed long before the CDM project was launched: if they do happen to be producing fewer greenhouse gases that is the natural state and not a reduction which can be claimed and sold. Yet, such schemes have been validated by specialist companies and accepted by the CDM board; and the companies running them have been allowed to earn large amounts of money by selling unjustified Certified Emissions Reductions”.

These specialist companies are hired by firms who stand to earn big profits if their project is accepted. The Guardian quoted one carbon analyst: “The verifiers are being paid by the people they are verifying. If it turns out the verified is a bad guy, he is paying the policeman to sign him off as a good guy”.

Monbiot’s scheme would demand a far wider verification of carbon saving since accurate statistics would have to be collected and verified for every country (and every individual in every country). So, the problem uncovered by the Guardian would be multiplied many times, with every country trying to cook the books by understating the amount of its emissions.

Compared to “contract and convergence”, it would be much simpler to introduce socialism, the common ownership of the world’s resources with production to satisfy people’s needs not for profit, where vested capitalist interests and market forces would no longer conspire to prevent what needs to be done being done.

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