That’s the finding of a new report from the Stockholm Environment Institute, which investigated carbon credits used to offset greenhouse gas emissions under a UN scheme. As one of the co-authors of the report put it, issuing these credits “was like printing money.” The BBC reports:
As a result of political horse trading at UN negotiations on climate change, countries like Russia and the Ukraine were allowed to create carbon credits from activities like curbing coal waste fires, or restricting gas emissions from petroleum production. Under the UN scheme, called Joint Implementation, they then were able to sell those credits to the European Union’s carbon market. Companies bought the offsets rather than making their own more expensive, emissions cuts.
But this study, from the Stockholm Environment Institute, says the vast majority of Russian and Ukrainian credits were in fact, “hot air” – no actual emissions were reduced.
The SEI sampled 60 random projects and found a whopping 80 percent of them to be of questionable green merit. The majority of these bogus Russian and Ukrainian offsets were used by the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (the EU ETS), a program already bogged down with problems pricing carbon. “[T]he poor overall quality of [Joint Implementation] projects may have undermined the EU’s emission reduction target by some 400 million tons of CO2,” said Anja Kollmuss, one of the leaders of the study.
This has huge implications, then, for Europe’s green goals. For years EU members have chosen to outsource emissions cuts with these carbon credits, but the lack of proper oversight at the UN level of the projects abroad supposedly generating these cuts now leaves the supposedly eco-conscious bloc in a bind. “If the EU was taking its climate targets seriously, then at least 400 million ETS certificates would have to be deleted to counter that,” Kollmuss pointed out.
But perhaps worst of all are the perverse incentives the SEI report alleges these credit swaps have created for actually increasing emissions. According to a study released in the journal Nature Climate Change, plants in Russia “increased waste gas generation to unprecedented levels once they could generate credits from producing more waste gas,” resulting in an increase in emissions as large as 600 million tons of carbon dioxide—roughly half the amount the EU’s ETS intends to reduce from 2013 to 2030.
The UN seemingly left it up to national governments to oversee these projects, and now it has a full-blown crisis on its hands. With the Paris climate summit just over three months away now, trust in the international approach to solving climate change is falling to new lows.