As many of you know, carbon markets require quantifying carbon emissions and turning them into financial assets. Nowhere is this more true than in the Clean Development Mechanism, which is a UN carbon offset development mechanism. Offsets have a particular quality: they involve natural resource transfers from the developing world to Europe.

The colonial implications of this are not slight. In fact these market makers are in the process of developing a novel and unique asset class, carbon assets, as a matter of the global distribution of wealth. Let’s be clear that these distributional issues go to the heart of the stalemate in climate negotiations.

I was shocked – shocked! – to hear this afternoon after Kim Carnahan from an industry lobby group, IETA, said that they were pleased with the CDM’s progress on efficiency improvements. Clifford Mahlung, the Chair of the CDM Executive Board, nearly gloated over the praise. He said – I paraphrase – ‘If IETA’s happy, then probably everyone in the room is happy, and of course we’re doing everything we can to keep IETA happy.’

This evening I caught up with the Project Developers’ Forum, which is an industry lobby group that has consistently sought to make offsets cheaper, faster, easier and more profitable. What was surprising was the smugness with which a panel of seven white men sought to outdo each other to ensure that the UN board would go out of its way to make the system as easy and profitable to Northern investors as they possibly could.

Seven Dwarves Hashing Out the Rules for Global Distribution of Climate Rights

To his credit, toward the end of the meeting Martin Hession, the VP of the CDM board, finally stood up for himself and his board to claim that the investors simply were demanding too much.

But I don’t take up the colonial critique lightly. This sort of line of attack is not intellectually interesting, and is hardly my stock-in-trade.

The man on the left in this photograph, Netherlander Reggie Hernaus, is the representative of the ‘DNA Forum.’ DNAs are the offices in developing country governments who are responsible for approving the carbon offset projects. Why, exactly, a Netherlander is the representative of these offices in this industry group is an unanswered question.

But it’s not primarily a matter of the politics of representation. The industry groups – the Project Developers’ Forum, IETA, and the Carbon Markets and Investors’ Association – have been hammering the CDM to streamline its procedures, to increase efficiency requirements and maximize returns. In the earlier panel today, numerous questions were raised about social equity and environmental integrity – questions which were addressed, unhappily and partially, by the CDM executive board only after much prodding even by those rare investors who know that environmental integrity is crucial to the CDM’s credibility. But the CDM’s credibility is still on the line, and the fact is that they are more than willing to bend over backwards to make investors and project developers happy but have scarcely put to rest the questions about integrity. Only until those integrity and equity considerations are dealt with, head on, will the CDM stand a chance of being a serious tool for dealing with climate change.

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