Voluntary carbon offsets are a 'Wild West' market ripe for fraud, exaggeration, and poorly run projects that probably do little to ease global warming.
Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor
A forest was supposed to be here, inhaling carbon dioxide. But the fields are as empty as the promises of the carbon offsets that promoters said would help negate global warming with thousands of new trees near this Hungarian village.
An investigation by The Christian Science Monitor and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found that individuals and businesses who are feeding a $700 million global market in offsets are often buying vague promises instead of the reductions in greenhouse gases they expect.
They are buying into projects that are never completed, or paying for ones that would have been done anyhow, the investigation found. Their purchases are feeding middlemen and promoters seeking profits from green schemes that range from selling protection for existing trees to the promise of planting new ones that never thrive. In some cases, the offsets have consequences that their purchasers never foresaw, such as erecting windmills that force poor people off their farms.
Carbon offsets are the environmental equivalent of financial derivatives: complex, unregulated, unchecked and – in many cases – not worth their price.
And often, those who get the “green credits” thinking their own carbon emissions have been offset, are fooled. The Vatican was among them.
Cardinal Paul Poupard stood for the flash of cameras in the Vatican in the summer of 2007, beneath an image of Jesus healing a blind man, and accepted a gold-framed certificate declaring the papal city the “first carbon-neutral sovereign state.”
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