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Climate Change: A Development Mechanism That Cleans Little

Publication Date: 
March 18, 2009
IPS News
Julio Godoy

Professor Michael Wara is quoted in IPS News in an article about the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol and research done by Wara and others to investigate how well it works:

The Kyoto Protocol compels the industrialised countries that ratified it to reduce their collective GHG emissions by 5.2 percent compared to 1990 levels. To this effect, and among other instruments, the Kyoto Protocol created the CDM to allow industrialised countries to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries as compensation for unachieved emission reductions in their own countries.

Under this scheme, an energy provider say in China, enjoying financial support from industrialised countries, might choose to build an efficient, low CO2 emitting gas-fired power plant, rather than a cheaper, more polluting coal-fired generator. The difference in the potential CO2 emission between the two can be converted into CDM units to be sold to an industrialised country that is a signatory to the Kyoto protocol.


Researcher Michael Wara found in an investigation carried out at Stanford University in 2007 that "there is near unanimous agreement that the CDM has succeeded in engaging many buyers and sellers and...reducing emissions of the six Kyoto Protocol gases (CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydro fluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride)."

But he said that "in other, and perhaps more important ways, the CDM is failing to deliver results. Initially, the market was expected to create strong incentives to invest in infrastructure for low-carbon energy in developing countries. Yet a detailed look at CDM projects producing and selling credits reveals that nearly two-thirds of emissions reductions involve neither CO2 nor energy production."

According to Wara, for the period beyond 2012, signatories to the Kyoto protocol should recognise that measures additional to the CDM are needed to set the developing world on a path towards a sustainable energy future. These must include substantial increases in technology investment, agreements to share low-carbon technologies, a commitment to fostering resilient energy markets, and security arrangements so that it is in the interest of key developing nations to foster low-carbon economic growth.