Negotiators, diplomats, ENGOs, BINGOs and New Zealand Minister for Climate Change Issues James Shaw are meeting in Madrid for the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) of the UNFCCC.
This conference has a specific stepping stone goal for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement; that is to agree the rules for international carbon markets.
However, I was surfing Kevin Anderson's twitter account lead me which to a really concise ten point tweet from Thomas Spencer that explained why international carbon markets and linked international emissions trading schemes won't be an effective means to prevent global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius. Here it is.Why international carbon markets are a waste of time
As negotiators battle it out in Madrid over Article 6, time for me to share my (perhaps controversial) views on carbon markets.
Five reasons why international carbon markets are a waste of time.
One, the cost-optimising potential of international trading is wildly overstated. The costs of our transition will depend on getting things right which are not susceptible to being directed (only) by carbon prices: massive energy efficiency, innovation, infrastructure.
Two: in a world where we have 30-40 years to be at net zero as a globe, there is no space for offsets.
Every country needs to be on a pathway for zero by mid-century, a little later for developing countries, and all investments have to be scrutinized from that perspective.
Three: seriously linking carbon markets means unachievable levels of institutional coordination. Linking markets equals linking energy policy. No country will accept that, unless it is within a very tightly knit federal or quasi-federal or extremely integrated economic zone.
Four: the 'cheap abatement potential' in developing countries is not 'cheap'. Massive abatement in developing countries requires grinding governance reforms, market reform and policy reform.
Carbon revenues are not a pixie dust that can remove the need for this.
Five: we do not live in a world were massive public flows of capital are possible. Carbon revenues are not 'private' because the good traded is created and valued by public fiat. Countries are not ready to send tens or hundreds of billions of dollars/euros/yen overseas.
As long as these conditions hold, international carbon markets will continue to remain marginal. Their historical political and intellectual domination reflects a category error: Climate change is not 'like' environmental problems that were solved by pollution markets or resource transfers. Hint: it's not.
The intellectual domination of carbon trading reflects, as well, the dominance of economists and modellers that didn't think enough about the real world.
That's a big shame, almost a criminal error, and it set climate governance efforts back almost 20 years.
This may sound overly pessimistic about the potential and role of international policy coordination. I'm not. We need: targeted, strategic, catalytic international public finance, in greater quantities than we have today and massive innovation and diffusion.
The best thing that developed countries can do is innovate an attractive, low-carbon development model for themselves.
The twenty billion Euro per year that Germany spends on paying back high-cost, early-stage solar was better spent than all the money spent on the Clean Development Mechanism, if the criteria is increasing access to mitigation options for developing countries. Time to do the same for batteries and hydrogen.
All of this is not to belittle the very dedicated negotiators currently fighting it out in Madrid. We need to wrap up that negotiation and move on, and we need to prevent the worst abuses of the mechanisms that will result.
But the need for and gap in international governance of climate change goes far beyond these markets.
Let's try and put as much effort into that.