Bríd Smith TD explains why buying carbon credits for missing targets is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Ireland’s climate action fraud.
The news that Ireland will buy carbon credits worth up to €3 million from Slovakia to make up for missing targets in 2021 will surprise nobody. Plans for Green Party ministers to fly around the globe on St. Patrick’s day have also grabbed headlines. But speculation on whether Ryan will again purchase credits as he did in 2007 for such flights, while perhaps vindicating those already cynical about the Greens, is largely irrelevant. Ireland is failing badly to reduce emissions. Not only is it failing in the context of wholly inadequate targets, it is failing to even scratch the surface of what needs to happen to address the climate crisis.
There is a huge disconnect between the optimistic rhetoric of Ryan and the Greens and the actual facts.
According to the EPA, Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas emissions emission grew by 4.7% in 2021 . Last year the per capita emissions here were the highest in the EU. A Eurostat report in Feb this year showed emissions increased by 17% last year. Far from being on target to cut our GHG by 51% by 2030, or by 5% a year, we are, according to An Taisce, on track to exceed the combined ten-year carbon budget by between 23% and 36%.
There is an inverse relationship between the Green Minister’s optimism, cheery demeanour and support for the current Government, and its actual record on climate.
When challenged on the facts Ryan scrunches his face, looks earnest and professes disappointment while muttering something about how we all must try harder. The failure to reduce emissions is seen almost as a mystery. Meanwhile, in between photo ops on new bike lanes, Ryan will stoutly defend more data centre proliferation, while leaving retrofitting, renewable energy supplies and our future forestry plans to private companies, investment firms and international corporations.
Far from Ryan’s fantasy, we are not turning any corner in the battle against the climate emergency. Not in Ireland, and not globally. Atmospheric Co2 levels continue to rise and reach historic levels never before experienced by humans on this planet. The IEA reported last year that more CO2 emissions were pumped into the atmosphere in 2021 than ever before in human history as global economies rebounded from Covid lockdowns.
As weather extremes become commonplace, and as devastating floods, droughts, heat waves and storms grow in intensity, it is clear that globally no real solution or effective policy is being pursued by Governments. Ryan and the Irish Government are part of a global failure and the fiasco over carbon credits gives us a clue as to why.
The Carbon Credit Fraud
At least part of the reason is the attempt to adapt climate policies to the priorities of capitalism and markets. There is no greater example of that fraud than the very idea of carbon credits and carbon markets.
The real scandal is not the purchase of carbon credits because we missed 2021 targets. The scandal is carbon credits themselves. Ireland has paid €121 million to date purchasing carbon credits in order to comply with its international emission targets. You can go online to the NTMA site and see a brief but complicated history of what has been purchased and under what scheme. What is clear is that carbon credits, offsets and the entire idea of a market in carbon as a solution to the climate crisis is a giant fraud and perhaps the greatest and most dangerous example of greenwashing.
The State has three options when it emits more Co2 than it was supposed to. It can purchase “credit” from the international market, it can trade them with other EU states that haven’t used their allowance, or it can use previously “banked” credits from past years when it didn’t exceed its allowance. Ireland, via the NTMA, has been trading and purchasing credits for years by investing in World Bank funds. Not so long ago, the World Bank was, correctly, the target for environmentalists and socialists because of its role in pushing neoliberal policies globally. Its efforts on climate have been premised on the same overall goal of defending capital and the structures that allow western capitalism to control the world’s wealth. As it puts on a green face, it continues to finance fossil fuel projects directly, with $15 billion in funding since the Paris treaty in 2015. The fact that Ireland dabbles in markets for carbon credits and funds run by the World Bank tells us a lot about why we are failing to stop this crisis.
The Neoliberalisation of Climate Action
Carbon credits and markets were the original attempt to neoliberalise climate change policies. It is an attempt to make solving the climate crisis profitable. In theory, it is justified by the belief that markets and capitalism are much more efficient in allocating resources and therefore, left to the free market, solutions to any problem will be achieved. We were told that once we found a correct price for carbon pollution, the market would work its magic.
It is a fraud, and unfortunately, its acceptance by mainstream Greens has been a disaster as the crisis unfolds and worsens. Capitalism and free markets can’t solve the crisis; they are in fact the ultimate source of the crisis in climate.
Just as Governments can buy their way out of achieving actual Co2 reductions, so can industries and firms via the EU trading system. The proliferation of carbon markets (both voluntary and state enforced) has done nothing to address the global crisis or the rise in Co2. It has instead been marked by fraud, billions in profits going to vested interests and a virtual land grab in poorer and developing nations that has had devastating impacts on indigenous peoples and environments (often funded and facilitated by institutions like the World Bank).
Both the EU emission trading scheme and the effort sharing scheme are marked by the same core problems; the attempt to marry the need to reduce emissions to the imperatives of capitalism.
The original EU trading system was a disaster from the start as companies received permits way above what they needed and as such had little incentive to reduce emissions. In fact, many reaped windfall profits from them. In the EU, the system meant that the collapse of industries in eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall saw many of these countries get permits for the Carbon that was no longer being produced and trade them with western countries (like Ireland). The problem is this didn’t mean any real world reductions, and it didn’t address the need to rapidly reduce GHG emission in a sustainable or just way.
It is essentially a giant accountancy trick that has been correctly compared to a “medieval indulgence” – you buy a credit but continue sinning. So Ireland will, on paper at least, comply with the set targets. In the meantime, the global atmosphere will ignore these accountancy tricks and Co2 will continue to drive the worsening climate catastrophe.
The reliance on markets and capital to address the climate crisis is leading humanity to an utter catastrophe. The very idea of carbon credits illustrates this paradox. In Ireland, the facilitation by Coillte of the UK based private investment fund Gresham House in the future forestry plans will mean two things. First, if allowed to proceed, it will deepen the over reliance by Coillte on Sitka plantations with the known negative impacts of these monoculture cash crops on biodiversity. It will do little to address climate in any meaningful way, given the likelihood that such forests will not make any sustainable or long term reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels. Secondly, it will deepen the role of markets and carbon credits fraud with Gresham reaping the rewards from these monoculture plantations in carbon credits that it will sell to other countries and corporations in order to permit them to continue pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere.
If left to the Greens and their acceptance of free markets and private funds, we will have an effectively privatised forest system alongside a privatised renewable energy sector. Both will prioritise private funding and profits and will not address the climate crisis in any sustainable way.