Vandana Shiva on Carbon Trading

Another prominent critic of globalization is the Indian scientist and activist Vandana Shiva. In this New Statesman essay, she argues that  carbon “emissions trading, or offsetting.  is not in fact a mechanism to reduce emissions…Such schemes are more about privatising the atmosphere than about preventing climate change.” She concludes:

“Regulating by carbon trading is like fiddling as Rome burns. Governments and the UN should impose a carbon tax on corporations, both for production – wherever their facilities are located – and for transport, which the Kyoto Protocol does not account for directly. Incentives for renewable energy are also essential. We face a stark choice: we can destroy the conditions for human life on the planet by clinging to ‘free-market’ fundamentalism, or we can secure our future by bringing commerce within the laws of ecological sustainability and social justice.”

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4 Responses to “Vandana Shiva on Carbon Trading”


  1. 1 Lily Yip 18/11/2009 at 12:20 pm

    The lack of sincerity to commit to reduce pollution is the crux of the problem. The mindset of leaders are still stuck in profit making and cost-benefit analysis: cost to develop technology to control carbon emission is higher than imposing tax on corporations and reducing revenue, hence latter not former.

    Shiva draws upon sustainability and justice to limit commerce – the survival of life on earth is at stake, what else does global leaders need to motivate them to direct policies to curb global warming?

    Hopefully Copenhagen meeting will be able to establish a system that covers all aspects that contribute to carbon emission as well as establish a system for accountability.

  2. 2 Lee Yuen Fung 21/11/2009 at 5:25 pm

    Agree with the above comment. Only Germany among all the countries that agreed on the Kyotol Protocol is making evident progress in fulfilling the commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emission by the agreed target of 5.2% from the 1990 levels by the year 2012. Up to 2008, Germany reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22.4% as from 1990 (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wissen/763/449492/text/). And Germany did this with costs. While Germany had established different think-tanks in collaborating with research centres and universities, it has also won itself many patent rights and international recognition in climate protection technologies. The point is that countries are too over-focus on the cost needed in developing climate protecting technologies and implementing the use of renewable energy. Although they comprehend that the benefits is long-term and every citizen on earth is at stake, countries are too selfish in contributing their part in saving the world without seeing other doing the same. Thus, the problem is not only about the cost in protecting the climate, but also a politicization of being a solution provider to a mass problem.

  3. 3 MInerva Lee 24/11/2009 at 6:30 pm

    I agree with the writer to a certain extent. Although I think emissions trading in theory gives parties economic incentives to achieve reduction in the emissions of pollutants, the effect of the mechanism is largely hampered by lack of participation of majour polluting countries, the volitale and unpreticable market, and absense of reak enforcement by fines and sanctions.

    For example, in the case of the Kyotol Protocol, the absense of US, Australia, and many developing counrtries in the programme makes impoosible the target of overall reduction in the world to be achieved. Also, since the enforcement of the scheme is costly (there was bound to be some hidden emissions that had not been measured or reported), the value of the scheme is deminished.

    Furthermore, I think there may be problems like worsening the pollution in some localities when they can buy more emission quota from elsewhere. These pollutors may end up be able to pollute more as a result of the system. Perhaps if these factories are required to pay directly (e.g. tax) for over-emissions, they will have incentive to try on new technology that is less polluting or simply forced to employ some other less polluting but more expensive means of production.

    I think direct means to target pollution at the source that are more community-driven and more managable in terms of enforcement might bring better result. But in the long-run, I think it takes collective political will to tackle the problem. Any proposals that are not binding and do not include all major stakeholders will not work.

  4. 4 Corinna Yee 26/11/2009 at 12:14 am

    I agree with all the above comments and I thought the article was well written for the focus of the article which was on the wellbeing of people in developing countries or the poor rather than discussion the most effective mitigation reduction program. Yes, people in 3rd world countries always suffer for most of what happens on this earth such as natural disasters, the effects from globalization, or starvation and diseases from being where they are. I do think it’s unfair but rather than dwelling over how much the poor will suffer I think she should have focused more on the most effective way of reducing mitigation.

    Shiva’s main argument is that the poor is suffering two burdens, one which is the climate disasters that occur due to CO2 pollution and secondly they are suffering from the CO2 produced in rich developed countries. This may be true that developing countries see affects faster and more abruptly than developed countries but that doesn’t mean developing countries aren’t suffering from the environmental damages of global warming as well. I think one thing that was well stated in this article was the idea that global warming and climate change is taking place and unless we try to reduce our emissions globally there will be more server damages in the near future. In addition, one of the comments stated is that it will take the efforts of big carbon emitters such as US to commit themselves in order for programs such as carbon tax or carbon trade to work. Although the main argument of the article was to show that the carbon trading is not effective and how people in poor countries suffer, I think carbon trading is a great way to sustain our carbon emissions and if that means privatizing the atmosphere then I think it’s a good idea. Yes, the type of carbon trading she stated may be in fact what it is going on but the ideal program looks a little bit different.

    The idea of a cap and trade program is to reduce emissions to a sustainable level and not necessarily reducing emissions as much as possible. The amount of emissions will probably still be increasing but at a much slower and sustainable way. The idea is that a country is given a set amount of carbon emissions they can produce and if they need to produce more emissions then they can buy it from other countries. Although in this article Shiva states that developed countries can invest in mitigation projects to help developing countries and in return they can get more carbon emission, I still think a cap and trade is a good idea. Even if the cap may not be apparent, by investing in developing countries then they are helping them with their mitigation systems and in doing so helping to develop a more sustainable future for the developing country. In addition we have to think in terms of a business person or investor. Unless there is an incentive, they won’t want to change their ways. By having a cap and trade program, corporations will be rewarded for polluting less because if they do not produce to their cap, they can sell their carbon units. On the other hand by creating a carbon tax, there would only be a negative incentive for business corporations because no matter what and how much carbon they produce they will be punished for it. In addition business is all about profit so because a cap a trade can increase their profits they will have a higher incentive to lower the carbon emission.

    I think Shiva makes a good point in the perspective of people in developing countries but the reality is to get the big emitters to emit less and it seems to be proven that a cap and trade program would be the most effective. In addition also the clean up systems are set up in developing countries with trees but it’s better to have some than none. Since the effects of CO2 have already occurred, I think it’s important to stop it at the source and that is by having countries like the US to emit less. They will only do so if they see a benefit in signing or being a part of any environmental regime. Although this may not be favorable or ideal or developing nations, in the end they as well as the rest of the world will benefit as emissions will be lowered.


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