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Vision: Nature Needs Rights -- Why Our Human-Centric Model Will Doom Us and the Rest of the Planet

We have built our economic and development policies based on a human-centric model and assumed that nature would never fail to provide or that technology would save us.

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False solutions

Protecting the Rights of Mother Earth will also challenge the current trend to commodify Nature in the name of a green economy. While there are many definitions of what a green economy could look like that fit very well with an Earth-centred vision, many in power now use the term to essentially protect the current economic system that promotes more growth, production and global trade. There is no need to change our lifestyle or to curb global production and trade, goes the argument; we simply have to replace bad technology with good technology and we can keep our economic and development models intact.

Let's be clear: no amount of talk of green futures, green technology, green jobs and a green economy can undo the fact that most business and nation state leaders, as well as UN and World Bank officials, continue to promote growth as the only economic and development model for the world. Until the growth model is truly challenged, great damage to the Earth's ecosystems will continue. Further, much of their false green vision is based on a market model to save Nature and create new opportunities for growth and profit.

One example of this false vision includes emissions (or carbon) trading. Governments set a cap on greenhouse emissions (ratcheted down over time) and then give away or sell licences to pollute (carbon permits) to major industries that are supposed to add up to the cap. Firms are enabled to buy and sell the licences on the "carbon market," which sets the price for emissions - the carbon price.

Carbon trading, in effect, privatizes the atmosphere, suggesting that the Earth's capacity to regulate its climate can be understood as a measurable commodity that can be bought, sold and traded. It is predicated less on reducing emissions than on the desire to make carbon cuts as cheap as possible for large corporations. It maintains the essence of the current human-centred market model that has led us - and the planet - to the current crisis. Corporations and governments can buy their way out of needed structural changes to energy practice, production and consumption patterns allowing business-as-usual to reign. Success is narrowly measured simply in terms of cost effectiveness, ignoring issues of power, social justice, inequality and community control over local ecosystems.

In the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading System (the world's largest carbon trading scheme) corporate lobbying has seen the over- allocation of permits, free giveaways of permits, and rules which have allowed some of the worst polluters windfall profits while carbon prices fluctuate widely - all undermining needed emission reductions. In other words, carbon trading opens up needed climate action to market volatility, "gaming" and corporate influence. Carbon offsets have also seriously compromised the EU scheme's effectiveness.

Carbon offsets are another form of carbon trading and an example of using the market to do a job that should be legislated. Carbon offsets are a "created commodity" that let consumers (under the voluntary market), corporations and sometimes international financial institutions and governments (under cap and trade systems) to invest in emission savings projects outside of the capped area. It is trading perceived as "good behaviour" - such as investing in a tree plantation far away - on the open market in order to offset their right to continue to pollute. Offsets typically involve a shift from the global North to South where "reductions" are cheapest.

Carbon offsets are a multi-billion dollar poorly regulated industry that permit the growth in trade of all kinds and lulls the public into thinking something real has been done for the planet. The United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a "flexible market mechanism" under the Kyoto Protocol, is the world's largest scheme. Since carbon offsets are created against a hypothetical business-as-usual scenario baseline, it is extremely difficult to ensure that the offset credits actually equate to carbon cuts. David Victor, the head of Stanford University's Energy and Sustainable Development Program, has found that "between a third and two-thirds of CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts." It is also extremely difficult to demonstrate that emission cuts are additional to what may have happened with offset credit financing. Worse still, there is clear evidence that certain projects applying for the CDM are causing serious social and environmental harm and human rights violations in the Global South. According to Michael Wara of Stanford University, the use of carbon offsets under the EU scheme meant that in 2008 European polluters will have emitted roughly one per cent more than they did in 1990.The now failed U.S. proposals for a cap and trade system would have seen up to two billion tons of offsets per year.

 
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