Improving the Clean Development Mechanism

Clean Technica, has raised a key concern of many in the anti-carbon camp about the value of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), created as a cost-containment mechanism of the Kyoto protocol. The CDM is basically a way that greenhouse gas emitters in developed countries can offset their own emissions by funding clean development projects in developing countries where the cost is cheaper.

The heart of the concern is that the CDM is too easily exploited, either by putting CDM investment money into projects that would have been done anyway, or by creating pollution for the sole purpose of getting paid to destroy it.

The CDM is less than perfect, there is no doubt, but at its core, it is a positive step. In order to grow in a sustainable way, developing countries need investment in infrastructure that allows for that. It is obvious that if China follows the same development path that the United States did, the result would be no less than a catastrophe. That’s why rather than fight against the CDM, it would be best to put energy into improving the oversight and regulation of the projects that are receiving these investments. In fact, the CDM executive board periodically holds open calls for public comments on various parts of its activities, making it far from being an entrenched bastion of the status quo.The last line of the Clean Technica article though, seems to fall victim to the pessimism that dominates American environmental discourse. It says that as the United States enters the carbon management economy flaws in the CDM “can only be magnified.”

If the United States ends up in 2009 with an administration that is committed to fighting global warming, as evidenced by a concerted effort to enter the carbon management market, then there is reason to believe that this administration would also be committed to improving the CDM. Both candidates for the Presidency advocate policies that would use the CDM as a cost-containment mechanism in a cap-and-trade program, and it seems doubtful that they are both oblivious to its flaws.

I believe U.S. involvement in the CDM can help fix these flaws, either through a more committed and involved administration or through more concerted efforts by citizen watchdogs. In any case, it will certainly increase scrutiny on the CDM, and could help it become an engine for more sustainable development in the countries that need it most.

I certainly am happy to hear constructive criticism on any idea to fight global warming, but knocking down any idea with merit because it isn’t perfect at the outset is counterproductive. So, let’s not give up on the CDM yet. It has a lot of potential, it just needs some improvement.