I think rip-offsets are well, a rip-off, especially as a major cost-containing measure for climate regulations (see here). But I haven’t seen many leading legislators diss them.
So I confess to being quite surprised that the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said at a conference Wednesday:
“I think this whole issue of offsets, the more I’ve read about this issue, both international and domestic offsets, are fraught with opportunity for game playing, which will be fully exploited, I’m sure. We have a lot of creative people who can find ways to find offsets and to verify offsets if we open that door to occur.”
E&ENews PM (subs. req’d) has the story:
A key senator involved in writing global warming legislation expressed skepticism today about allowing companies to fund environmentally friendly projects as an alternative to meeting strict new emission reduction requirements in a new U.S. climate law.,,,
Both House and Senate bills proposed earlier this year would allow companies to use offset credits — such as payments to landowners who plant trees, erect methane digesters or practice no-till farming — for compliance.
But Bingaman signaled that he is among the critics who question whether the offset projects would lead to real reductions in heat-trapping emissions.
“I think there’s a tendency from a political point of view to set very aggressive targets so that we can tell everybody we’ve set very aggressive targets, and then at the same time enact such a robust system for offsets that nobody has to meet targets in a real way,” Bingaman said.
“The emissions don’t have to be actually reduced,” the senator said. “Instead, everyone can buy offsets that turn out not to have resulted in additional emission reductions. We need to think through that.”
My hero! At a policy level, offsets can destroy the environmental value of climate legislation:
- Dingell and Boucher draft climate bill: Likely no CO2 cut until near 2030
- Boxer bill update: Probably no U.S. CO2 emissions cut until after 2025
- McCain speech, Part 2: Relying on offsets = Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic“).
As a major 2008 analysis from Stanford found “between a third and two thirds” of emission offsets under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) — set up under the Kyoto treaty to encourage emissions reductions in developing nations — do not represent actual emission cuts. And this led to the study’s stark conclusion: “any offset market of sufficient scale to provide substantial cost-control for a cap-and-trade program will involve substantial issuance of credits that do not represent real emissions reductions.”
The Senate bill debated legislation last spring from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), John Warner (R-Va.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that placed a 15 percent limit on domestic offsets and a 15 percent limit on international offsets. Some lawmakers, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), wanted more. By contrast, a draft House bill from Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) released last month would limit offsets to no more than 5 percent for the cap-and-trade program’s first five years, with a gradual increase as the emission limits get stronger.
Bingaman’s offset comments caught many at the climate conference by surprise — in no small part because these are the people who work to develop and fund such projects. “It felt a little bit out of date,” said one environmentalist, who cited the growing consensus among conservation groups that there’s a need to focus on land-use efforts to meet any domestic emission limits.
“It’s hard to imagine getting to 2050 targets without offsets,” this source added.
I’d love to know who this source is. There is no such “growing consensus.” The actualy growing policy consensus is that by 2050, we shouldn’t be funding any offsets at all! Every emissions reduction that is credible needs to be in the cap. Preserving the tropical rain forests is not an offset. That needs to be dealt lives at the level of national accounting, which the United Nations is working on (see here).
In remarks to reporters, Bingaman stressed that no decisions have been made on the outlines of a climate bill that would advance under the Obama administration. Still, the New Mexico Democrat said he had a vision on the schedule for action that pushes enactment beyond 2009.
“I do believe that we need to make every effort, and this administration needs to make every effort, to enact major energy legislation and major climate change legislation in the nature of a cap-and-trade system in this upcoming Congress,” he said. “I wouldn’t limit it to the first year. I think the reality is, it may take more than the first year to get it all done.”
Bingaman said he would prefer starting next year with energy legislation, including a renewable portfolio standard that sets a nationwide goal for using wind and solar power. He did not offer other details, except to say he would look for ideas left out of energy laws adopted in 2005 and 2007.
“We’re not sure what might be in a new energy bill, but we’re talking about trying to formulate a new energy bill for early in the new Congress,” he said.
Asked if he had spoken yet to transition leaders for President-elect Barack Obama about an energy bill, Bingaman replied, “We don’t have a new administration yet. We’re just talking amongst ourselves.”
To have any chance whatsoever of avoiding catastrophic climate impacts, we need to keep offsets both limited and temporary. Kudos to Bingaman.