News & Media
News and Media
Workers carry construction materials at a 17.5MW wind turbine project in India. FLICKR/LAND ROVER OUR PLANET.
A new SEI paper and policy brief show that potential double-counting of international greenhouse gas emission offsets, if not addressed, could reduce the ambition of 2020 pledges under the Cancún Agreements by up to 1.6 billion tons CO2e.
The paper, The Implications of International Greenhouse Gas Offsets on Global Climate Mitigation, was co-authored by SEI-US researchers Pete Erickson and Michael Lazarus, and presented by Lazarus on March 29 in Paris, at a seminar on carbon markets and accountability hosted by the OECD and the International Energy Agency.
The topic is particularly timely, as the UN Climate Change Conference on April 3 to 8 in Bangkok will include in-depth discussions of countries’ emission reduction pledges and the assumptions and conditions that underlie them.
To date, 42 developed countries have submitted emission reduction pledges, which together have been projected to reduce emissions by up to 4 billion tons (Gt) CO2e in 2020 from “business as usual.” In addition, over 40 developing countries have submitted nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs), many of them including quantified emission reduction pledges.
The role of international offsets in fulfilling those pledges, however remains unclear: Will both developed (buyer) and developing (seller) countries be able to count emission reductions from offset projects towards their respective pledges, or will only the buyers get to count them, as is currently the case under the Kyoto Protocol and domestic emissions trading systems? There is ambiguity in the existing agreements, and most countries have not taken an official position.
Quantifying the impact of each approach
Erickson and Lazarus modeled the implications for global GHG emission reduction of each of those two approaches, considering the high and low range of countries’ pledges as well as two different scenarios for future carbon markets.
“We found that if international offsets are double-counted, they could effectively reduce the ambition of current pledges by up to 1.6 billion tons CO2e in 2020 – equivalent to 10% of the total abatement required in 2020 to stay on a 2°C pathway,” said Erickson.
This weakening of pledge ambition, he noted, would further contribute to a significant gap between current pledges and the reductions needed to keep global temperatures from rising by less than 2°C: a gap that a recent United Nations Environment Programme study found is at least 5 Gt CO2e.
“If some of those offsets do not represent real, additional reductions,” added Lazarus, “the effective dilution of pledges could be even greater.”
The paper outlines several policy approaches that could reduce the risk of double-counting, which the authors said would enhance the credibility and environmental integrity of international offsets under the Cancún Agreements.