The last decade saw the emergence of programs whereby people and organizations could offset their energy consumption and/or their CO2 emissions by paying money to preserve rain forests, plant trees, etc. These programs are often called carbon offsets.
CarbonFund, for example, promotes three types of offset activities–Renewable Energy and Methane, Energy Efficiency and Carbon Credits, and Reforestation and Avoided Deforestation.
However, there are problems associated with carbon offsets. Emission reductions are hard to verify, many programs have large administrative costs that reduce the amount spent on emission reduction, there have been more than a few instances of downright fraudulent activity, etc. There are also what I call ‘philosophical’ issues with these programs, such as perverse incentives and property rights.
However, if the focus were on generation rather than reduction, offsets could play a role in both emission reduction and developmental aid for emerging countries.
Take California for example. This is where California gets its energy:
California is currently spending a lot of money, time and energy on improving its fuel portfolio. More power to them–literally. However, the solar panels they put up today are in all likelihood displacing natural gas. Natural gas is already a lot cleaner than coal and California could do better than just aiming at a vanity proclamation that X% of their energy consumption is fueled by pure as snow renewables (they don’t count hydroelectric power or nuclear as part of their emission free portfolio). The world doesn’t need to focus on removing natural gas from our portfolio. Our focus should be on coal–and California doesn’t use it.
If California wanted to make an impact on climate change and conventional pollution, they would do far better by building clean energy generation facilities elsewhere. Someone else would get the power (although the builder and operators would be compensated) but California would be making a contribution to a cleaner planet–and the reduction of fossil fuel usage in the target country.
Take China for example. California gets some of China’s dirty air, although they only notice it when there’s a sandstorm blowing off the Gobi. If California built a solar facility, wind farm, natural gas plant or even–horrors!–a clean coal plant, China would be the primary beneficiary–but the world overall and California as well would also reap the rewards.
If there were a way to recognize and reward these efforts, it would cut the Lomborgian knot that sensibly recognizes the need for access to energy throughout the developing world, while also insuring that the donor country or state (or city, for that matter) received both recognition and compensation for their efforts.
In Paris in 50 days they are going to talk about climate reparations, whereby those of us who used fossil fuels to power our development over the past two centuries pay those we are begging not to follow the same course $100 billion–to start with. There will also be a number of other schemes used to incentivise emission reduction and low carbon development.
Shifting the concept of offsets away from emissions to fuel generation would be a practical idea that would contribute to a solution. I hope someone brings it up in Paris.