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Global warming Wednesday, 11 November, 1998, 11:05 GMT
What is carbon trading?
Trading carbon emissions will store up trouble for the future, say critics
In the highly developed arena of global capitalism everything has its price - even the Earth's future.

At least that will be the case if delegates at the Buenos Aires convention on climate change agree on a scheme for buying and selling greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon trading is one of the key articles up for discussion at the conference, attended by around 180 governments.

Global warming
The scheme is designed to allow countries to buy and sell their quotas for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as agreed at last year's climate change convention in Kyoto.

London angling for trade

It is similar to the system for limiting emissions of sulphur dioxide, already in place in the United States. The London Stock Exchange is investigating becoming the international marketplace for such a venture.

CO2, which results from burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal, is widely blamed for causing global warming - something environmentalists claim will wreak widespread destruction across the planet.

According to newspaper reports, Britain could earn up to 1bn by selling its surplus quota to other developed countries.

But environmental groups such as Greenpeace are unhappy with the concept of carbon trading, calling it a "permit to pollute".

Kyoto accord

Under the Kyoto Protocol, agreed at last December's United Nations convention, developed countries agreed to cut their emissions of greenhouse gasses by 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2010.

The European Union has set itself a tougher target of a 12.5% reduction by the same deadline, while Britain, is aiming for a cut of 20%.

{ image 2 }Having run down its coal industry in the 1980s and '90s, the UK is in a strong position under the protocol and expects an ample surplus of carbon credits to sell on to other countries.

The collapse of economies in the former Soviet Union means Russia is also expected to join those able to sell.

Lining up to buy that surplus are a number of non-European Union industrialised states known, by their collective initials, as the JUSSCANNZ group. It is comprised of Japan, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand.

Greenpeace reluctantly supports carbon trading, realising it is "inevitable" says climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmore.

US wants to buy

But it is especially critical of the US, which has already staked a claim to Russian and Ukrainian emissions credits.

It says America will side-step the discipline of capping emissions by buying other countries' surfeit. This is stacking up trouble for the future, when even more stringent cuts will be needed, says Ms Tunmore.

"We know there are going to have to be bigger cuts down the line," she says.

If the JUSSCANNZ countries "do not start changing their energy consumption patterns now there will be problems later on".


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See also:

16 Oct 98 | Science/Nature
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