11 July 2007

Global Climate Change: Emerging Leaders, Emerging Solutions Conference, Day One - The Debate About Carbon Trading

Day One of the ELP/NJIT "Emerging Leaders, Emerging Solutions" Climate Change Conference, for which I served on the planning committee. After the initial worry over whether all the panelists would show up for my morning plenary, "Seizing the Day: What We Need to Do to Take Advantage of Climate Change Awareness and Move to Action," and a fire alarm bringing the Q&A to an abrupt end, the day settled into a stimulating series of dialogues. (More specifically on my panel in later post.)

I'm particularly interested in how business and market-based solutions can be applied to address climate change, including such mechanisms as clean tech investments, innovative financing such as green mortgages, alternative energy credits, and energy efficiency.

But the liveliest discussion was around carbon trading and carbon offsets, as Professor Michael Dorsey of Dartmouth squared off with Neil Cohn and Eric Carlson, of Natsource and Carbonfund.org, respectively, on the issue of whether trading and offsets are flawed, failing, or just might solve the climate crisis. While the debate was lively and entertaining, it seemed Dorsey took it to an unfortunate personal level, which degenerated into a "he said, he said" debate, with Cohn and Carlson defending their body of work and attacking Dorsey for calling it into question. (It got pretty nasty.)

I love healthy debate. And, as readers will know from my questioning of the Live Earth concerts, I don't believe that questioning the tactic is the same as attacking the goal. Dorsey, who offered his criticism of the EU program earlier this year in the LA Times has some valid points, including the need for what he called a "Carbon Rescue Fund," which would tax key sectors. And there is no question that cap and trade is flawed. It needs better and consistent regulation (although I'm not convinced the UN is the best entity to serve that purpose) and more rigorous standards for baseline data.

I also don't necessarily agree with Carlson who said that 2-3 million people buying nothing but green power can change the marketplace, change how Wall Street operates and solve climate change.

For this dialogue, however, I would have preferred that the group move quickly from a debate about failure and accusations of fraud to what can be done to improve the system, make it better, and ensure the projects funded by offsets are community based and consider impacts on local people. In short, to make it work.

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