Carbon Trading – A Critical Dialogue

Carbon trading has two parts. First, governments hand out free tradable rights to emit carbon dioxide to big industrial polluters, allowing them to make money from business as usual. Second, companies buy additional pollution credits from projects in the South that claim to emit less greenhouse gas than they would have without the investment. Most of the carbon credits being sold to industrialized countries come from polluting projects, such as schemes that burn methane from coal mines or waste dumps, which do little to wean the world off fossil fuels. Tree plantations claimed to absorb carbon dioxide, in addition, often drive people off their lands and destroy biological diversity without resulting in progress toward alternative energy systems.

This exhaustively-documented but highly-readable book takes a broad look at the social, political and environmental dimensions of carbon trading and investigates climate mitigation alternatives. It provides a short history of carbon trading and discusses a number of 'lessons unlearned'. Detailed case studies from ten Third World countries — Guatemala, Ecuador, Uganda, Tanzania, Costa Rica, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Africa and Brazil — expose the outcomes on the ground of various carbon 'offset' schemes.

The book concludes that the 'carbon trading' approach to the problem of rapid climate change is both ineffective and unjust. The bulk of fossil fuels must be left in the ground if climate chaos is to be avoided.

The full publication is available here in PDF format. To download individual chapters, follow the links below under 'Related Articles'. To order a paper copy, please contact The Corner House.

A higher-resolution version of the book, with clearer graphics, is available free at