The CDM: Kyoto's Carbon Offsetting Scheme
International Rivers’ experience in monitoring CDM projects has shown many serious flaws in its theory and application. Project proposal documents are marred by misleading and often patently false claims. International Rivers and others have explained these problems in numerous comments on specific hydro projects submitted during the CDM project approval process.
Fudges, Fraud and Storytelling
Many of the projects proposed (and many of those approved) for CDM credits are “non-additional.” This means that they would have taken place without help from sales of carbon credits. Some experts even suggest that as many as two-thirds of CDM offsets do not represent actual emissions cuts. The end result is that developed countries are avoiding having to reduce their own emissions by claiming credits for fictitious emission reductions.
Buying (Rip-)Offsets from Large Hydro
The hydropower industry is particularly culpable in cheating the CDM system. By March 2013, 2,476 hydro projects with an installed capacity of 244,711 MW had applied for credits. If the UN body that administers the CDM approves these projects the hydro industry will make billions of dollars from the Northern consumers and taxpayers who will indirectly pay for the credits. Meanwhile the global climate – and the effectiveness and credibility of the Kyoto Protocol – will suffer.
Many observers agree that the supposed “sustainable development” benefits of the CDM have failed to materialize. Only a tiny minority of credits are being purchased from “additional” sustainable energy projects with clear environmental and social benefits.
A European Union law called the Linking Directive regulates the use of CDM credits within the EU’s internal carbon trading system. The directive states that large hydro credits entering the European Trading System must comply with the criteria and guidelines of the World Commission on Dams. To date, none of the large hydros in the CDM pipeline have proven WCD compliance.
Learn about some of the worst projects in the CDM Hydro Hall of Shame
- "Rip-Offsets," International Rivers factsheet on the CDM
- "Bad Deal for the Planet: Why Carbon Offsets Aren't Working...and How to Create a Fair Global Climate Accord." International Rivers' 2008 "Dams, Rivers and People" report.
- "Failed Mechanisms: Hundreds of Hydros Expose Serious Flaws in the CDM," report by International Rivers consultant, Barbara Haya.
- "Hydropower in the CDM: Examining Additionality and Criteria for Sustainability," report by Payal Parekh and Barbara Haya, University of California Berkeley, 2011 (952 KB)
- EU Study on the Integrity of the CDM, 2011 (1 MB)
- "Additionality determination of Indian CDM projects: Can Indian CDM project developers outwit the CDM Executive Board?" report by Axel Michaelowa and Pallav Purohit, University of Zurich, 2007.
- Xiaoxi and Xiaogushan CDM Hydropower Projects: Report from a Field Trip, International Rivers
- Carbon trading and offsets critiques from UK think-tank The Cornerhouse
- A Dangerous Distraction, report on offsets by Friends of the Earth
- Whose "Clean" Development? Communities Speak Out, report by Focus on the Global South
Citizen and NGO Tools
- Guide: International Rivers Guide to the CDM and how to submit comments (in English and Spanish)
- Toolkit: Carbon Market Watch's CDM Toolkit, available in English, Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, French, Thai, Filipino and Chinese
- Policy Brief: Carbon Market Watch's policy brief on hydropower in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme
- Spreadsheet: Spreadsheet of CDM hydro projects
- Database: BankTrack list of CDM dodgy deals financed by international private banks
- Map: Sandbag's interactive offsets map allows you to visualize the international trade of carbon credits in 2009
- Newsletter: Carbon Market Watch's newsletter offers the latest news, analysis and views in the world of CDM civil society.
- Video: "Rip-Offsets: The Failure of the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism," a video slideshow about the CDM featuring Barbara Haya
- Video: "The Great Carbon Offsets Swindle"