Thu | Dec 9, 2021

Editorial | Expand discussion on carbon trading

Published:Wednesday | September 22, 2021 | 12:09 AM

Last week’s announcement by Pearnel Charles Jr, the environment and climate change minister, of Jamaica’s intention to join the carbon trading market, revives an idea first floated eight years ago. The plan is another opportunity, an inflection point of sorts, for a fulsome discussion on climate change and global warming, and government policies on that front, which seem far and disconnected from the wider society.

Yet, with respect to ambition and commitments, the administration, on the face of it, has a good story to tell – if the rest of us were made to understand what is in the works. The Government, therefore, should not want its projections and undertakings disrupted or derailed through inadvertence or national ignorance. It would probably be of value, therefore, if Jamaicans, including individuals and households, knew more, and understood better, the basis of the more robust targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next decade or so, and how they are expected to contribute to them.

Broadly, carbon trading is a scheme, established under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations’ climate change agreement, that allows countries that emit less than allowed earth-warming carbon dioxide, and other GHGs, to trade their excess ‘credits’ with other countries. For developing countries – many of which, even in relative terms, may not be big emitters of GHG – the scheme was seen as a way for rich nations to help poor ones finance their adaptation to environmental challenges because of global warming.

A variation of the scheme within countries also allows firms within sectors to be issued with carbon credit permits, which, if they have excess because they emit less GHG than their permits allow, can sell to other firms. These targets are periodically adjusted downwards to push countries, sectors and firms to reduce their emissions.

SELLING CARBON CREDITS

In 2012, Jamaica’s then Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell raised the possibility of Jamaica selling carbon credits to offset the loss of income to the Government from its lowering of consumption taxes on the sale of electricity – an idea that seemed questionable, given that it was not specifically predicated on the power companies investing in plants that burn cleaner fuels and would be an incentive to consume non-green energy. Ultimately, Jamaica did little in carbon trading.

However, last week Mr Charles reprised the idea, saying that how Jamaica proceeded would be determined after the latest revision of the trade rule book at the global climate summit – COP26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties) in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

“We want to ensure that Jamaica is ready and out of the starting blocks...to undertake more climate-change mitigation and adaptation ventures,” Mr Charles told the Government’s Jamaica Information Service (JIS).

Given the existential situations Jamaica faces from global warming, such as rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patterns, there is nothing in that statement with which to disagree. And the Government’s targets indicate an intention to be out front in the global fight against this catastrophe.

A year ago, using a business-as-usual scenario as its benchmark, Jamaica advised the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCCC) – in an updated national determined contribution (NDC) – of its intention to cut carbon dioxide emission by a quarter (25.4 per cent) over the decade to 2030. That is its “unconditional” commitment. It would, however, do better, 28.5 per cent, with specific global support for the initiative. The Government’s business-as-usual measure is based on policies in place in 2005.

The projections mean that CO2 emissions under the unconditional scenario would be “1.8 to 2.0 million (tonnes) lower” than they otherwise would be, compared with “a range of 1.1 to 1.5 MtCO2e” in its previous NDC, the Government said in its summary document.

CLIMATE RESILIENCE

Jamaica estimates that in 2015 its per capita emission GHG was 3.6 tonnes, or “fully 45 per cent below the global average of 6.6 tCO2”. The report, however, did not project total emissions by 2030 (the areas it covered would emit 7.1 million tonnes), although its previous 2015 document expected “business-as-usual” emissions of 7.2 million tonnes.

Mr Charles already has carbon credits in the bank available for trading. But how fast they continue to build, and how much he may ultimately be able to trade, will be dependent on how quickly the Government is able to implement related policies, such as the plan to have approximately one-third (now 17 per cent) of Jamaica’s electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030.

The timing of this will depend on the science, energy and technology minister, Daryl Vaz, and the Generation Procurement Entity (GPE), which, by law, has oversight of the process by which Jamaica goes to market for new, or additional, power generation. But not only is it unclear when a request for tender may happen, months after the policy announcement, there is little public discussion/debate of what is intended. Indeed, there is the sense of the GPE as an almost ephemeral entity.

Further, while the Government’s policies for emission reduction have clearly worked (the release of CO2 has been in general decline in recent years), there is a feeling that it is almost a passive process. A Government thing with which others merely chug along.

The fact, though, is that climate change and global warming affect all of us – the public and private sectors and households. For instance, by some estimates, Jamaica’s consumption-based (the GHG emissions associated with imported products) at over 8.6 million tonnes of CO2, is higher than that related to domestic production. Which raises the issues of what and how we consume that should be part of this discussion as Jamaica moves to ensure climate resilience.