07 Feb 2020 | Hannah Ekin & Jorgen Doyle - Island G, Jakarta

I come from Australia, where climate change denial within the ruling right-wing Liberal party is rife, conveniently so as Australia’s per capita carbon emissions are the highest in the world and the country’s economy is heavily reliant on fossil fuel exports. Here, getting an emissions trading scheme through parliament is seen by many progressives as one of the main goals of climate activism and lobbying.

Early brainstorming into possible artistic interventions into Island G included proposing to use the site for carbon sequestration, trading offset carbon emissions to 'buy the island out' and allow for it not to be developed as planned into speculative real estate. This was inspired by a similar artist-led project, terra0, a proposal for a self owning forest on the periphery of Berlin, Germany. While terra0 does not yet exist beyond the realm of artistic speculation, land in Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) is already being enclosed on a huge scale, and repackaged as carbon reserves, the offsetting credits of which are already being traded on global markets. Research into such financial mechanisms and their possible use as tools to make the non-development of Island G economically viable has inadvertently led us to the realisation that carbon markets are less about mitigating global warming than about creating a new speculative commodity market for the financial benefit of brokers, while keeping concerned publics satisfied that action is being taken. 

The following list of references debunks the logic which underpins carbon markets, revealing the neo-imperial premises of carbon offsetting by examining them from an environmental justice perspective and focussing on the actual effects of particular projects on local communities and ecologies in Indonesia and other parts of the global south. The reference list is ordered to trace the increasing mission drift of carbon markets from their origin as an (already compromised)  international market mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to the current speculative frontier of carbon markets; the voluntary offsetting consumers are now constantly offered to buy into when booking flights, buying clothes, ice cream etc.



The Story of Cap & Trade - The Story of Stuff Project

The story of cap and trade (emissions trading). This 10 minute video explains the bare basics of emissions trading, the primary global mechanism for limiting carbon emissions, and why it doesn’t work. Although this video is designed for high school students, it packs a lot of the basic information into 10 minutes in an easy to understand way.

Carbon Trading: Solution to Climate Change or Corporate Resource Grab? - Larry Lohmann

Lecture on carbon markets by Larry Lohman, an author and researcher whose work examines the impacts of carbon markets from an environmental justice perspective. One hour long and goes into quite a bit of depth but is accessible.


A document explaining Redd+ from a European pro-redd+ institution.

Friends of the Earth International’s Position Paper on Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation: 

Not For Sale: The Fantasy of Carbon Offsetting

This film, produced by WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) shows a range of aspects of REDD in Indonesia including protests outside the 2010 meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forest Taskforce in Aceh, and interviews with villagers, most of whom have little understanding of what REDD is or how it will affect them. Hendro Sangkoyo, a prominent indonesian environmental activist and researcher appears several times in the film, explaining what’s wrong with carbon trading - that it does not reduce emissions and therefore does not address climate change, and arguing that it’s mostly popular amongst third world governments as a way of getting short term cash fixes to plug fiscal gaps.

Redd+ monitor tracks Redd+ projects to provide in-depth information on specific cases of actually existing Redd+ projects. It maps out the parties involved in them, revealing collusion between multinational business interests and international environmental NGOs such as WWF and tracking where offset money actually goes and what its impacts are in global south forest sites. Articles are written in simple, non-academic language. This case study on the Redd+ Monitor website tracks a Ben and Jerry’s voluntary ice cream offset project, showing how “tracking in real time” is fetishised to give an illusion of transparency to consumers, obscuring the mechanisms at play in the funding of a Redd+ project.


For a broader view on carbon trading as a process which promising to extend capital to places it has not reached before, and avert climate disaster in the process, see this related post by Jorgen Doyle above.

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