Plans to expand carbon markets at the United Nations climate talks this December could trigger a second 'sub-prime' style financial collapse and fail to protect the world from global warming catastrophe, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth.
'A Dangerous Obsession' focuses on the trade in a new artificial commodity - the right to emit carbon dioxide - which the UK and other developed country governments want to expand into a global market and are promoting heavily in negotiations before the Copenhagen summit. The trade in carbon permits and credits, mainly based in Europe, was worth $126 billion in 2008 and is predicted to rose to $3.1 trillion by 2020 if a global carbon market takes off.
But the majority of the trade is carried out not between polluting industries and factories covered by carbon trading schemes, but by banks and investors who profit from speculation on the carbon markets - packaging carbon credits into increasingly complex financial products similar to the 'shadow finance' around sub-prime mortgages which triggered the recent economic crash.
This risks the development of sub-prime carbon and the possibility of an eventual collapse in confidence in the market, with catastrophic consequences for the global economy and also for our prospects of avoiding runaway climate change.
Friends of the Earth's report warns that the UK Government's obsession with carbon trading as a solution to climate change is high risk, irresponsible and dangerous. Existing carbon trading schemes are not delivering promised emissions cuts and relying on them to reduce emissions globally is gambling with the health of the planet and the future of billions of people.
Carbon trading is also being used as a smokescreen by rich countries to avoid
their legal and moral commitment to provide money and technology to developing countries to grow cleanly and adapt to climate change.
A copy of the full report, 'A Dangerous Obsession', is available here (PDF)