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Even before ministers arrived in Marrakech to finalise the operational details of the Kyoto Protocol, the battle for public participation had already been lost. Last week, delegates sealed its fate behind the closed doors of a drafting group set up to negotiate the rules for project-based investment initiatives, otherwise known as the flexible mechanisms. The result is that the provisions for public consultation and transparency within the clean development mechanism (CDM) are inadequate and will disenfranchise the developing country communities that will be most affected by these projects.

The CDM is one of three financial instruments developed by the Protocol to generate cost effective greenhouse gas emission reductions. It allows developed countries or private investors to undertake emissions reduction projects in the developing world and claim the resulting reductions for themselves, either to sell or to offset against their national targets. The scheme is designed to encourage energy efficiency improvements, capacity building and the introduction of renewable energy sources to developing countries. However, in a controversial decision, forestry activities were also included in the list of eligible projects.

Precedents demonstrate that beneath the green rhetoric foreign investment projects can be detrimental to the environment and that developers often do not consider the social and economic impacts that they have on local communities. For this reason, it is considered essential that the public has access to the CDM Executive Board, whose role it is to approve project proposals.

A number of projects, lauded as green initiatives, are having damaging impacts. Examples include large, industrial forestry ventures in Brazil and Indonesia. In the absence of a clear set of standards, developers have been known to clear native lands, introduce monocultures of non-indigenous species (because they generate higher returns on the carbon trading markets) and use damaging insecticides. In addition to these environmental impacts there can be social costs, such as the displacement of communities when developers buy up local land.

In the energy sector there are also fears that the CDM will be used inappropriately. Under the current list of project types it is possible for developers to submit proposals for hydro-electric and fossil fuel power plants, providing they can demonstrate that these provide lower emissions than ‘business as usual’. These projects can entail vast infrastructure building and — in the case of hydro projects — significant land-use change due to the diversion of water resources. With no recourse to the CDM Executive Board, the communities affected by these projects could simply become victims to market forces.

The CDM consultation rules agreed in Marrakech involve a farcical procedure that can only be designed to exclude real public participation. No effort has been made to tailor it to the developing country communities at the centre of the consultation exercise. For example, project designs are only made available on a website, despite the lack of access that many of these people have to the Internet. Further, these documents do not have to be in a language that the community can understand or include any commercially sensitive information, even where this may be pertinent to public concerns. Given the size of these obstacles, the 30 day consultation period agreed by Parties in Marrakech is wholly inadequate. In the rare case that a group or person does makes a submission, the Executive Board is under no obligation to take opposition on-board.

The new CDM rules appear to openly favour businesses and the investor. It is interesting to note that they are significantly worse than those incorporated by other financial institutions. Even the World Bank gives a 60 day consultation period and has an inspection committee to resolve disputes. Furthermore it has developed detailed guidelines to set environmental standards and requires an indigenous peoples development plan as part of project applications.

The CDM has none of these sustainable development safeguards. The decision by Parties to set such low public consultation standards means that, even at its inception, the Protocol's clean development mechanism is already 20 years out of date.

© SciDev.Net 2001

The author is Environment Researcher at the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC) in London.

E-mail: [email protected]
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