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A New Reason Not to be Upset with Carbon Offset?

Why urban CDMs is big news for city planners as well as climate campaigners

An article by Philip Monaghan, January 2012

Yes. It is perfectly understandable that many passionate people working in development and sustainability remain downbeat about the glacial-speed of progress to arrive at a meaningful global deal to tackle climate chaos.

Yet at the start of a new year it is opportune to revisit some of the key agreements that arose from COP17 in Durban – and dare to hope. Capturing a lot of the headlines at the time in late 2011 was the much vaunted Green Climate Fund which will help deliver financial support to developing countries to reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. But just as interesting for city leaders, is the roll-out of a UN approved ‘urban CDM’ (Clean Development Mechanism) that will ensure large-scale low carbon urbanisation projects can now go ahead in developing countries. Take for example, the Delhi metro rail scheme which aims to deliver lower emissions through modern public transportation in more compact cities, whilst improving the quality of life for India’s citizens through quicker, cheaper commuting.

At a time of rapid urbanisation these urban CDMs are a great reason to be a little less upset with carbon offsets (Noting the naysayers argue it is only a temporary fix by which over consuming developing countries buy their way out of problems arising from fossil fuel dependent lifestyles).

Done in the right way, these urban CDMs can both usher in a bold new era of public-private collaboration and accelerate the empowerment of municipal leaders.

In addition to ensuring that these schemes actually deliver the lower emissions they promise, it is also vital to success that any new forms of urban PFI or PPP are established in a way that ensures strong governance by city mayors and robust scrutiny by the general public. That is, everyone should benefit from the success, the local poor and big industry alike.

If local people feel these urban CDMs are not helping them achieve their life aspirations – to feed their families, to work for a better future - this makes these places less not more resilient. And if this proves to be the case, then progress against the promised emissions cuts is put in jeopardy. People may go live somewhere else, decide to boycott or do something a little bit more drastic.

So let us not pass up this golden opportunity. We can do this by ensuring the intended beneficiaries are involved as much as possible in the decisions on how their settlements are to be developed. It would be lazy and foolish to assume this would be the case. Decades of learning from ill fated Big Oil explorations in the developed teach us this.

Philip Monaghan is Founder & CEO of Infrangilis. He is a writer and strategist in the fields of economic development and environmental sustainability. Philip’s upcoming book How Local Resilience Creates Sustainable Societies will be published by Earthscan on 27th February 2012.