In recent years, a push has been made to transform environmental protection around the world from regulatory regimes to cap-and-trade schemes. Under cap-and-trade, polluters are offered the opportunity to “pay to pollute,” turning decades of environmental efforts on their head and undermining improvements in environmental health. The linchpin of these cap-and-trade schemes is “offsets,” or credits from outside the regulated industry that polluters can buy in order to keep on polluting.
Of all the problems with cap-and-trade, offsets are the most egregious. They are unwieldy and do not lead to sufficient pollution reductions. Offsets are subject to abuse and do not represent a realistic approach to pollution abatement. Any program relying on them is suspect.
Cap-and-trade markets are not the solution to emissions reductions that they pretend to be. They do not produce real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and pose serious problems for common resource management. The privatization and financialization of nature is synonymous with these markets, and the numerous opportunities for corruption further weaken their legitimacy as real solutions for reducing emissions.