Kate Mackenzie Everything you ever wanted to know about carbon offsets

Or, more specifically about the UN’s clean development mechanism. The CDM allows wealthy countries to buy approved carbon offsets in developing countries, partly to reduce emissions in a more cost-effective way, and partly to transfer wealth.

Though the CDM hasn’t exactly been a disaster, it’s certainly been controversial – some question the very concept of offsetting, while others point to flaws and scandals in the CDM itself. The need for reform is one of the few things that pretty much everyone agrees on ahead of Copenhagen. How to reform it is another matter.

So who’s benefiting from CDMs? China is in the lead in terms of the  number of projects and tonnes of CO2 offset, although some Chinese projects – most recently wind farms – are no longer receiving approval.

One of the interesting (and controversial) aspects of the CDM is that many of the world’s very poorest countries have few if any projects – many African countries barely register.

Meanwhile some countries, such as South Korea, who were originally eligible for CDM projects are now much more economically robust than they were when the current rules were drawn up in 1997.

A funny thing happens if you look at it on a per capita basis:

That’s Qatar at the top. It is, after all, one of the most CO2-intensive countries around.

There’s plenty more interesting data on the CDM on the FT interactive graphic – click either of the charts above to get there.

Further reading:

Q&A: The Clean Development Mechanism (FT, 02/12/09)
UN halts funds to China wind farms (FT, 02/12/09)
Chemical group reaps carbon windfall
(FT, 02/12/09)
Strategy rests on reform and US support (FT, 02/12/09)