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Damien Morris joins the Sandbag team next week as a campaigner – by way of introduction he explains here why he didn’t take part in the G20 protests this week:

Why I boycotted this week’s climate camp

Like many environmentalist friends, I had intended to lend my support to yesterday’s G20 rally by attending the Climate Camp. Many of them were encouraged by their employers: several environmental organisations across London granted staff the afternoon off to join the rally. Like their staff, they had the best of intentions – any opportunity to proclaim the importance of rapid global action on climate change should be seized.

Before heading down, however, I had a quick trawl of the internet to see what was happening on the ground, what speakers were expected and, most importantly, what key messages were being made. On the last I was most dismayed.

The slogan of yesterday’s Climate Camp was “Stopping Carbon Markets”, and its dedicated web-page calls for an end to the “foolishness” of “brain-bending” carbon permits. A hyperlink takes readers from there to a lengthy tirade on the evils of carbon trading. I took my bag off my shoulder and settled in for an afternoon at the office.

While I’m absolutely certain positions very different to the official Climate Camp line were widely represented at the rally, I could not, in good faith, swell the numbers of a protest which explicitly sought to undermine the one route to climate change mitigation which I feel has any chance of success.
The Camp website decries the prospect of climate change being “left to the market” but they fail to understand that carbon markets were explicitly created to correct what Stern rightly called “the greatest market failure that the world has seen”.

Carbon now has a price, paid for by polluters themselves rather than being an “externality” whose costs are shouldered by everyone. This price is dictated by scarcity of permits within a cap, a cap which can be tightened as we get a clearer sense of what the carbon reductions required to avoid dangerous climate change. Yes, carbon markets are “brain-bending”, and yes they are currently flawed, but that should not prevent us from recognizing them as our best hope for achieving the emissions reductions we so desperately need. We need realistic responses which see the bigger picture.

While the Climate Camp website rightly promotes personal and community-scale efforts to mitigate carbon, they fail to propose any mechanism to curtail emissions from global industry, emissions which would totally overwhelm and negate the small-scale achievements they endorse. Sandbag campaigns for carbon markets to be strengthened through tighter permit allocations in keeping with the latest science. We also hope to see carbon markets spread to better account for emissions from around the globe, be it through the emergence of compatible trading schemes in the U.S.A. and Australia, or through the introduction of a parallel scheme covering the power sector world-wide. Lastly, we’d like to see existing markets amended to better reflect the humble efforts made my committed individuals to reduce their climate impacts.

While I admire the Climate Camp organisers for once again mobilising impressive civic action on climate change, I will have to refrain from marching beside them until the day comes when we rally behind a different, more solution-focused slogan. We need to focus on improving and augmenting the international systems already in place – they were hard won. With Copenhagen looming in December, I hope that day comes soon.