CDM Baby, CDM

By Guest Columnist Sonia Medina, US Country Manager, Ecosecurities

At 24, a recent graduate from Oxford, I thought the idea of joining a tiny consultancy firm doing carbon reduction projects was something very cool. At the time, I did not mind that I had to cycle 5 miles across town to work at a country house in the outskirts of Oxford. That did not have heating during the winter. Not the kind of job expectation one may have when you have graduated from a so-called good university. But five years later, I have travelled a million miles, visited more than 50 countries across five continents, negotiated contracts to build a portfolio of hundreds of carbon-abatement projects and spent an enormous amount of time learning about other cultures. What a ride!

After that fantastic experience, I thought that the next frontier for climate change is the sleeping giant of the United States and I found myself buying a one-way ticket to JFK to ‘try to figure out how to make it here’ as the new US Country Director for that same firm I joined five years ago (and which now has nearly 300 employees, plus heating). In my first three months, it already feels like going back to that small cold country house in Oxford when it comes to the debates about the science of climate change or the rationale of a carbon market that I hear in NY, DC and Sacramento, but with a twist – I have to facebook people the information about my company – something people in the developing world prefer to do over a beer, rice wine or green tea!
Four years ago, our work really picked up when the Kyoto Protocol was finally ratified by Russia, after years of back and forth. It was almost an anti-climax when they finally decided to go ahead after so much playing around. I guess Putin has always like intrigue games from his days at KGB. It was at that point when the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – a project-based mechanism to generate offsets regulated by the United Nations and part of the Kyoto Protocol – found itself flooded with real demand.

Most of my work these five years has been in building a portfolio of CDM projects worldwide ranging from landfills in Latin America and biomass-to-energy projects in India to industrial energy efficiency in South Africa and China, to name a few. During that time, my relationship with CDM has been of love and hate. There have been days that I thought it was the most fantastic mechanism of the world, that allows people to align themselves to do good, channels foreign investment to clean projects in the developing world and truly promotes sustainable development. Other days I’m convinced that the bureaucracy that the UN has built around the system will make it collapse under its own weight, and I put my hands up in desperation and I think. ”we will never go anywhere!”

But to be fair, even though the process to get an offset certified through the UN system can be onerous, it is also true that the mechanism does preserve environmental integrity, has helped built enormous awareness around the issue of climate change across continents, has created a pipeline of over 4,000 projects across five continents and has issued over 250 million of high-quality offsets in the last three years. Accomplishments other carbon standards cannot even dream of.

That is why knowing the good and the bad on the CDM, it is quite shocking that policy-makers and industry groups in the US totally ignore the work done and lessons learned from this incredible period of growth. It’s especially ironic when funnily enough, the CDM was actually created by the Clinton Administration back in 1997 when negotiating Kyoto. It is important that knowledge builds rapidly because there is no time to reinvent the wheel. When the Obama administration enacts a cap and trade bill, industry groups know very well that environmentally sound offsets are a key price control mechanism. The US could do a double-service to the world and to itself by fixing the procedural issues of the CDM, and adopting an already-created high-quality pipeline of projects seeking to make real emission reductions.

Next Week: The rights and wrongs of CDM criticisms and why knowing the difference should matter to the US

1 reply
  1. taha balafrej
    taha balafrej says:

    Excellent post. As a former focal point and head of CDM DNA, I really appreciate the way you expose your thoughts and share most of them. Hopefully the new regime under construction will not burry all the efforts and experiences. CDM is a very useful tool that needs only to be improved…

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