The Bush administration has ridiculed such trading because it will not result in any emissions reductions. Under pressure from their own environmental groups, Europe, Japan and Canada are therefore opting for the more difficult alternative: investing in clean-energy projects in poor countries. Developing countries have eagerly welcomed such investments, and some environmental advocates say the real concern is that Kyoto will have too few emissions trading projects.
"The supreme irony is that as Kyoto opens, the window of opportunity is closing," said Ken Newcombe, who manages the World Bank's carbon finance business. Sustainable development projects need to generate credits between 2008 and 2012, when the treaty calls for Europe, Canada and Japan to make emissions cuts, he said. There are no incentives for rich countries to buy credits after that, although environmentalists expect a new round of pledges after 2012.
The Kyoto protocol is meant to reduce greenhouse gases like those spewed by this New Delhi power plant but also creates a worldwide market in "emissions credits."
(Kamal Kishore -- Reuters)
Among the World Bank's projects are the Poechos hydropower facility in Peru, whose credits will be purchased by the Netherlands, and a $35 million wind turbine plant in the Philippines. Private brokers such as CO2e.com are also cutting deals -- one contract linked Japanese and Canadian electric utilities with a pork producer in Chile. The project captures methane, a greenhouse gas, produced by 100,000 pigs.
Jose Contardo, who helps manage a World Bank-supported Chacabuquito hydroelectricity project in Chile, said it generates 26 megawatts of clean power. "Anybody in the world will find it a good project," he said in a phone interview.
The Durban dumpsite was an attractive target under Kyoto because, like most dumps, it emits methane, one of six greenhouse gases the treaty seeks to limit. Methane is 21 times worse than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, Newcombe said, adding that the project was supported by South African authorities and had met safety protocols. He dismissed Wysham's charges as "technically naive," saying the project would generate clean power, and also collect toxic gases and filter them away.
But Sajida Khan said the World Bank and the treaty do not recognize the realities on the ground where she lives. The Bisasar landfill was established by the apartheid regime in 1980 to get rid of waste from predominantly white neighborhoods in a community largely populated by Indians and blacks. No buffer zone protects the community, she said in a phone interview, adding that hazardous chemicals at the dump have given her cancer and caused numerous health problems in the area. The African National Congress once promised to close the dump, she said, but has not, and now South Africa will gain by keeping it open.
"You are talking about gaining credits and making money, but the people on the ground will continue to suffer," she said. "My goal is to protect the community and close the site down and compensate people for their losses."
Steven Sawyer, a climate policy adviser at the environmental group Greenpeace, defended many Kyoto-inspired projects and said they would make poor countries more economically resilient and help them leapfrog over the dirty stage of industrial development. But he criticized one emerging source of carbon credits -- deals that have rich countries financing large plantations in poor countries to trap carbon biologically.
In Brazil, tracts of land are being converted to eucalyptus plantations to earn emissions credits under Kyoto, said Overbeek, a community activist at the social justice group FASE.
Overbeek said the plantations are depleting the water table and displacing poor people who depended on agriculture. Biodiversity, he added, is being replaced by "monocultures" of eucalyptus forests that he called "green deserts."
"In Germany, they use five to six times more tissue paper than in Brazil," he said. "Is it necessary? Is it sustainable? And because of that you are taking land away from people here who have to go to cities and can't find jobs."