Legal and Policy Challenges for the World Economy
New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Edited by Benjamin J. Richardson, Yves Le Bouthillier, Heather McLeod-Kilmurray and Stepan Wood
Chapter 14: Improving Citizen Responsibility in the North and its Consequences for the South: Voluntary Carbon Offsets and Government Involvement
Marjan Peeters* 1. INTRODUCTION Traditionally, environmental law has dealt mainly with industrial behaviour. Governments have established impressive packages of regulation governing industrial operations and product characteristics, with the aim of ensuring environmental protection. In the field of climate change policy however citizen behaviour is increasingly seen as one of the main sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that should be targeted by policies.1 Personal transportation, consumption of food and consumer products, and heating and cooling of homes cause a substantial amount of GHG emissions, in particular in developed countries where incomes and living standards are high. Consequently, governments are developing regulatory approaches to reduce GHG emissions caused by citizen behaviour.2 At the same time, nongovernmental actors are developing an environmental market initiative in which consumers and others purport to offset their GHG emissions by purchasing so-called ‘carbon credits’. This market is growing remarkably quickly, yet in relative obscurity. Offsets are being offered for a wide range of consumer activities including air travel,3 credit card purchases4 and entertainment.5 It is even possible to purchase carbon credits as a gift.6 The compensatory emissions reductions represented by these carbon credits are achieved predominantly in developing countries. Because it is normally much cheaper to achieve GHG emissions reductions in developing rather than developed countries, it is primarily there that the much wealthier citizens of developed countries compensate for their carbon emitting behaviour. This raises the question whether these voluntary offset mechanisms might lead to perverse outcomes. The key concern is whether citizen responsibility...
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