EU news and policy debates across languages


COP21 will end a decade of failed climate finance

Climate & Environment

COP21 will end a decade of failed climate finance

Wind turbines at Essaouira, Morocco.


With 8,000 projects in developing countries, the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is still clinging to life. But the Paris agreement might spell the end for the ineffective system. EurActiv France reports

The climate negotiations triggered by the Paris agreement will be accompanied by a spring cleaning of the UN’s climate action programmes. Starting with the offshoots of the Kyoto Protocol.

The agreement signed in Japan in 1997 set a number of complex emissions reduction mechanisms in motion. Both states and businesses could finance CO2 emissions reduction projects in the global South (or the Non-Annex 1 countries).

This idea took hold, and since 2005, 1.6 billion credits have been emitted for 7,900 projects in 107 countries, at a cost of almost €100 billion. These projects have helped to avoid the emission of 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2, a modest amount compared to the 10 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted by China every year.

A system in its death throes

The Paris agreement should kill off this dying system, which has staggered on since the end of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. “With the end of the separation of countries into Annex 1 and Annex 2, the CDM will de facto cease to exist,” said Antoine Guillou, the energy and climate coordinator at Terra Nova.

Benoit Leguet, the Head of the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE) agrees. “There is really not much to keep, just the methodology, whose implementation was long and complicated,” he said.

Errors in the basic approach of the mechanism were behind its failure. Beneficiaries of the CDM included industrial gas producers (nitrous oxide, refrigeration gases) and dam construction projects.

The vast majority of CDM credits were absorbed by these sectors. “To the point where certain industrial gas production projects were conceived solely to collect credits,” Guillou said.

A small number of renewable energy projects did take off thanks to the CDM credits, like investment in wind turbines in Essaouira, in Morocco, solar powered ovens in Africa and the production of methane in Nepal.

But as with the equivalent Joint Implementation programme, dedicated to the former USSR, repeated scandals have discredited the mechanism.

>>Read: Carbon credits tarnished by human rights ‘disgrace’

The reputational damage was so great that sales of credits declined. The European Union first restricted, and then closed down its carbon market, its main outlet for the CDM.

As a result, the price of emissions credits has collapsed from $22 per tonne in 2011 to just a few cents today. Due to a lack of demand, many projects have simply been stopped.

>>Read: Carbon pricing: a challenge for the future

Recycling aviation and marine transport initiatives

But like a headless chicken, the mechanics of the CDM administration keep on moving. Its executive council will meet on 23 and 27 November in Paris, at the Unesco headquarters… to prepare for the COP 21.

Some optimists have tried to revive the Clean Development Mechanism by increasing demand for credits. With this in mind, the UNFCCC created a platform on its website for users to cancel their credits directly.

But even this failed, as very few participants made the effort to sign up. The UNFCCC has also admitted that it has often lost the details of CDM project coordinators.

To generate demand, the organisation has considered recycling initiatives from some previously excluded sectors. It has approached the aviation sector, which has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions from 2020, the marine transport sector, whose emissions are still unconstrained, and the Green Climate Fund. So far without success.

The Green Climate Fund, which has recently launched its first eight projects, appears to be keeping its distance. Despite its small size, it currently enjoys greater credibility thanks to the commitment from the global North to provide $100 billion per year to help fight climate change in developing countries. Part of this money will be managed by the fund. 


United Nations conference on climate change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. This Framework Convention is a universal convention of principle, acknowledging the existence of anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change and giving industrialized countries the major part of responsibility for combating it.

The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 was a milestone in the international negotiations on tackling climate change.
For the first time, binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were set for industrialised countries. The protocol, which entered into force in 2005, was intended to cover the period 2008-2012.

A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It was expected that an agreement would be reached by December 2009.

Although Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in the adoption of a new agreement, COP15/CMP5 recognised the common objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2°C. Furthermore, industrialised countries undertook to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate-change adaptation and mitigation. Cancún, Mexico, in 2010 made the 2°C target more tangible by establishing dedicated institutions on key points, such as the Green Climate Fund.

The willingness to act together was reflected in the establishment, in 2011, of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), whose mandate is to bring all countries, both developed and developing, to the table to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all the States Parties to the UNFCCC. This agreement should be adopted in 2015 and implemented from 2020.

In the interval until a legally binding multilateral agreement is implemented in 2020, the Doha Conference (Qatar) in 2012 established a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020), which was ratified by a number of industrialised countries, and terminated the Bali track.

The Climate Change Conferences in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013 and Lima , Peru, in 2014 enabled essential progress towards COP21 in Paris in 2015. All the states were invited to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of COP21.


  • 30 November - 11 December 2015: COP 21 in Paris

Further Reading