Motoring group to trade in carbon credits

Motorists could offset their carbon dioxide emissions by funding forestry projects in Mexico, under a proposal by an international motoring body which has already pledged $55,000 to offset emissions from Formula One racing. But the plan, which marks a step towards global trading in greenhouse gas credits, has met with scepticism from some UK motoring and environmental groups which advocate measures closer to home.

One policy response to rising emissions of greenhouse gases is to establish a global market in emission permits. Developed countries could buy permits which would allow them to emit greenhouse gases, while money from the sale of the permits was invested in forestry projects in developing countries. Some economists see such a system as an efficient way of cutting net emissions.

The plans of the Fdration International de l'Automobile (FIA), announced in June, mark a first step towards informal emissions trading. The group's members include the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), the Automobile Association (AA) and their counterparts in continental Europe, America and Japan. It is also the governing body for Formula One racing.

The FIA plans to offset carbon emissions from Formula One racing by buying carbon credits. It calculates that the sport emits 5,500 tonnes per year and has agreed to pay $10 per tonne to Scolel T, a community forestry and carbon sequestration scheme based in Chiapas, southern Mexico.

The FIA's General Secretary, David Ward, told The Times: "We are paying for the costs of this to cover emissions from Formula One. But what we are really hoping, and this is the really ambitious idea, is to get motorists to offset their own emissions by contributing to the fund."

Scolel T is a pilot project coordinated and monitored by academics in Edinburgh and Mexico and run on the ground by a farmers' credit union. It is supported by the newly established International Carbon Sequestration Federation, the charity American Forests and the Mexican Government.

Money received is put into a trust fund to give farmers technical and financial help to implement forestry or agro-forestry projects. Scolel T's coordinator, Dr Richard Tipper of Edinburgh University's Department of Ecology and Resource Management, calculates that establishing plantations on pasture land increases carbon storage by 120 tonnes per hectare. Protecting threatened or degraded forests can prevent emissions of up to 300tC/ha.

However, the RAC was surprisingly dismissive of the plans. A spokesman told ENDS that the group, though aware of carbon sequestration projects run by several organisations, had not espoused any. Although the principle was "technically correct", the group wants "more done to make cars more fuel-efficient and on the development of an integrated transport system."

Friends of the Earth's Transport Campaigner, Roger Higman, was also unimpressed with the plan. He asked: "Is it useful or just a sop to make the motor industry look less bad?" He wondered whether it would provide a socially sustainable pattern of land use in Mexico and whether the loss of land to forestry might have serious consequences. "It would be much better if the FIA came to terms with using the car less," he said.

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