Climate skeptic's research laid foundation for B.C. auditor general's report on carbon trading
In a recent report on carbon trading, B.C. auditor general John Doyle relied on the research of an academic who's denied that human-induced global warming poses a serious threat to the planet.
University of Victoria agricultural and resource economist G. Cornelis van Kooten was the lead author of a working paper on forest-sector carbon credits, which was cited on page 26 of Doyle’s report.
It’s the only academic paper mentioned in Doyle’s audit, which concluded that the Pacific Carbon Trust “did not purchase credible offsets” from Darkwoods Forest Carbon and the Encana underbalanced drilling projects.
Van Kooten, a senior Canada Research Chair at UVic, is also a senior fellow with the Cornwall Alliance For The Stewardship of Creation.
It has declared that there’s “no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming”.
Van Kooten has also attached his name to the Cornwall Alliance's controversial Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.
"We deny that carbon dioxide—essential to all plant growth—is a pollutant," the declaration states. "Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits."
UBC Sauder School of Business associate professor James Tansey expressed alarm that Doyle's only academic citation was written by a "climate-change skeptic" with ties to the Cornwall Alliance.
“This is the best-funded, most organized Christian anticlimate group in North America,” Tansey, president and CEO of ERA Carbon Offsets Ltd., told the Georgia Straight by phone. “The stuff they do is staggering.”
ERA Carbon Offsets bought some of the carbon credits from Darkwoods and resold them to a German company. Tansey maintained that the Nature Conservancy of Canada needed the carbon credits to purchase the Darkwoods project, which conserves 55,200 hectares of forest in southeastern B.C.
“They couldn’t buy it until they had the carbon funds,” Tansey said. “That’s the piece that was explained over and over again to the auditor general, and he just didn’t seem to understand.”
Working paper slammed Nature Conservancy project
An August 2012 “working paper” by van Kooten, Tim Bogle, and Frans P. de Vries took aim at the baseline assumptions of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which bought the Darkwoods project in 2008.
The trio argued that sustainable commercial management of the land would “always lead to improved carbon sequestration compared to wilderness”.
“Our main argument is that rent-seeking behavior by economic agents on both sides of the emissions trading market has distorted global markets, depressed prices and market signals, increased the potential for corruption, and lessened incentives to address climate change,” van Kooten, Bogle, and de Vries wrote.
They also condemned international climate negotiators for allowing certified emission-reduction credits for forest-conservation efforts that enhance biodiversity and improve indigenous people's living standards. Darkwoods preserves habitat for numerous species, including grizzly bears and caribou.
Doyle's report criticized a Crown corporation, Pacific Carbon Trust, for buying credits from Darkwoods and Encana, maintaining that both projects would have proceeded had there been no offsets.
The auditor general also questioned the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s baseline of “liquidation logging”, upon which carbon credits were awarded. Doyle stated that this scenario “would not follow the requirements of the Private Managed Forest Land Act”, which awards tax benefits for registering a forest under this law.
“The project documentation provided no explanation for omitting such registration from the baseline calculations,” Doyle wrote. “By not registering under the PMFLA, a liquidation owner would not follow the minimum forest management objectives for private land (e.g. for soil conservation, protection of water quality, fish habitat and critical wildlife habitat, and reforestation).”
Tansey said there isn’t a strong history of B.C. private land managers practising sustainable forestry, whereas there are many precedents for liquidation forestry.
Doyle also mentioned that the Nature Conservancy of Canada received a $25-million grant from the Natural Areas Conservation Program and a donation of land from the federal Ecological Gifts Program. According to Doyle, this imposed a legal obligation on the Nature Conservancy of Canada to “purchase and manage these lands for conservation”.
Tansey responded that the auditor general has it “upside-down” by claiming that the Nature Conservancy of Canada had to place a covenant the property regardless of whether or not it received carbon credits.
“They couldn’t trigger the ecogift or put the covenants on it or the conservation agreements on it until they had the money to buy it,” he stated.
Tansey also questioned why the auditor general would rely on a climate-change skeptic rather than professionals certified in the area of accounting for carbon credits.
"It makes us a laughingstock around the world, because this kind of action can occur when there's a well-established process of requiring that those independent validators and verifiers apply their brand to these projects," Tansey stated.
He noted that the auditor general's methodology differed from that of such companies as KMPG and Ernst and Young.
"I don't think it will have any impact on international carbon markets because the eight international organizations and validators and verifiers involved unilaterally stated that the report is wrong," Tansey commented.
Van Kooten sees minimal danger from climate change
Meanwhile, seven of van Kooten’s papers are cited in the Cornwall Alliance’s 76-page manifesto, “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming”.
Its index of cost comparisons puts waste incineration at the top of its list for energy generation, followed by nuclear power, then high-quality coal. Rounding out the list, in order, are combined heat and power using coal, lignite coal, biomass, large-scale hydro, gas, wind, run-of-river, and solar.
“We believe that idea—we’ll call it ‘global warming alarmism’—fails the tests of theology, science, and economics,” the manifesto declares. “It rests on poor theology, with a worldview of the Earth and its climate system contrary to that taught in the Bible.”
The Cornwall Alliance signatories also “believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence—are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.”
The alliance insists that any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would harm the world’s poor, who “desperately need economic growth to rise out of poverty and overcome its miseries”.
Van Kooten worries more about sunspots
In a December 2012 article on his blog, van Kooten explained that he’s “more convinced that changes in solar activities (whether sunspots, various types of cycles, etc.) are a better explanation of changing temperatures and possible global warming than CO2. Yes, CO2 has an effect, but it needs to be amplified through water vapor before it leads to significant warming.”
This argument has also been advanced by another well-known climate skeptic, Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric scientist Richard Lindzen.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report concluded that it is likely that antropogenic (human-caused) global warming has had "a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems".
It noted, among other findings, that projected climate-change exposures would lead to increases in malnutrition.
In addition, the fourth assessment forecast an increase in deaths, disease, and injury due to heatwaves, floods, storms, fires, and droughts.
However, van Kooten's post, entitled "Climate Confusion", claimed that “storm events have been on the decline”.
He also suggested that concerns were overblown over last year's Superstorm Sandy, which extended from the Caribbean to Canada.
“Except for its large front and damage to unprotected coastal areas that had been built up over the last decades, Sandy did not really pack as much punch as most hurricanes,” van Kooten stated.
Later in the article, he wrote that the climate change's “only real threat to humanity comes from sea level rise, and it is miniscule”.
Van Kooten maintained that “threats to polar bears, ecosystems, agriculture, etc. are vastly overstated and, in many cases, non-existent”.
On his blog post, he welcomed "five to eight degrees of warming, or even more".
This is despite climate scientists such as NASA's James Hansen warning that civilization is already at risk if action isn't taken to curb carbon emissions.
“Warm weather is much better for one’s health than cold weather (as shown in peer-reviewed research)," van Kooten claimed.