Climate skeptic's research laid foundation for B.C. auditor general's report on carbon trading

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      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.

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      Joe Public

      Apr 1, 2013 at 12:07pm

      Great article. The fact that the only "expert" John Doyle relied on in his report is a climate change denier who's views are based largely on evangelical theology is astonishing. Not only is this a sign of incompetence, but proves that Doyle was on an ideological witch hunt and that his report is a joke. If anyone should be audited, it should be Doyle for disrespecting the sanctity of the auditor general's office.


      Apr 1, 2013 at 12:47pm

      This was a value for money audit. The issue was that 6 million dollars of taxpayer money, funneled through school and health budgets was given to two projects (Darkwoods and Encana) that would have taken place whether or not the money was misdirected.

      If Pacific Carbon Trust can find private sector investors willing to buy carbon credits to offset their carbon footprint, good luck to them.

      But they shouldn't get almost 100% of their financing from the province to the detriment of school and hospital budgets. If the province wants to fund the carbon offset program, put it in the budget and let it be debated and passed.

      Dan Andrews

      Apr 1, 2013 at 2:07pm

      If he wants 5 to 8 degrees or more warming, he should first check what the earth was like last time it was that warm. No ice caps, lots of land flooded.


      Apr 1, 2013 at 2:45pm

      I am very concerned now that the IPCC forecasts are not happening as predicted that the good name of the Environmental movement will be taken down by a cabal of scientists who have cooked their research to show warming that is not happening.

      Once our credibility is shot, so is our ability to distort public policy with measures we know are better for all the little people out there who do not have the abilities Progressives have to see the obvious.

      SPY vs SPY

      Apr 1, 2013 at 3:39pm

      I would highly recommend that everyone buy or read the book "The Armageddon Factor" by Marci MacDonald.

      This book details the Rise of the Christian Right in Canada and their enormous success in getting Harper elected as Prime Minister.

      The Christian Right, are frauds, corrupt, hypocrites and believe in Fictional Christianity.

      They believe THEY are the only ones on Earth that live by Christian Principles and folks, The Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - is not a Christian Principal that they live by.

      All their Fundamental Principals are Man-Made, Fictional and are all about Dominance and Submission.

      On the Inter-Gallactical "Self Delusion Index", well they are OUT OF THIS WORLD.

      Be Afraid - Be Very Afraid

      Lee L.

      Apr 1, 2013 at 5:24pm

      The article is ( as is typical in the Straight ) biased. The opening paragraph where the writer's so called reporting states describes van Kooten as someone who has 'denied that human-induced global warming poses a serious threat to the planet.'

      Well you don't have to deny to disagree. Wouldn't that convey a more balanced and thoughtful outlook? Just say that van Kooten disagrees? I say it would. The fact that Charlie Smith didn't do that, but chose to attempt a smear, amply demonstrates his lack of objectivity on this matter. Of course he isn't alone, but it is confusing ( and amusing ) to see how climate zealots, with all the same faults, extreme biases and in indistinguishable outraged declarations, will then smirk and twitter at the mention of the word Christian as if that were immediate proof of flawed thinking or untrustworthy logic.

      Newton and Einstein were both religious men, perhaps Smith's and the deep Green climate community's zealotry has led them to ignore inconvenient facts and no longer question anything that isn't on message or part of the agenda.

      I have not read the report to verify that the 'only reference' used was the one referred to, but Doyle did use the work of a university professor and sector lead author of a working paper on forest-sector carbon credits. Rather than rolling eyes and verbal puffery, perhaps Smith would serve better to provide some appropriate references himself, taking care to avoid the propaganda of Suzuki Foundation, WWF, Sierra Club so as to lend some balance to the reporting.

      Finally, there is no fault in NOT assuming that there is a climate crisis, in NOT assuming that CO2 is the proven cause of future destruction and and NOT assuming carbon credits are of any use and are being honestly managed.

      Assuming otherwise, as an auditor, would be a foolish starting point.

      Ruth Schofield

      Apr 1, 2013 at 6:31pm

      Only reference? Doyle cites the WWF analysis of the CDM failings. Perhaps in his next lecture Professor/ CEO Tansey would like to reveal who the 8 accredited certifiers and verifiers are so that we can consider their linkage to radical environmentalism.

      John Kidder

      Apr 2, 2013 at 12:13am

      up here where I live in the dry interior of BC, the pine trees are dead, the rivers are warmer and freshet is earlier every year, wine growers are changing varieties to keep up with warming - it goes on and on. I don't care what drives climate change deniers, whether they're Christians, atheists, or hooked on pandas like the Prime Minister. I just know that when you're in a hole the first thing to do is to stop digging, and when your house is on fire you do your best to put it out, regardless of the cause. Of course there will be errors and additional costs and wrong strategies in these early efforts to redress the monstrous wrongs we're all doing to the planet. That should not diminish our intention to keep trying, or cause us to dismiss the obvious (except to the afore-mentioned christians, atheists and panda-huggers) need to get off our addiction to carbon fuels. Worship whoever or whatever you want, I don't give a rat's ass. But when it comes to global warming, either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

      Hilary Ostrov

      Apr 2, 2013 at 3:07am

      Climate change is seen by many as the major environmental issue facing us today. The evidence of its impacts (extreme storms, increased droughts, warming and cooling shifts) is a constant feature in the daily news and the lives of many. With it comes the increasing recognition from governments around the world that greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) must be reduced to mitigate these impacts.

      “In its 2007 Speech from the Throne, the provincial government announced its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2010. In addition to making capital investments and reducing GHGs, a significant part of its plan was the purchase of carbon offsets.

      “These offsets represent a reduction or sequestration of greenhouse gas emissions that can be used to compensate for emissions from another organization, such as a public sector body. Government established the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), a Crown corporation, to purchase the carbon offsets needed by government to meet its carbon neutral goal.

      “This audit examined two projects which accounted for nearly 70 percent of the offsets purchased by government to achieve their claim of carbon neutrality: the Darkwoods Forest Carbon project in southeastern B.C. and the Encana Underbalanced Drilling project near Fort Nelson. However, this claim of carbon neutrality is not accurate, as neither project provided credible offsets.

      “The credibility of carbon offsets is the crux of the entire concept.”

      Source: BC Auditor General ‘An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government’

      “Corruption impacts the success of emissions trading schemes by reducing the overall reliability and effectiveness of GHG markets. The implementation of cap-and-trade systems in both developed and developing countries has been recurrently tainted by cases of fraud and bribery, abuses of power, and other conventional forms of corruption. Corruption in this sector has also taken more original forms, such as the strategic exploitation of ‘bad science’ and scientific uncertainties for profit, the manipulation of GHG market prices, and anti-systemic speculation”

      Source: United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) ‘The impact of corruption on climate change: threatening emissions trading mechanisms?’

      Now, really, Mr. Smith! Don't you think that the above would be more informative to readers interested in the AG's Report than Tansey's self-serving smearing irrelevancies?!

      Kevin D Brown

      Apr 2, 2013 at 6:30am

      Climate zealots, radical environmentalists...

      That would include 97% of climate scientists, I suppose.

      - the concentration of CO2 and other pollutants is increasing in the atmosphere;
      - we have put it there;
      - CO2 and other gasses have the observable effect of trapping heat in the atmosphere;
      - the temperature of the Earth is increasing;
      - we have a choice to reverse this trend.

      These are facts. Despite the fact that we don't know exactly what the effects of global warming are going to be, predicted responses to the increase in CO2 and other pollutants have been observed in a pattern of extreme weather events.

      It does not matter if you believe in God, gods or scaly blue newts, if you drop a bowling ball on your toe, the toe is going to get hurt.

      Climate zealots? Radical environmentalists? Perhaps these people have earned these slurs simply because they insist that we do something about the issue. If you deny science and the consensus on AGW, and you are called a "denier" then is it a slur, or an accurate description?