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Environment

Activists cut CO2 by buying and eliminating emissions certificates

The non-profit group TheCompensators* buy CO2 emissions allowances on the European market; but rather than re-selling them at a higher price, it aims to get rid of them.

Emissions pouring out of a plant

TheCompensators* say every little bit counts

TheCompensators* believe businesses can purchase European CO2 emission allowances (EUAs) far too cheaply, and say the scheme does not sufficiently reduce emissions. So, the activists collect money to buy emissions and then eliminate them.

The non-profit group, which is based in Berlin, recently invited guests to an exhibition in a large factory building. Between eating tapas and viewing artworks made from recycled materials, thirty-somethings discussed how to protect the environment.

"We Compensators draw attention to the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) - that it even exists, for starters," said Florian Oel, one of the group's members. "We try to make clear that the system is good in theory, but in practice, it doesn't work well at all."

Telling people what it's all about

Artist Gerhard Baer with plastic bags

Artist Gerhard Baer has always integrated recycling issues into his art

Few in the group of exhibition guests were familiar with the emissions trading system that was established in 2005. Under the complex cap-and-trade system, EU countries receive a set number of pollution allowances to sell to heavy industry and electricity producers. Factories that want to release more greenhouse gases must either pay a fine or buy permits, while cleaner plants can make money by polluting less and selling permits they don't need.

The prices of permits collapsed in 2005, the first year of emissions trading, because EU states had distributed more permits than the amount of greenhouse gases their industries pumped out.

Driving up the price

TheCompensators* group, which was initiated by three scientists working at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, takes a more radical approach to the emissions trading system. The activists say the price of CO2 is simply not expensive enough to motivate companies to invest in environmentally-friendly production technologies.

Giulia Carboni, a Compensators member, pointed out that currently in the EU, it costs only 14 euros ($21) to pollute the air with one ton of CO2.

That's why the activists want to use the EU emissions trading system itself to push up the price.

The group possesses its own emissions trading account and when enough money has been collected from donors, it buys CO2 rights on the markets in Leipzig, Vienna and London. But rather than re-selling, TheCompensators* simply and permanently delete their certificates, thereby pushing up the price of the remaining rights on the market.

A little goes a long way

Compensators Giulia Carboni and Florian Oel sitting at a computer

Compensators Giulia Carboni and Florian Oel

The group said it has managed to save 2,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. It may be a small contribution in the big picture of global warming, but TheCompensators* say every little bit counts.

"If I only have 14 or 15 euros, I can eliminate just one ton of CO2, but at least it's a ton that does not go into the atmosphere," Carboni said.

Gerhard Baer, host of the Berlin exhibition and an artist who creates chairs, pictures and lamps from old plastic bags and trash, said it's TheCompensators*' central message that is key: "People must realize that they themselves hold the power, and that each one of us can do something to change things."

Author: Richard A. Fuchs (als)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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