Clean Development Mechanism

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is one of the flexibility mechanisms defined in the Kyoto Protocol (IPCC, 2007) that provides for emissions reduction projects which generate Certified Emission Reduction units which may be traded in emissions trading schemes.

The CDM is defined in Article 12 of the Protocol, and is intended to meet two objectives: (1) to assist parties not included in Annex I in achieving sustainable development and in contributing to the ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is to prevent dangerous climate change; and (2) to assist parties included in Annex I in achieving compliance with their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments (greenhouse gas (GHG) emission caps). "Annex I" parties are those countries that are listed in Annex I of the treaty, and are the industrialized countries. Non-Annex I parties are developing countries.

The CDM addresses the second objective by allowing the Annex I countries to meet part of their emission reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol by buying Certified Emission Reduction units from CDM emission reduction projects in developing countries (Carbon Trust, 2009, p. 14). The projects and the issue of CERs is subject to approval to ensure that these emission reductions are real and "additional." The CDM is supervised by the CDM Executive Board (CDM EB) and is under the guidance of the Conference of the Parties (COP/MOP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The CDM allows industrialized countries to buy CERS and to invest in emission reductions where it is cheapest globally (Grubb, 2003, p. 159). Between 2001, which was the first year CDM projects could be registered and 7 September 2012, the CDM issued 1 billion Certified Emission Reduction units. As of 1 September 2012, 63% of all CERS had been issued for projects based on destroying either HFC-23 (42%) or N2O (21%). Carbon capture and storage (CCS) was included in the CDM carbon offsetting scheme in December 2011.

However, a number of weaknesses of the CDM have been identified (World Bank, 2010, p. 265-267). Several of these issues were addressed by the new Program of Activities (PoA) that moves to approving 'bundles' of projects instead of accrediting each project individually. In 2012, the report Climate change, carbon markets and the CDM: A call to action said governments urgently needed to address the future of the CDM. It suggested the CDM was in danger of collapse because of the low price of carbon and the failure of governments to guarantee its existence into the future. Writing on the website of the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, Yolanda Kakabadse, a member of the investigating panel for the report and founder of Fundacion Futuro Latinamericano, said a strong CDM is needed to support the political consensus essential for future climate progress. "Therefore we must do everything in our hands to keep it working," she said.

Read more about Clean Development Mechanism:  History, Purpose, Economics, Financial Issues, CDM Projects, Barriers

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