3 Jul 2013

Don't make water management even worse!

I got this email and laughed and cried:
For ten years The Gold Standard [TGS] has pioneered the way climate change and development activities are financed: creating trust between governments, the NGO community and the private sector through the application of its renowned governance framework and tools for monitoring, reporting and verification of positive environmental and social impacts.

In 2013, declared the United Nations International Year of Water Co-operation, The Gold Standard Foundation is taking a leading role in a demonstration scheme for the certification of activities that deliver significant water supply, use, purification and conservation benefits.
Diligent readers may recall that I made fun of TGS's "double gold plated" carbon credits.

Why are they are moving into marketing water? Carbon money has dried up, and now they're copy/pasting their business model onto water.

Why is this a REALLY BAD idea? The idea of credits and offsets for CO2 (and equivalents) is not so bad, since CO2e are global pollutants,* but water is a LOCAL resource with LOCAL costs and benefits. There's no need for a third party to certify water uses, etc., unless someone wants to monitor/trade them at a great distance (i.e., too far to really know what's going on, so a third party needs to tell them).

The experience with Arizona's Active Management Areas (AMAs) shows why such verification, trading and offsets are a bad idea. Land developers can add water in one part of the watershed to make up for water taken elsewhere. Such accounting looks good on paper, but the underground, physical reality might be quite different.

Could TGS prevent problems like Arizona's? Absolutely... for a price. Do we need such certification or offsets? No -- local water management doesn't need to be certified, since locals can confirm the data with their own eyes... and common sense.

Bottom Line: Certifications, offsets and labels don't improve water management; they confuse it. Measure what you've got and manage it for the good of the local population.**

* Carbon offsets are in trouble (failed?) because of corruption and measurement problems, but their biggest weakness is structural. "Additionality" requires that an action to reduce carbon be made ONLY for the sake of creating an offset. You cannot have an offset for an action that you were going to take anyway. This definition has lead to the bizarre actions: threatening to build a polluting facility but not building it to get the credits for "emissions avoided" or threatening to cut down a rainforest to get credits for keeping it in place. These issues will only go away if additionality is dropped (i.e., you get paid for keeping the forest, no matter what) or if we get to a tax on CO2e (i.e., you pay a tax if you burn coal OR chop down a forest). Economists have recommended a tax over cap and trade for years (past posts), but politicians prefer C&T because its "negotiable" nature gives them leverage to make gifts to friends.

** I spoke on groundwater management in Canada last week, but my thoughts -- especially on pollution from fracking and oil sands -- apply elsewhere (PDF slides and streaming video for slides -- me at 67.5 min -- and panel discussion -- me at 31 min)

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