U.N. offsets balance CO2 emissions

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the U.N. General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

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Kai Ryssdal: The island of Manhattan is not the place to be today if you want to get somewhere in a hurry. The United Nations General Assembly kicked off its session today. That means the streets are packed with long, black limousines. And airports in New York metropolitan area are more crowded than usual, and that only adds to New York's carbon footprint.

But in keeping with Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon's efforts to make the U.N. more green, yesterday, the day of the U.N.'s climate change summit, will actually end up being carbon neutral. Thanks to a big check being sent to rural India. Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson explains.


JEREMY HOBSON: It's simple addition and subtraction, according to Janos Pasztor, the director of the U.N. secretary general's climate change support team.

JANOS PASZTOR: We've counted one head of state with one advisor travelling from different parts of the world, then taking a taxi, coming into Manhattan and back, and some internal traffic within the city and then based on that, we calculated the footprint.

And then, Pasztor says, the U.N. decided how many credits it needed to buy and send to rural India to build bio-gas plants that reduce the need to cut down trees for fuel.

PASZTOR: This is in fact the most reliable type of offsets that we have at present in the global carbon market.

A market that came out of the Kyoto Protocol that allows developed countries to invest in carbon-cutting projects in emerging nations. But would the project in India be going forward without the U.N.'s money? I asked Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for environmental law and policy.

DAN ESTY: It depends on the sort of precise nature of the offsets that have been purchased, but a good quality offset is an investment that would otherwise not have taken place.

And Esty says as the carbon-credit market grows, it's becoming easier to track offsets and verify their legitimacy.

ESTY: There's also some folks who are starting to securitize these offsets and to try and make them into kind of financial instruments that can be traded. I think that's less exciting from the point of view of the planet, but perhaps part of the maturing of this marketplace.

Ai yai yai. Get ready for the carbon-credit bubble and bust.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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