How to be a carbon vigilante

Chris Adams writes on carbon trading schemes and buying one's way back into heaven.

Most of us are aware of carbon offsets now - to some they’re a godsend, to others they’re little more than a the 21st century equivalent to indulgences from the Catholic Church of the middle ages - if you had enough money, you could make up for your sins by giving money to the church, effectively buying your way back into heaven.

Less of us are aware of their big brothers, the industrial scale carbon trading schemes. Carbon trading schemes work by setting an absolute level of Carbon Dioxide that can be released in a time period, and issuing tradable permits to companies that allow them to legally emit green house gases. Companies that go over their legal limit must buy permits from cleaner companies to keep their plants running within the framework of the law. This creates an incentive for companies to invest in clean, low carbon technology, by putting a monetary value on carbon emissions - if you can sell your unneeded permits to the laggards in their field, then you’re basically being paid to clean up your act.

How much should carbon cost?

It’s an ingenious idea, but you really have to set the ceiling for emissions to be low enough for emitters to notice and feel some financial pressure, otherwise there’s just no real incentive for them to change. This is the main criticism levelled at the EU carbon trading scheme - the price of carbon permits at launch was just too low to make a difference, so it's largely been ignored. So what you do to fix this sorry state of affairs? You hack the price of carbon, that’s what.

Sandbag.org.uk is a site set that lets ordinary people gleefully distort the carbon markets by grouping together to buy up carbon trading permits, and then take them out of the trading scheme. This increases the scarcity of the remaining permits, and by extension makes them more valuable. When carbon trading permits are more valuable, investing in clean technology becomes more attractive than the increasingly expensive option doing nothing and of pumping out CO2 into the atmosphere.

Right now Sandbag.org are putting the price of taking a tonne of carbon emissions out of the system at around the £24 mark. With most powerplants allocated an allowance of between 500,000 and 2,500,000 tonnes a year, hoovering up permits like this isn’t a cheap process; in fact it’s almost ludicrously expensive to wipe out the emissions allowance for even a single power station.

The idea of using industry loopholes as levers to force companies to take action has a charming air of righteous anger about it, but for this to work, you really need mass participation to make a visible impact. If ever there was a site that’s crying out for a pledgebank pledge to kick off a funding drive, this would be it.

Anyone care to join me?

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.