My last post was a reminder that the Clean Development Mechanism(CDM) remains a miserable failure. The evidence that it does not actually contribute to solving the climate crisis included data that showed that the overwhelming majority of offsets certificates issued and approved by the program are generated by scandal ridden projects, and are widely acknowledged as invalid. The same post also linked to a study from the World Bank, an offset pioneer, that acknowledges that most existing project based offsets are “non-additional” i.e. based on partially or totally false stories. That same post also provided quotes from leading authorities in the CDM system, and in banks that finance CDM, again acknowledging that most CDM projects are “non-additional” — i.e. based upon false stories. If you want to see the evidence for this, follow the link at the beginning of this post to my last one.

Since the CDM home page of the U.N. is triumphantly promoting a new study on the benefits of CDM [PDF], I thought it only fair to devote a post this argument for the other side. Unfortunately, this new study proved blatantly dishonest, but in way that requires a little teasing out. The main source for the study conclusions was a non-expert opinion survey, which by definition cannot be a way to determine facts. This is not immediately obvious, because the study actually list five types of source.

Of those source types, one consist of project design documents, another of the CDM pipeline, and another of the CDM project database. Those are perfectly valid sources for determining what the CDM projects set out to achieve, and that is what they are used for.

However when measuring success of those goals, the main source is a survey. In citing that survey, no information about study design or methodology is referenced. Instead a direct link to the survey itself is all that is included. It is possible to fake your way through the survey to see the questions (not exactly a great sign of survey integrity). I let them know that what I was doing in comments so that they know to throw my answers out. I have included these questions at the bottom of this post, so that nobody else needs to do this to read the question. You will notice that the questions are qualitative. None of the questions ask whether the organization the person is answering the questions for has any method in place to evaluate the particular whether the particular benefits asked about in the survey were measure. None of the questions ask whether the persons specifying benefits has qualifications to do so. (No, job title is not enough to determine expertise.) Just from the questions, it is clear that is a survey of non-expert opinion. As such it tells nothing about facts, and any conclusion drawn from it about benefits of CDM are invalid. If  the survey is valid, then it provides a sounding of CDM industry opinion, which would be interesting, but does not refute rigorous studies of actual CDM results.

Unfortunately, even without a methodology description, what can determined just from my ability to fake my way through the survey shows a methodological flaw. That flaw is not that non-CDM people can take the survey. Asking for contact information and job title should be able to screen answers from people like me out, even when they do not (as I did) let them know in comments what is happening. But it means that anyone within any organization legitimately operating a CDM project can take the survey.  That means that the survey takers are self-selected. Even as an industry sounding (and remember this survey is being cited as a source of facts and not of opinion) self-selection will tend to bias answers favorably toward CDM.  Plus there is a network effect. The survey is sponsored by the core institution responsible for CDM upon whose leadership the people taking the survey depend. In social psychology this is well know to bias responses positively. 

Note that all these problems would tend to occur even given honest intentions by responders. But the responders have to know that their industry faces strong opposition, and that certain answers will tend help their industry image, while others would tend to hurt that image. It is possible that survival considerations might also bias answers, especially if taking the survey is a task assigned by a supervisor.  The extremely qualitative nature of the questions are likely to make both conscious and unconscious bias easier.

Now there is fifth source, published research and analysis. Much the additional published research cited is based on the CDM pipeline, database and other information files before the projects actually returned results, and thus does not address the issue of whether the projects actually had benefits, only of benefits claimed for the future. Most of the remainder addressed secondary questions like the “the low hanging fruit” issue, and “cost of technology” and mostly did not address the question of whether the benefits occurred in the first place. The one outside study that addressed additionality (whether the just so story the project told was true) did so by analysis of impact on profitability for the first 16 CDM projects issuing registered CERs. As my previous post showed, CDM projects often keep an extra set of books for CDM purposes.

In short, this study trumpeted so loudly at the top of the CDM home page does nothing to refute the strong evidence against CDM. It may provide an interesting data point on the integrity of those running the CDM system.


Questions from CDM survey

1. Dear Sir/Madam,

In order to understand more about the CDM and its benefits as a whole,the UNFCCC secretariat is gathering information about registered Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects. In particular their contribution to the transfer of technology and knowledge and sustainable development benefits. Hence, you are requested to respond to a few (8) questions on project(s) in your custody.
Confidentiality: Responses to the survey will be held in the strictest confidence and will not be attributable to any one individual or organization. The information provided will be used for the survey analysis only and will have NO effect on any project or the issuance of CERs. Your kind contribution in answering the questions below is
appreciated.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

UNFCCC Secretariat
Martin-Luther King Str.8
Bonn, Germany
Email: cdmji-projectinfo@unfccc.int

2. In considering TECHNOLOGY in the CDM, when in your view can an organization say they “have” a technology?

When they USE the technology(ies)
When they have KNOWLEDGE of the technology(ies)
When they USE and have KNOWLEDGE of the technology(ies)
None of the above
If “None of the above”, please specify an alternative?

TECHNOLOGY – could include equipment, machinery, tools, techniques,crafts, systems or methods of organization
USE – could include own and/or operate equipment or processes that use the technology
KNOWLEDGE – could include shared or exclusive participation in patents, licenses, training programs, academic papers, etc. relating
to the technology

3. In this survey, you will be asked about MAJOR development benefits and USE of foreign equipment and/or knowledge, for each CDM project in your custody. It is therefore important you select the correct CDM project.

Please select a SINGLE project from the drop down list below.
Tip: Type the UNFCCC project reference number to find your project!

[LIST OF SEVERAL HUNDREDS PROJECT TYPES]
Please select a SINGLE project from the drop down list below. Tip: Type the UNFCCC project reference number to find your project!
If you cannot find your project in the list ab
ove. Select “Not found” and enter the project number and title below (max. 100 chars.)

4. What do you consider to be the MAJOR development benefits incurred as result of your CDM project? Please choose up to 4, in order of importance.

Use of equipment and/or knowledge from another country
Financial benefits for the local or regional economy
Creation of jobs
Investment in local or regional infrastructure (roads, housing, schools etc.)
Engagement of local people (decision making, consultation)
Empowerment of women, children and the elderly
Efficient utilization of natural resources
Reduction in noise, odors, dust, air and/or water pollutants
Improvement or protection of natural resources
Availability of electricity, water, heating, cooling, lighting etc.
Promotion of renewable energy
Improvement of working conditions or human rights
Promotion of education or training
Improvement of domestic health and safety
Alleviation of poverty
Other
If “Other”, please specify

5. Are there any development benefits that would have occurred anyway (i.e. if there was NO CDM project at all)?

Use of equipment and/or knowledge from another country
Financial benefits for the local or regional economy
Creation of jobs
Investment in local or regional infrastructure (roads, housing, schools etc.)
Engagement of local people (decision making, consultation)
Empowerment of women, children and the elderly
Efficient utilization of natural resources
Reduction in noise, odors, dust, air and/or water pollutants
Improvement or protection of natural resources
Availability of electricity, water, heating, cooling, lighting etc.
Promotion of renewable energy
Improvement of working conditions or human rights
Promotion of education or training
Improvement of domestic health and safety
Alleviation of poverty
Other

6. Did (or will) your CDM project make use of any equipment and/or knowledge from another country (i.e. other than the country in which the project is located)?

Yes
No
Not known
If “Not known” please specify?

7. Please provide the following confidential personal data:

Please enter your name, organization, tel. number, email address and
affiliation to the CDM (e.g. project developer, investor etc.)
Name
Organization
Tel number (incl. dialing code)
Email address
Affiliation to CDM

8. Do you have anything to add about the CDM project that you have been involved with?