The United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, set up under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, issues carbon credits to industrialized nations that pay for renewable-energy projects in developing countries. Last we checked, coal and natural gas weren’t renewable — but the CDM is currently paying out millions of dollars a year to 13 natural-gas-burning plants in China and India, and in Sept. 2007 decided to start accepting proposals from coal plants as well. In fact, renewable-energy projects account for only about one-third of the carbon credits likely to be issued before Kyoto expires in 2012. Critics point out that overall global emissions are only reduced — and U.N. money is only well spent — if funds go to clean-energy projects that would not be built without subsidization. But determining what qualifies is a “hypothetical thing,” says one U.N. board member. “This is the problem.” The board justifies its subsidies of fossil fuels with the argument that countries are going to use dirty power anyway, so they might as well be paid to make it a wee bit cleaner.