Discounting China’s CDM Dams

23 Pages Posted: 21 May 2009 Last revised: 16 Feb 2010

Date Written: 2009


The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is the Kyoto Protocol’s effort to encourage developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by investing in sustainable development projects in developing countries. The CDM has generated substantial investment but it has also received substantial criticism. My focus in this Essay is on how the CDM has subsidized the construction of so many new hydroelectric facilities in China, and what the consequences – positive and negative – of those dams are. This essay proposes an alternative approach that would shift more of the CDM resources to other nations and to renewable energy projects besides dams. The premise of the CDM is that the reduction of one ton of greenhouse gases should be treated the same regardless of where or how it happens. This makes perfect sense from the perspective of atmospheric science, for emissions from any place and any source soon mix with greenhouse gases throughout the earth. But climate change is about more than atmospheric science. Not all countries are equal with respect to energy development and its attendant greenhouse gas emissions. Nor are all alternatives to burning fossil fuels equal in their environmental consequences. The CDM has neglected these differences even though the Kyoto Protocol specifies that sustainable development is one of the purposes of the CDM.

My proposal is that the CDM should discount hydroelectric projects in China so that they receive less credit. For example, a multiplication factor could be employed so that a solar energy project in Africa earns 1.25 credits for every one ton of greenhouse gas emissions that they avoid, while a hydroelectric dam in China earns only .75 credits for every ton of avoided greenhouse gas emissions. Such changes would enable the CDM to award more credits to projects in the least developed countries, and to projects that have the least harmful environmental consequences.

Keywords: climate change, global warming, Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change, China, Africa, dams, hydroelectric, emissions, greenhouse gases, Clean Development Mechanism, Hazard Ranking System, National Priorities List, sustainable development, Human Development Index, Three Gorges Dam, Nu River

Suggested Citation

Nagle, John Copeland, Discounting China’s CDM Dams (2009). Loyola International Law Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 9, 2009; Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 09-26. Available at SSRN:

John Copeland Nagle (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

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