Reconciling the Carbon Market and the Human Right to Water: The Role of Suppressed Demand Under Clean Development Mechanism and the Gold Standard

46 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2013

Date Written: September 1, 2013


Carbon credits are being used to fund a multitude of development projects. Recently, they have been approved by the Gold Standard and the Clean Development Mechanism, two carbon credit approval bodies, to fund clean water Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS) projects under a theory known as suppressed demand, in which credits are largely based on assumed carbon emissions rather than actual carbon emissions. These projects seek to promote alternative methods of purifying drinking water rather than boiling, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through the burning of wood or other biomass. Proponents argue that suppressed demand creates greater equity in carbon markets because countries that have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions would not otherwise be able to advantage of carbon funding designed to promote sustainable development. Critics counter that because suppressed demand is not based on actual carbon emissions, the funded projects that do not reduce greenhouse gases.

This paper analyzes the theories underpinning suppressed demand and considers its relationship to the human right to water. The “good practices” criteria outlined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation provide an analytical tool for assessing the effectiveness projects funded via suppressed demand. The primary conclusion is that while suppressed demand funded water projects are consistent with the human right to water, they do not guarantee that all essential criteria of the human right to water are fulfilled; at best, they address concerns about water quality and affordability while not focusing on questions of availability, accessibility and acceptability. While the suppressed demand approaches used by Gold Standard and CDM attempt to address some aspects of the “cross-cutting” human rights criteria, i.e. non-discrimination, participation, accountability, impact and sustainability, significant room for improvement exists. If suppressed demand is to be used as a carbon credit funding mechanism for water purification projects, then potential drawbacks need to be considered and the methodologies revised accordingly. Only then, can carbon credit funded HWTS projects relying on the suppressed demand carbon credit approach be seen as an important ally in reducing carbon emissions and in aiding LDCs struggling to implement the human right to water.

Keywords: carbon market, suppressed demand, human right to water, Clean Development Mechanism, Gold Standard

Suggested Citation

Williams, Mark K. and Murthy, Sharmila, Reconciling the Carbon Market and the Human Right to Water: The Role of Suppressed Demand Under Clean Development Mechanism and the Gold Standard (September 1, 2013). Environmental Law, Vol. 43, No. 3, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Mark K. Williams

Independent ( email )

Sharmila Murthy (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

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