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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Teplý vzduch

AAU, IET, ITL, ETS, CITL, GHG, CER/ERU, CDM/JI/GIS. Trouble understanding? Reading the unabbreviated versions of the basic terms used in emissions trading isn’t any better. The vocabulary reflects the actual complexities of a field which has suddenly found itself under the Slovak political spotlight. Since every big tale, including one starring Assigned Amount Units, must be told in a language that everybody can easily understand, politicians and the media have started to talk of “teplý vzduch” – hot air. Luckily, the story itself is much more simple than the Kyoto-newspeak.

AAU, IET, ITL, ETS, CITL, GHG, CER/ERU, CDM/JI/GIS. Trouble understanding? Reading the unabbreviated versions of the basic terms used in emissions trading isn’t any better. The vocabulary reflects the actual complexities of a field which has suddenly found itself under the Slovak political spotlight. Since every big tale, including one starring Assigned Amount Units, must be told in a language that everybody can easily understand, politicians and the media have started to talk of “teplý vzduch” – hot air. Luckily, the story itself is much more simple than the Kyoto-newspeak.

Last year, environment minister Ján Chrbet decided to sell Slovakia’s “hot air”. He opted for a direct sale, ignoring the option of an auction. The result? The country may have lost as much as €60 million. The buyer? Interblue Group, an unknown “American” firm registered in Washington State, which officially resides in an industrial zone, has a dysfunctional e-mail account and a website designed by a student from Partizánske, a Slovak town of some 25,000, whose father just happens to be in the emissions-trading business.

The minister at first said the firm was owned by a “group of states”, only to change his mind and claim he had no clue who is behind it. Why won’t he ask? “We have tried to contact our contractual partner, but he refuses to answer questions unrelated to the business transaction,” said the ministry in an official statement. Chrbet also declines to release the agreement, claiming he can only do so with the buyer’s consent, when in fact the law explicitly obliges the government to make public all contracts related to the sale of state property. The minister first broke the law when he agreed to confidentiality and is breaking it again by sticking to it.

To make things more interesting still, Chrbet’s nationalist SNS party also hammered through parliament an amendment to the law on the “environmental fund”, attaching it to a completely unrelated piece of legislation. The fund is the place where all the money from the sale of hot air ends up. And the new law gives Chrbet almost unrestricted control over it.

Do you like simple fairy tales? Well here is one: A coalition party and its cronies want to make tons of cash. So they sell tons of emissions below the market price and split the profit from their subsequent sale. To make sure that even the money that does briefly appear in the state coffers is not lost, with the aid of its coalition pals it approves a piece legislation making sure they get to decide how it is redistributed.

When Slovaks feel a lot of money has been wasted, they say it “went up the chimney”. And nothing goes up the chimney better than hot air.

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