“Psst, Hey Buddy, Want To Buy A Carbon Credit?”

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Says the man in the trench coat holding open one lapel. That's a good visual interpretation of the new market in "carbon offsets" market that the global warming enthusiasts are pushing for. It turns out that the Guardian of all papers has investigated and found that the burgeoning carbon offset market is rife with fraud. Why it's the new Brooklyn Bridge scam.

Green consumers and businesses who want to neutralise their carbon emissions face being ripped off by unscrupulous operators who exploit the growing market in carbon offset schemes, a Guardian investigation has revealed.

The surge in interest in such schemes, which invest millions of pounds in forestry and clean energy projects in the developing world, has created a lucrative market in carbon, which is unregulated and subject to little scrutiny. Campaigners and analysts say independent standards are urgently needed to protect consumers and to ensure the promised carbon savings are delivered. Francis Sullivan, a carbon offset expert who led attempts by banking group HSBC to neutralise its emissions, said: "There will be individuals and companies out there who think they're doing the right thing but they're not. I am sure that people are buying offsets in this unregulated market that are not credible. I am sure there are people buying nothing more than hot air."

Whether it's selling the same offsets over and over, a la The Producers, or selling phony projects that will never get built to the classic scam of selling forests that the seller doesn't actually own, the scams are coming fast and furious. A lot of people are already getting burned and the situation is accelerating.

The carbon offset market worth about £60m worldwide, up from £20m in 2005. Within three years it is expected to top £300m, as a growing number of organisations and companies race to declare themselves "carbon neutral".

Mr Sullivan said: "There are sharks out there who are literally just trying to get money off you. People were offering to sell us large chunks of the rainforest in Papua New Guinea. I don't think it was theirs to sell."

So. Anyone need a carbon offset? Low prices! Easy financing! This is going to turn out to be one of the greatest scams since the South Sea Bubble. Just watch.

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