Forest carbon credits: A solution for who?

posted by Margaret Ran

In recent weeks a storm has been gathering over Papua New Guinea’s ‘Carbon Cowboys’.  Natasha Loder, science writer for the Economist, and Chris Lang of the REDD-Monitor have been leading the charge on this, along with an AAP reporter based in Port Moresby, who broke the stranger than fiction story of the man behind the Kamula Doso REDD carbon trading scandal.

Kirk Williams Roberts, an Australian who before jumping into the world of carbon offsets ran a Philippines cock fighting syndicate, was ID’d to be the man behind Nupan PNG, the company who has been meeting with local Papuans, making fantastical claims about the benefits REDD will bring to their remote villages.

Roberts, along with Dr Theo Yasause, the direct of PNG’s Office of Climate Change, have been busy selling millions of dollars of forest carbon credits on the international market, even though PNG does not have any carbon policy or legistlation. Yasause has been fired, and his Office of Climate Change is under investigation by the PNG government.

This scandal is just the latest in series of ‘carbon grabs’ that have emerged as the REDD carbon trading market gains momentum. Although there are no mandatory guidelines in the international climate treaties regarding forest carbon, it is widely expected that REDD forest carbon trading agreements will be a part of the post-Kyoto regime in 2012.

EcoSecurities, one of the big players in voluntary forest carbon, thinks the REDD credit market can grow to USD 45 billion as the market moves to mandatory commitments by the world’s governments.  That USD 45 billion in market potential has speculators diving in,  marketing their efforts as good for the world’s forests and good for the world’s forest dwelling people.

But in what has become a common trend around the world, the people who live in these threatened forests are poised to lose out. Indonesia has made the most concrete steps in developing a national level REDD market, releasing REDD revenue sharing guidelines this July. Carbon Positive reports that 50 percent of all REDD revenues will go to the government, with as little as 20 percent going to local communities.

A coalition of 9 Indonesian NGOs and 1 international NGO – including Sawit Watch, AMAN, and Gemawan – recently released a statement rejecting REDD as dire threat to local communities:

“Without effective measures to secure indigenous peoples’ rights, REDD concessions and activities can be expected to cause additional and further irreparable harm [to local communities].

In response, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has said that:

“Indonesia’s ‘Regulation on Implementation Procedures for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation’ appears to deny any proprietary rights to indigenous peoples in forests.”

One lesson to be learned from PNG’s ‘Carbon Cowboys’ is that REDD will require extreme diligence to ensure that forest carbon schemes do not become yet another impetus to marginalize native communities, and allow select elites to enrich themselves as no real conservation of forests occurs.

David Gilbert is a Research Fellow at RAN. He has worked in the tropical forests of the Amazon and Indonesia, with a special focus on forest conservation and indigenous rights.