PNG: Carbon traders move in

Issue 

During the United Nations Copenhagen climate summit in December, fresh allegations emerged that unscrupulous carbon traders were buying up the rights to the carbon stored in forests in Papua New Guinea from indigenous landowners.

One PNG man told the December 12 SBS news he was forced to sign up at the point of a gun.

Abilie Wape, the head of a landowner group in Kamula Doso, told SBS he had refused to sign a deal with Australian carbon trader Kirk Roberts. "And I told them: 'I'm not your small boy. I am not going to listen to anybody. I represent the village people.

"'If I sign then that means I am selling my birthrights away'."

Wape said later, "the police came with their gun".

"They threatened me. They forced me to get on the vehicle and we came to the hotel.

"They told me: 'You sign. Otherwise, if you don't sign I'll lock you up, I'll get the police and lock you up'. I was like a criminal … so I signed the document."

Douglas refused to speak to SBS about the allegations.

Most of the carbon traders that have recently flooded into PNG are Australians. Although forest carbon trading has no international legal framework or recognition, traders hoped Copenhagen would endorse a market-based forest scheme called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

The promise of REDD is that owners of forests in the global South can be paid to stop deforestation as a way of reducing carbon emissions.

In theory, each tonne of forest carbon thus "saved" can be sold as carbon credits to companies overseas to "offset" their company's carbon emissions. This will supposedly ensure that it is more profitable to keep forests standing than to cut them down.

Copenhagen ended without an agreement on REDD. But countries such as Australia may decide to go it alone and strike bilateral carbon trading deals with countries such as PNG and Indonesia.

The federal Rudd government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme allows 100% of Australia's emissions cuts to be meet in carbon projects overseas. REDD projects could be among cheapest ways for Australian business to avoid cuts at home under the CPRS.

The idea that rich countries should pay for preserving forests in the global South isn't a bad idea. Deforestation is a big contributor to carbon emissions.

But REDD critics, such as REDD-Monitor.org's Chris Lang, have pointed out that a market-based scheme using forests in the South to offset First World emissions would simply allow the rich countries to claim emissions reductions on paper while polluting as before.

A January 7 statement by the Durban Group for Climate Justice coalition also condemned REDD as an "ineffective and unjust solution to climate change".

"REDD's focus on the mass production of pollution licenses for industries in rich countries would inevitably neglect the needs and rights of ordinary people throughout the world.

"In the South, REDD would transform the carbon in living trees into private property so that it can be awarded or transferred to private corporations in the North.

"In the worst case, it could inaugurate a massive land grab.

"In the North, meanwhile, REDD credits would enable fossil fuel-related corporations to maintain business as usual, to the detriment of communities affected by fossil fuel extraction and pollution."

Even Marc Stuart, a founder of the British carbon trading firm EcoSecurities who supports an international forest carbon trading scheme, posted his own concerns about REDD on Cleantechblog.com last May.

"REDD … is the most mind twistingly complex endeavor in the carbon game. The fact is that REDD involves scientific uncertainties, technical challenges, heterogeneous non-contiguous asset classes, multi-decade performance guarantees, local land tenure issues, brutal potential for gaming and the fact that getting it wrong means that scam artists will get unimaginably rich while emissions don't change a bit."

The governor of PNG's Eastern Highlands province, Mal Kela Smith, told SBS the carbon traders are "just coming up from Australia looking for a quick quid and they see that they can get in with a few people and make some promises".

"As far as I'm concerned, they are not very genuine people and they're not really interested in the Papuan New Guineans.

"Most of the deals I've seen, the landowners are completely ignorant of what's happening."

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