PNG: Foreign companies profiting from carbon scams
The government of Papua New Guinea has been awarded Greenpeace’s “Golden Chainsaw” award in response to its corrupt, anti-environment forestry policies.
In a report released on October 25, the environmental advocacy organisation said PNG should not be allowed to take part in the controversial Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) carbon trading program until “safeguards for biodiversity and indigenous and landowners’ rights and ending the corruption and illegal logging” are in place.
Greenpeace anti-logging campaigner Sam Moko said: “The government of PNG is attempting to get its hands on billions of dollars of international REDD funding. But instead of protecting rainforests at home, they are corruptly approving widespread logging and denying the rights of indigenous people who own the land.”
Greenpeace has accused the PNG government of playing a spoiling role during negotiations on REDD at the October United Nations climate meeting in Tianjin, China. The organisation’s claims are supported by an October 7 AAP article that reported representatives from PNG had argued for less scrutiny on the use of REDD funds.
The aim of the Tianjin talks was to set a framework for a UN-regulated REDD scheme for forest-related carbon trading. Similar negotiations took place at the December 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, but ultimately failed. The Tianjin REDD meetings likewise ended in farce after many hours spent debating the inclusion of civil society and indigenous groups in the program, the Center for People and Forests website said on October 7.
The criticisms levelled at the PNG government of PNG by Greenpeace are valid. However, it fails to recognise the causes of the PNG government’s behaviour.
PNG’s long history of corruption is closely tied to the interests of foreign corporations, including logging interests, and therefore its attitude to REDD is the logical behaviour of a corrupt regime operating in a system set up to enrich First World capitalists.
However, even without corruption and lack of regulation, the environmental benefits of REDD are dubious. Carbon trading schemes, including REDD, have been criticised for essentially privatising forests and allowing polluters in rich nations to evade responsibility for cutting emissions.
Such schemes also have a secondary effect of allowing capitalists to cash in on the environmental crisis by speculating on the price of carbon.
The REDD scheme allows unlogged forests in the Third World to be counted as carbon “savings” that corporations in rich countries can pay for to “offset” their own pollution. This allows unsustainable greenhouse gas emissions to continue.
REDD-monitor.org said the scheme “would create an enormous loophole allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue. There is also a high likelihood that allowing forest carbon to be traded would lead to a crash in the price of carbon.”
There are many “voluntary” unregulated carbon trading schemes already operating in PNG, including some REDD pilot programs. There have been many cases of such schemes being manipulated by foreign carbon speculators.
In 2009, Theo Yasause, the head of PNG’s Office of Climate Change, was suspended after issuing fake carbon certificates that were used to persuade landowners to sign over the rights to forests to carbon dealers, REDD-Monitor.org said on September 14.
Carbon speculators have also been accused of ripping off landowners through lies and intimidation.
One such case involved Nupan, a company run by Australian Kirk Roberts. On December 12, 2009, SBS news reported that Nupan representatives allegedly forced a landowner to sign a deal at gunpoint.
A recent confidential proposal made public by PNG Exposed on August 25 reveals that the PNG government is hoping to perform the biggest scam yet — a REDD deal with the government of Norway for up to US$1 billion to compensate for minor cuts in logging levels.
Not long after this proposal was made, PNG approved the trashing of a further 1.5 million hectares of forest, PNG Exposed said on October 9.
Since its election in 2002, the government of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has approved 5 million hectares of forest for large-scale logging, and another 2.5 million hectares of forest clearance for spurious “agriculture projects”.
PNG’s REDD strategy has never been debated by PNG’s parliament or disclosed to the public.
In Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, PNG ranked 154th out of 178 countries, below countries such as Zimbabwe and Haiti. This endemic corruption is a direct consequence of the historical exploitation of the country’s people and environment by foreign interests.
Originally a German colony, PNG was administered by Australia after the World War I until gaining formal independence in 1975. Like so many former colonies, the PNG state remains geared towards the enrichment of foreign capitalists (including many Australian companies).
The government acts as a conduit for foreign companies with a corrupt local elite benefiting from this continued exploitation.
It is unsurprising, then, that corruption has expanded to the newly established carbon trading markets, which are ripe for exploitation due to their speculative nature.
The foreign influence over PNG’s forestry policy is shown by the fact the PNG “representative” at the UN climate meeting in Tianjin was Federica Bietta, an Italian citizen who has never been to PNG.
PNG Exposed said international consulting firm McKinsey & Company had taken over the REDD process in PNG. Hired by the PNG government as “technical advisors”, McKinsey & Company had allegedly been paid millions to produce policy and reports, PNG Exposed said on September 27.
The PNG government’s brazen grab for cash and lack of concern for the environment deserves to be condemned. But environmentalists should also focus on the First World corporate interests on whose behalf the government acts, as well as the serious underlying problems of REDD and carbon trading in general.