Carbon traders move in on PNG forests

January 22, 2010 at 7:56 am 1 comment

During December’s climate summit in Copenhagen, fresh allegations emerged that unscrupulous carbon traders active in Papua New Guinea (PNG) were buying-up the rights to the carbon stored in forests from Indigenous landowners.

One man told SBS news he was forced to signup at the point of a gun.

Abilie Wape, the head of a landowner group in Kamula Doso, told SBS’s Brian Thomson on December 12 that he had at first refused to sign a deal with Australian carbon trader Kirk Roberts.

“They came and then they told me: ‘We came to see you.’ 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’.”

Later, “the police came with their gun”, said Wape. “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. They treated me like that. They threatened me like that. So it was my first time so I signed the document.”

Douglas refused an interview request from SBS to respond to the allegation.

Most of the carbon traders that have recently flooded into PNG are Australians. Although, carbon trading for forests has no international legal framework or recognition, the 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 companies overseas. The new market will supposedly ensure it’s more profitable to keep forests standing than to cut them down.

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

The ALP 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 very big driver of carbon emissions and saving forests is essential if we are to escape the climate crisis.

But REDD critics such as’s Chris Lang have pointed out that a market-based scheme, which uses forests in the South to offset emissions in the first world, would simply allow the rich countries to claim emissions reductions on paper while they keep on polluting as before.

“We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop deforestation. We cannot trade off one against the other”, Lang wrote in a recent book on carbon markets,Upsetting the Offset.

The Durban Group for Climate Justice, a coalition, which includes Carbon Trade Watch and the Indigenous Environmental Network, has 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”, the group said in a statement posted on on January 7.

“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 UK carbon trading firm EcoSecurities, posted his own concerns about REDD on in May last year.

“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.”

Despite these very real problems, Stuart still supports an international forest carbon trading scheme such as REDD. But in PNG, concern is growing that carbon traders are signing up Indigenous landowners to deals they don’t fully understand and that are not in their interests.

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”, he said.


Entry filed under: Carbon offsets, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Forests, Papua New Guinea, REDD.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Richard M Basa  |  February 5, 2010 at 4:40 am

    The Vast landmass of PNG (forested land) is owned by the landowners. That is, 97% of the landmass in PNG. Note that 80% of the population of PNG live in the rural village settings (depend on their land). All the deals and counter deals that are being talked about between the so-called (Cowboy) carbon traders, and their co-hoots, and the government leaders, really do not reflect the real wishes of the people (who are the owners of the forest and in fact the landmass in PNG). With a group I formed in the early 1990’s have prevented any form of forestry activity in my area. It was only in the last few years we hear about Carbon trade and every greedy and crook, Tom Dick and Harry wants a piece of this. Well, we in my group have seen and been through a lot to protect our forest for so long and I would welcome some form of payment to continue preseveing our forest and its biodiverity for milleniums to come – under eirther a VCR or REDD program.


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