For several weeks, Papua New Guinea has been embroiled in a forest carbon trading scandal. Kevin Conrad, talks about “carbon cowboys” descending on PNG.
Ilya Gridneff, a journalist with the Australian Associated Press, has been digging deeper into PNG’s carbon trading mess. It seems that not all of the “carbon cowboys” came from outside PNG (although some of them did). None of what Gridneff has found bodes well for the idea of financing REDD through carbon trading.
Prime Minister’s nephew pushing carbon deals
On 3 July 2009, Gridneff reported that “A nephew of Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Michael Somare is accused of pressuring remote villagers to sign away their land for carbon deals despite there being no carbon trade laws in place.”
A company calling itself Pacific Carbon Trade Ltd, has been offering carbon trading deals to villagers in East Sepik province. Pacific Carbon’s Eric Komang, the Prime Minister’s nephew, has been promoting a Memorandum of Agreement under which villagers would get 48 per cent of the royalties from any carbon trading schemes.
A councillor in the area told AAP that “Basically the forms are to sign land rights away to do carbon trading.”
Gridneff writes that,
Pacific Carbon partner Ted Taru told AAP in Port Moresby that he had not spoken to Komang for over a month.
“We have been making no promises to landowners as we, like everyone, are waiting to see what happens at the Copenhagen climate change meeting in December,” he said.
But the Memorandum of Agreement does at least appear to make promises to landowners. It states, for example:
IT IS HEREBY MUTUALLY AGREED AND DECLARED as follows:-
[ . . . ]
3. That Pacific Carbon Trade Limited will engage a Programmer to create an appropriate Website for the purpose of trading or marketing …………. Forest Area as one of the “Carbon Trading” Project Areas in the world to the various countries and/or their governments throughout the globe which wish to pay money to the shareholders of …………. Limited and landowners of the …………. Forest Area in order to help secure their paper credits for the CO2 emissions reductions, which they can set against their targets.
Australian aid questioned
A few days later, Gridneff followed up on the questions that he’d asked Penny Wong, Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Water about Australia’s funding to PNG regarding climate change, by speaking to the opposition climate change spokesperson, Greg Hunt.
“The government needs to provide answers as to whether Australian tax dollars and, just as importantly, global rainforest protection dollars, are reaching their stated objectives,” Mr Hunt told AAP.
“We are not opposed to PNG, we are opposed to wasting money.”
Wong has so far refused to answer Gridneff’s questions and declined to comment on the carbon trading fiasco in PNG. She also did not reply when REDD-Monitor sent the same questions.
Cockfighting Carbon Trading Australian Horse Trainer in PNG
Ilya Gridneff has continued to research the Kamula Doso carbon credits story. A company called Nupan Trading, which is run by an Australian called Kirk Roberts, is trying to persuade landowners in Kamula Doso to agree to carbon trading deals.
Here’s the story that Gridneff wrote:
Cockfighting Carbon Trading Australian Horse Trainer in PNG
By Ilya Gridneff
PORT MORESBY, July 16 AAP – A former Australian horse trainer who ran a Philippines cock fighting business is involved in carbon deals central to an inquiry into Papua New Guinea’s suspended climate change boss.
Kirk William Roberts denies any wrongdoing in his carbon dealings in PNG and claims former business associates are running a smear campaign against him.
“I am a loveable larrikin,” Roberts said from his Port Moresby home.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, we’re doing good things.
“I am the most beneficial foreigner to this country (PNG) right now.”
But Roberts’ role in a series of carbon deals is now at the crux of PNG’s carbon trading woes that includes an investigation in Dr Theo Yasause’s role as director of the country’s Office of Climate Change (OCC).
Yasause gave Hong Kong based company Forest Top and Roberts, a director of another company called Nupan PNG, an official mandate to trade carbon after Roberts locked in local landowners for potential carbon deals.
But documents show Yasause issued the mandate when he was the PNG prime minister’s chief of staff, signing documents as interim director of OCC on May 12, 2008, one month before he was officially appointed director.
The documents show Yasause allowed Roberts to go to the world market offering lucrative carbon credits in PNG.
On the same day Roberts and Yasause also signed a memorandum of understanding with Forest Top director David Leamey to facilitate international carbon credit deals.
Forest Top then gave Australian company Carbon Planet the exclusive rights to broker the credits and provide technical and scientific input to verify the credits.
Forest Top was to be the body that distributed carbon credit sale proceeds to the stakeholders like Nupan, Carbon Planet and landowners.
An Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) document shows Carbon Planet last year gave $1.2 million for projects in PNG which were associated with Nupan and Forest Top.
Carbon Planet literature predicts the global voluntary carbon market will be worth around $US9.9 billion-$US17.1 billion ($A12.5 billion-$A21.5 billion) per year by 2012, with the global compliance market worth up to $US2 trillion ($A2.5 trillion) by 2020.
Carbon Planet chairman Jim Johnson said they still stood by their PNG deals but declined to comment further.
The deal between Yasause and Roberts’ company Nupan became public last month, and as PNG does not have any carbon policy nor legislation for such ventures, the PNG government sidelined Yasause and launched a full investigation into the OCC.
The prime minister’s media secretary Betha Somare said any of the deals struck were not valid. The new acting director of the OCC, Wari Iamo, is expected to make a similar statement this month.
“As Nupan (PNG) Trading Corporation is the power-of-attorney for numerous incorporate land groups, it is inappropriate for us to comment on any media speculation at this time,” Roberts said.
Nupan and Forest Top are now in dispute and Leamey and Roberts are locked in various legal battles over wide ranging allegations centred in the Philippines, where Roberts is under investigation by the Philippine immigration department.
“I want nothing to do with carbon credits and nothing to do with Kirk William Roberts,” Leamey said.
Roberts, equally as frosty in his opinions of Leamey, was involved in what is considered the Philippines’ national sport of cock fighting, running an operation in Olongapo, 130km northwest of the capital Manila.
“Cock fighting in the Philippines is the equivalent to pokies in Australia,” he said.
Roberts said jealous cock fighting rivals, former business partners and competitors were running a smear campaign against his efforts to help PNG.
That smear campaign includes details of his time as a thoroughbred trainer in NSW, when his horse Yobro won the 1997 Auckland Cup and came second in the Brisbane Cup the following year.
But in March 2002 NSW Thoroughbred Racing Board stewards charged Roberts for verbally threatening his vet, Dr Darren Gibbins, during a December 2001 telephone call.
Roberts was given a six months disqualification after being found guilty of asking his vet to withhold records from an inquiry.
Previously Roberts had a six-month ban for administering a prohibited substance to a racehorse.An ASIC prosecution report for July to September 2007 shows Roberts also was fined $2,800 under the Corporations Act for failing to assist liquidators and failure to provide reports to the liquidator.
This was one of the last posts on Gridneff’s blog, Papua News Guinea. In the last post on his blog, Gridneff wrote that “Sadly Papua News Guinea is to die a very premature death due to AAP concerns the 30 per day who daily read it are undermining the nature of their news service. That and they may be liable for some law suit due to the author’s unchecked behaviour.”
Nupan Trading, on the other hand, is blogging away, on CarbonoWontok.org. Some of the posts are remarkably similar to comments posted by “Johnny” on REDD-Monitor, suggesting that “Johnny” may have more than a passing acquaintance with Kirk Roberts.
Recently, Nupan Trading has posted a series of letters under the heading “Project News” on CarbonoWontok.org. One has the subject “KAMULA DOSO FMA Block 1;2;&3 FMA” and is addressed to the Vice Chairman and Directors of Tumu Timbers Development Limited. The letter is dated “July 2009” and signed by Kirk William Roberts. It states, “We confirm that the independent verification process to enable your Project to be formally recognized under the UNFCCC guidelines for REDD Carbon Credits is now well underway.”
While talks about REDD are ongoing at the UN level, there is no agreement, yet. As The Economist points out, “for now the UN does not endorse any offsets based on avoided deforestation”. REDD-Monitor has written to Kirk Roberts to ask for a copy of the “UNFCCC guidelines for REDD Carbon Credits” and looks forward to his response.