Papua New Guinea was one of the founders of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations that five years ago proposed “a novel economic model for reducing deforestation” at COP-11 in Montreal. But the country has seen a series of REDD related scandals and the problems, it seems, just won’t go away.
In July 2010, two REDD-type projects in PNG applied for approval under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance standards. The projects are the Kamula Doso Improved Forest Management Carbon Project and the April Salumei Sustainable Forest Management Project.
The Kamula Doso project was set up by Nupan, a company run by Kirk Roberts, who describes himself as “one of the most important foreigners in PNG”. Roberts has visited many villages in PNG, promising communities riches from his carbon trade projects.
In November 2008, Nupan received a letter from Theo Yasause, then head of PNG’s Office of Climate Change. Attached to the letter was a certificate titled “Series Number B1 Voluntary carbon credits issued under the UNFCC Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degredation (sic) initiative for clean development mechanisms.”
In February 2009, Yasause sent a “Notice of Nullyfication (sic) of all corresspondences (sic) and certifications issued on Kumalo (sic) Doso Pilot Project on REDD” to the Managing Director of Nupan PNG Limited. In June 2009, Yasause explained to a journalist with the Economist that “We have since ceased dealing with NUPAN as all landowners are not involved nor does the provincial and local governments in that area.”
Yasause has since been suspended and is under investigation, in part because of his dealings with Roberts and for issuing a series of what appear to be REDD carbon credit certificates. Yasause denies any wrong-doing and claims that the certificates are “samples”. Which raises the questions: Why are the documents on official headed paper and why did Yasause sign and stamp the documents?
In 2009, SBS television in Australia broadcast a series of four programmes about Australian carbon traders in PNG. In one, Abilie Wape, the head of a landowner group in Kamula Doso, said he was threatened at gunpoint to sign away the carbon rights to the forests. In July 2010, the Post Courier reported that SBS had bribed him to say that he was held at gunpoint.[*]
“he had been coerced into signing a memorandum of understanding that gave Nupan power of attorney over his land. Initially he refused. ‘I didn’t know anything about the certificates, that was my first time in hearing about the certificates,’ the tribesman said.
“The tribal representative claimed he eventually signed the memorandum in the face of Nupan’s persistence. ‘I couldn’t do anything … So I just went ahead and signed it. Then later I complained to my lawyer.'”
There has been a long-running legal battle between the PNG Forest Authority and the NGO EcoForestry Forum over the forests of Kamula Doso. In July 2010, the National Court ruled that the “Kamula Doso Forestry Management Agreement of 1997 is not a valid Forestry Management Agreement”. In other words, the forests of Kamula Doso cannot be legally logged. Nupan’s REDD project can only be claimed to be additional if it is an alternative to logging. “We will save our rain forests from logging, for generations to come,” writes Wisa Susupe, chairman of the landowner group Tumu Timbers, in the foreword to the project design document. The document explains that the landowners plan “to convert the Forest Management Agreement to a Carbon Project”. One of the project’s objectives is:
“avoiding large-scale greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation from the commercial timber harvest of Kamula Doso (approximately 37 million tCO2-e of GHG emissions avoided over the next 40 years.)”
But if the commercial timber harvest is not going to happen, on what basis can Nupan claim that the REDD project is additional?
The comments submitted to the CCBA reveal further problems. Isaiah Simaka, the chairman of Beagua Resources Conservation, a landowner group in Kamula Doso, writes that
“any statements of awareness by for Kamula Doso Block 2, is false and is illegal and as a chairman and Land Owner, with up to 80% of portions of land in Kamula Doso Block 2 declare all climate change activities there in stated area is illegal and void.”
He invites the project developers to “physically come to Lake Murray and identify yourself there.”
The April Salumei project is no less controversial. It is run by the Rainforest Management Alliance (RMA), which claims on its website that,
“The Project Design Document (PDD) is shortly to be approved to Community Climate and Biodiversity (CCBS) Gold standard, another first for Papua New Guinea.”
Except, of course, that Rainforest Management Alliance does not actually know whether CCB’s auditor Scientific Certification Systems will approve the project or not.
Rainforest Management Alliance, or Rainforest Project Management as the company seems to be called in the project design document, is headed by Stephen Hooper. Recently, the company did not reply to requests for information from Ilya Gridneff, Papua New Guinea Correspondent for Australian Associated Press.
In his comments submitted about the project design document, Matt Leggett of WWF’s Western Melanesia Programme Office, lists three principal concerns about the April Salumei project:
1. Community testimony and research findings … indicate that the level of community consultation and understanding of the project in the region is insufficient to guarantee the project has ensured free, prior and informed consent of landowners.
2. The proposal does not adequately recognize or account for existing disputes over land tenure and landowner company representation in the region.
3. According to recent statements by the Office for Climate Change and Development the development of voluntary carbon projects is not currently supported by the Government of PNG.
Leggett visited four communities in the project area in June and July 2009 and reported that
“many landowners complained of being strong-armed into supporting the project during this visit despite having little to no idea of what it involved. People were told ‘We are not here to answer your questions; we just want to hear yes or no about the carbon project’. Village meetings were filmed, and cameras switched off when criticisms or concerns raised.”
On 14 July 2010, a press release was published in the Post Courier about Voluntary Carbon Projects in Papua New Guines. It is signed by the current Executive Director of the Office of Climate Change and Development, Wari Iamo, and states that,
“As the Government Agency which must approve all national Reduced Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects, the Office of Climate Change and Development OCCD) formally disavows any partnership, support, endorsement or any other form of connection to the proposed April Salumei forest project.”
The press release came after Rainforest Project Management stated that OCCD was a “project partner” of the April Salumei project.
Meanwhile, on 9 August 2010, the PNG Government’s Acting Chief Secretary, Manasupe Zurenuocthe, wrote to Stephen Hooper, reaffirming,
“the Government and the Departments commitment and support for this project to you and the developer.”
In a comment submitted to CCBA, Wari Iamo states that both the Kamula Doso and April Salumei projects are “incompatible with existing PNG laws and regulations”. Iamo’s comment includes a letter from O’Briens Lawyers, which concludes that,
“there is no legal or other basis for the establishment of Carbon Sequestration Schemes in Papua New Guinea such as the Kamula Doso Projects and the April Salumei Projects. Both projects are legally untenable.”
Of course, in the byzantine world of carbon trading in Papua New Guinea, none of this may be what it appears to be. [**] The government’s opposition to voluntary carbon trading may be because the PNG government wants to make sure that it gets a slice of the carbon action by holding out for what it hopes will be billions of dollars of REDD funding once the UNFCCC has agreed on an international REDD mechanism.
What we do know is that carbon trading in PNG is a mess. It’s doing nothing to stop the logging of PNG’s forests. And local people are at the back of a very long queue when it comes to benefiting from REDD.
[*] ^^ UPDATE ONE – 15 September 2010: I asked Brian Thomson, Senior Correspondent at SBS TV News, about the claims in the Post Courier article. Here’s his response:
“The landowner concerned, Abilie Wape, came to my hotel willingly, knowing that I was investigating claims that landowners were being put under pressure to hand over the rights to the carbon in their forests. Abilie made the claims without co-ercion, encouragement or payment.
“It is quite clear to me that Abilie has since been put under pressure by someone to change his story. It is disappointing, but perhaps understandable given the sorry state of affairs surrounding carbon trading in PNG, that he has sought to tarnish my reputation in order to get himself out of a difficult situation. I note that the businessman concerned has not sought to refute the claims with me directly. I do not, and never have I, offered payment to anyone. The story published in the Post Courier is utterly false.”
[**] ^^ UPDATE TWO – 15 September 2010: Two sentences have been deleted at the request of O’Briens Lawyers.
[***] ^^ UPDATE THREE – 6 October 2010: Corrected the date of the Sydney Morning Herald article from September 2010 to September 2009.