Potential problems with carbon offset projects in developing countries

The idea of undertaking projects, such as forestry projects, in developing countries to offset greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries such as Canada has been around since the beginning of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and has been implemented by a significant number of organizations. A new report from the California-based Oakland Institute suggests that this approach to climate change mitigation could face some serious social responsibility challenges.

The Oakland Institute report, The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda, reviews carbon offset projects undertaken in Uganda by Green Resources, a Norwegian-registered plantation forestry company. and points out that there is mounting evidence that these land acquisitions for climate change mitigation—including forestry plantations—severely compromise not only local ecologies but also the livelihoods of the some of the world’s most vulnerable people living at subsistence level in rural areas in developing countries. Among the findings:

  • upwards of 8,000 people in rural Uganda face profound disruptions to their livelihoods, including many experiencing forced evictions.
  • villagers across Green Resources’ two land acquisitions in Uganda report being denied access to land vital for growing food and grazing livestock, as well as collecting forest resources central to their livelihoods.
  • many local people also describe the pollution of land and waterways by agrochemicals used in forestry plantations, resulting in crop losses and livestock deaths.
  • many of those evicted, as well as those seeking to use land now licensed to Green Resources, report being subjected
    to physical violence at the hands of the police.
  • they also allege that private security forces have been involved in this criminal behaviour, although the role of Green Resources itself is not known.

The report introduces the term “carbon violence” to give context to the diversity of structural, social, political, economic, and cultural harms connected with the way carbon markets have evolved in some developing countries, Evidence presented demonstrates how subsistence farmers and poor communities carry heavy costs associated with the expansion of forestry plantations and global carbon markets.

GallonDaily suggests that, while situations such as that described in the Oakland Institute report almost certainly do occur in association with carbon projects in developing countries, they are not a necessary or desirable part of such projects. At its fundamentals the situations described in the report are not fundamentally different from some of the charges levelled against Canadian mining company activities in developing countries. Corporate social responsibility programs, possibly including ones similar to that which the Canadian government is now encouraging mining companies to implement, may be a part of the solution. In the meantime Gallondaily suggests that it is in the best interest of companies investing in developing country carbon offsets to take a close look at the offset projects to ensure that they are not causing the kind of social, environmental, and criminal disruptions described in the Oakland Institute report.

The 15 page report, The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda, is available at http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/darker-side-green

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