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Carbon credits

This week we are focusing on the way carbon credits are being used in Latin America. Along with many of our partners, we are deeply concerned at the way the system is being abused.

Carbon credits are supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The main system in force is the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under it a company in the South can generate carbon credits by reducing pollution in its operations. It can then sell these credits to companies in the North which are being obliged by their governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol, but don’t want to. The logic is that it doesn’t matter where in the world the reduction in emissions happens, as long as it occurs.

So far, so good. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the system isn’t working. Take the case of Honduras. There the magnate of the country’s agribusiness, Miguel Facussé, has created carbon credits by reducing pollution in his palm oil factory and is selling them very profitably on the carbon credit market. This is clearly acting as an important incentive to the expansion of the palm oil industry. But, as Rosie Wong points out graphically in her article, palm oil plantations are causing massive deforestation (read more). It is plainly absurd that he should be benefiting from funding to combat global warming.

More recently, a new form of carbon credits is emerging. Part of the United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme, these credits go towards what is called “avoided deforestation”. Not part of the Kyoto Protocol, these credits are not negotiated on the official market but they are expanding rapidly. Companies like HSBC and Land Rover are buying up these credits, partly to promote their image as an environmentally friendly company and partly with the hope that these credits may become quite valuable.

LAB’s Brazilian partner Pública has just published a hugely informative and detailed analysis of the activities of an Irish company, Celestial Green Ventures, which has been quietly signing contracts in the Amazon basin, many with indigenous groups. Currently, it has obtained the carbon credit rights to 20 million hectares, an area almost as large as the United Kingdom, and has announced plans over the next few years to double the area under its control. Although a lot of uncertainty surrounds the contracts, it seems that the company is getting the Indians to agree to give up some of their traditional activities, such as fishing and hunting, in return for monthly payments. Again, it seems extraordinary that a company can be demanding this in name of environmental protection. We have translated Pública’s report into English (read here).

The controversy over carbon credits reflects the current determination of the international business company to become ‘green’ and make money out of it. This misguided approach seems set to dominate the UN’s Rio + 20 Conference to be held in June.

Unscrupulous trading in carbon credits seems set to write another chapter in the age-old history of land conflicts in Latin America in which landowners seek to evict peasant families from their land so that they can expand their activities. No greenwash here. This is a big issue in Paraguay, with both advances and setbacks in the struggle to have land used both more equitably and in a more environmentally friendly fashion.

Natalia Ruiz reports on a group of landless families (the ‘carperos’) occupying rural property who recently reached an agreement with the government to move to the Ñacunday National Park (NNP). However the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has expressed concern at this development and has put pressure on the government to protect the NNP (read more):

In another forest reserve in Paraguay, the UNESCO-recognized Mbaracayu Forest Biosphere Reserve, LAB’s Claudia Pompa reports on the pioneering work done by the Centro Educative Mbaracuyu (CEM), which provides education and training on environmental issues, hospitality and business to girls from poor rural communities. Such models for grassroots development do not bypass the pressing need for land reform in Paraguay but they do point to ways of addressing poverty while also safeguarding the environment. (read more).

Meanwhile in Brazil anger among social movements at the slow pace of resettlement of landless people (the lowest for 16 years) has forced President Dilma Rousseff to replace her Agrarian Development Minister. Brazilian social movements have also been campaigning for more sustainable developmentand against huge dams. More about this soon on the LAB website.

In the meantime, do take a look at our featured video, The Fight for Amazonia: Raids in the Rainforest, which follows Brazil’s youngest national park director, Ana Rafaela as she declares war on the drug gangs, logging mafia, tin mines and illegal fishing threatening the Amazon Rainforest.