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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Status Of Current REDD Projects In PNG And The Activities Of ‘Carbon Cowboys’:REDD On The Ground In Papua New Guinea


The Impacts of REDD+ projects in Papua New Guinea on community and land rights; the implications that the activities of various ‘carbon cowboys’ and ‘carbon barons’ in their proposed carbon trading schemes in PNG and the implication of their activities on rural communities and on the country.


Papua New Guineans have settled on their island nation for more than 50,000 years. This island nation has an artificial boundary separating Indonesia with PNG. PNG occupies a land area of 46.410 million hectares of which 30.365 million hectares or 71% or nearly two third of the land is covered by forest.
PNG’s forest land hosts some of richest flora, fauna in the world and more than seven percent of the planet’s biodiversity. It hosts 7.5 % of world’s plant biodiversity and is considered floristically rich in the world. It has about 15-20,000 plant species, world’s greatest diversity of orchids, over 2000 species of tree fern, 18 species of tree kangaroo, world’s smallest parrot and world’s largest butterfly (PNG EFF 2010).
Forests are an important and integral part of PNG's living heritage (birthright), and culture. It provides food security and livelihoods for many PNG communities. Each local community has a unique forest relationship where it draws its tangible and non-tangible benefits from it.
About 97% of the land is customarily owned. It is estimated that about 83-85% of PNG or more than 5,190,786 million people (2000 fig), still live in rural areas speaking more than 800 languages with diverse cultural backgrounds.
PNG’s forest is one of world’s four remaining significant tropical rainforest.
Impacts of REDD+ projects in PNG communities and land rights

What is REDD and why is REDD+ project significant to PNG?

In living memory, money is the root of all evil. Hence the issue of money has once again made its presence felt over PNG’s forests resources. After logging, agro-economic projects such as oil palms, sugar cane plantations, cattle ranching, REDD+ has now become the hot gambling cake in PNG’s history. It is affecting PNG politics, policies, governance, trade and industry, accountability, transparency, land tenure systems, methodologies of accessing international markets to source funds for carbon credits, tribal conflicts, confusion, and a whole host of issues that needs aggressive, collaborative, dedicated and committed effort to reach an amicable solution as to which path PNG should adopt to gain maximum benefit from its forest resources whilst maintaining the status quo of its forest communities so they can continue to live in harmony with their forest.
For many local indigenous people in PNG issues on REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus conservation, sustainable management of forest, enhancement of carbon stocks and voluntary trading or voluntary carbon schemes (VCS) of forest carbon are remote or abstract ideologies. They have expressed grave concerns that more educational awareness should be conducted in the local level government areas, districts and communities so that they are well informed on these issues before making prior informed decisions or commitments to engage in REDD+ projects or VCS.
It is in the midst of this looming dark clouds hovering over the nation that opportunists or ‘carbon cowboys’ and ‘carbon barons’ have ploughed their way in to gain from PNG’s political and community ignorance and instability to propose what they claim is the best possible alternative for PNG and its local communities to gain from their forests carbon credits.

‘Carbon baron’ and ‘carbon cowboys’

PNG is currently embroiled in a tug of war between Prime Minister, Sir Michael Thomas Somare and his deputy Don Polye and cohorts in agreeing on which road map PNG should adopt in tapping into potential revenue sources for its forests carbon credits.
Whilst PNG’s Prime Minister Sir Michael supports the United Nations initiative on REDD+ and says that voluntary trading of forest carbon or VCS is inadvisable at this time his deputy Mr Polye supports Voluntary Carbon Schemes (VCS).
On September 23, 2010, Mr Polye as the Acting Prime Minister wrote a letter to carbon trade developer Kirk Roberts, director of Nupan PNG Limited saying the PNG Government supported and endorsed his VCS projects in the country (Please see letter on Kirk’s blog:
Polye’s letter was also supported by another letter from the prime minister’s own legal adviser Sumasi Singin to Mr Roberts. In another twist, Dr Theo Yasause issued the mandate to Roberts to go to the world market offering lucrative carbon credits in PNG 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.
Mr. Yasause gave Hong Kong based company Forest Top and Roberts, an official mandate to trade carbon after Roberts locked in local landowners for potential carbon deals. 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.
In June 5, 2009, ‘carbon baron’ McKinsey had asked the PNG government for US$2.2 million for four months work to produce a draft “National REDD and Climate Change Plan” before the Copenhagen meeting. His Draft Project Proposal which is dated 5 June 2009 and titled “Supporting the Development of PNG’s National REDD and Climate Change Plans,” has been posted on the PNGExposed Blog.
Another famous ‘carbon cowboy’ Kirks Roberts has also been galvanising indigenous resource owners support for VCS as an alternative income to logging.
And as if this is not enough slaps in the face for Sir Michael, his own nephew Eric Komang whose company Pacific Carbon Trade Ltd has been offering carbon trading deals to villagers in East Sepik provinces. He has been promoting a Memorandum of Agreement under which villagers would get 48 per cent of the royalties from any carbon trading schemes.

Outstanding Issues on REDD

REDD in PNG is intricately connected with land and a thorough discussion on land use and any discussions of the subject in PNG will inevitably involve the need to address issues in relation to the usage and ownership of land.
REDD must involve addressing issues affecting land in the country. This also includes taking serious consideration of the existing situation and the background in which this initiative is being advanced (PNG EFF 2010).
PNG government must also deal with existing problems and unresolved issues with current legal mechanisms and the land tenure systems which cannot sustain the requirements of REDD+ including: No legal or regulatory framework to manage and control REDD in PNG; No REDD/Climate Change policies to provide specific guidelines as to how REDD+ will operate in PNG.
Although PNG had ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 2000 and it is 10 years now PNG have yet to adapt and enforce the requirements of that protocol. No policies and no laws regulating the operation of REDD+ in country ensuring no immediate foundation for enforcement of rights and privileges usually accorded by law.
The existing infrastructure and Legal mechanisms available are insufficient to regulate and control REDD+ to ensure maximum benefit for the resource owner. There is gross abuse of existing legislative and administrative systems, cannot support another project like REDD+.
There exists unconstitutional amendments to relevant legislation's allowed by the Government are rendering these legislations ineffective i.e Forestry Act.
The amendments to relevant legislations with stricter requirements resulting in hardships regarding land tenure in PNG, i.e ILG Act
There is highly an eminent lack of awareness on the subject of REDD resulting in ill-informed decisions taken in dealings with land by resource owners. i.e Kamula Doso and Timber permits and licenses are still being issued.
REDD can contribute to a substantial and immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But to achieve this reduction and ensure its permanence, it is crucial that REDD policies are built upon, and do not undermine, the rights of our people including international environmental and development agreements.
That current and existing facilities for dispute resolution are weak and ineffective and cannot sustain an increase in disputes which are likely to arise.
The policy, and law regarding REDD processes must include fundamental issues of land tenure, ownership, prior informed consent, equitable benefit sharing and excess to it.
They warned that unless this issue is addressed it is insufficient for PNG and will not address long term goals like poverty alleviation. That there is evidence of lack of a proper and wide consultation, necessary for a project that is likely to affect 80 - 90% of PNG’s population.
Follow the normal processes of acquisition under the Land Act 1996 which provides ways of acquiring customary land from traditional owners.
One of those is the lease leaseback system whereby customary land is converted to a state lease for the purpose of agriculture or business.
A point of query raised by PNG EFF however is: Because these allocations are basically state leases ultimate ownership rights lies with the state and the question arises as to: Who owns the carbon in the trees? Is it the state, the landowner or the developer who meanwhile has immediate control over the land? This often in the end, as in practice, results in a loss of their land.
The focus here therefore will be on the lease leaseback scheme, its abuse as seen in a current case. Applying the constitution we recognize that the ownership of land vests with the person who owns the land traditionally.
The PNG Forest Authority report indicates that: REDD initiatives on climate change compliments domestic efforts and are geared towards enhancing sustainable forest management which in turn contribute towards sustainable development. Government needs to have a National Land-use Plan to avoid competing use of land and unscrupulous forest clearance. A National Land-use Plan will also provide and add security to REDD development Initiative that PNG develop in collaboration with its foreign development partners. All stakeholders needs to work together to develop REDD in PNG
Meanwhile TNC’s report pointed out that while PNG has been seen to acknowledge and address current conservation issues by ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and UNFCCC it now needs to take this down and address it at the local level to be effectively implemented, with a level of flexibility that allows local communities to accommodate their own customs and traditions.
TNC’s report reiterated that this is aligned with PNG’s National Biodiversity and Strategic Action Plan of 2007 and the Environment Sustainability and Climate Change Chapter of the PNG Vision 2050.
TNC raised concerns that: REDD should not be rushed; Build capacity of civil society organizations to effectively engage communities on their own terms; Indigenous Land Groups (ILG) process needs to be transparent and better connected to local resource users, more equitable and accountable; Focus on small-scale demonstration and peer-assist and grow scale of ILG’s at sub National and National level as capacity and interest peaks; Test alternative models over next 3-5 years; Find better ways to link Government and community in advancing forest conservation and protection; Important role of International Agencies in supporting REDD in PNG, but also to reflect PNG lessons in global discussions; Legal basis needs to be robust for current community sustainable conservation efforts as well as other future environmental opportunities / challenges (ie climate adaptation etc) Examples such as the Almami LLG environment & conservation law 2003 should be further explored.
TNC shared Lessons from Adelbert cooperative scale addressed through voluntary ‘sign-up’ with clear entry steps to the program as good examples to be used in the planning and implementation of REDD initiatives.
They illustrated an example of a Step-wise implementation on a small-scale, gradually increasing over time; ‘growth’ through peer-learning and networking - sharing leading to collaboration in the program.
The long-term scale and viability was addressed through initial small-scale success leveraged by strong Community Based Organisation’s (CBO) facilitation and sharing of community voices.
TNC asserted that this staged implementation will enable internal governance structures, coordination mechanisms, and review processes to mature, strengthen and update at an appropriate pace, in line with community capacity and expectations.

Risks of Carbon Trade

According to Greenpeace, Carbon Trade is “RED money transfer from industrialised nations to protect tropical forests.”
Greenpeace however opposed the proposal for ‘Carbon Trade’. They argued that “You can’t cheat the atmosphere with offsets.” In a report Greenpeace said, “Rich industrialized countries offsetting emissions by protecting forests in developing countries could increase global temperatures by more than 20C.”
Greenpeace argued that PNG is not ready for carbon markets. They claim that the measuring, reporting and verifying emission reductions for carbon markets is costly and technically difficult. That the significant liability and risk issues for developing countries, and global ‘regulated’ market is a long way off.
Meanwhile, Tom Goldtooth, executive director of Indigenous Environmental Network said as carbon traders hawk permits to pollute at the Second Annual Carbons Trading Summit, Indigenous People’s denounced that selling the sky not only corrupts the sacred but also destroys the climate, violates human rights and threatens cultural survival.
“Carbon trading and carbon offsets are a crime against humanity and creation,” said Goldtooth. “The sky is sacred. This carbon market insanity privatises the air and sells it to climate criminals like Shell so they can continue to pollute and destroy the climate and our future, rather than reducing their emissions at source.”
“This Carbon Trators’ Summit comes on the heels of the failed UN Copenhagen climate conference which put forests in carbon markets by creating a mechanism called REDD or REDD-plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation).” According to Goldtooth, “Most of the forests of the world are found in indigenous peoples’ land.
REDD-type projects have already caused land grabs, killings, violent evictions and forced displacement, violent human rights, threats to cultural survival, militarization and servitude,” he said.

Other Alternative Options

TNC suggested that traditional values and customs; food security and agriculture; equitable commercial opportunities (such as the Fair Trade model); and education and health are examples of motivations for communities that could provide the basis for REDD incentive payments for forest protection.
Greenpeace suggested instead that there should be payments made only for real and permanent reductions in emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; for logging and forest conversion that is forgone - additionality.
Greenpeace also supported the call for an Immediate moratorium on allocation of new logging concessions and forest conversion for plantations. They cautioned that ‘Carbon cowboys’ – shortcuts and promises may not deliver.
Greenpeace alternatively proposed a PNG National Forest Fund. They claim that it is relatively simple and quick to set up. According to Greenpeace, there already exists other fund approaches such as Amazon Fund to learn from.
Meanwhile Mr Mondiai and Ms Tekwie stressed further that since forests grow on land and that land is owned in PNG by the indigenous people or local communities, it is crucial that parties involved in Payment for Environmental Services (PES) must involve maximum local communities and ownership.
In order for their suggestion to work, they insisted that there needs to be transparent management and payment systems in place. They claim that this is the shortest possible link between the financier and the service provider and that the local communities will be able to receive maximum benefit from the service provider.
They stressed that REDD/PES should be part of the overall plan to assist communities in climate change adaptation. In their view land use planning can only be sustainable when bottom up planning is followed whereby communities decide themselves on their long term land use. They urged the Government to stop all large scale logging and agricultural projects to show that it is serious about promoting REDD/PES


• Moratorium: Logging is dangerous; there must be a moratorium on all new logging concessions and review existing concessions; stop the issuing of new timber permits and other licenses including large scale agricultural projects on forested areas. This is to ensure proper assessment of all issues concerning the industry in relation to REDD Readiness. REDD is about “Trees Standing” and as opposed to logging, which is cutting down tree (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• More awareness: Climate change and carbon trade are a new concepts and there is not enough awareness and information in rural areas. There is an urgent need for public awareness aimed at rural areas on all aspects of Climate Change, REDD and Carbon Trade. This is necessary considering the fact that bulk of our population (80%) live in rural areas and are illiterate (60%), coupled with the complex nature of the issues being discussed. Also all issues like proper ILG registration, threats of lease-lease back and other land (use rights) alienation that will/may be involved in REDD should be clearly explained and communicated. Provide access to information.
(PNG EFF et al 2010).

• Baseline Data: Steps need to be taken now to establish proper baseline data. This would require forestry, Forest Research Institute, Department of Agriculture and Livestock, Department of Environmental and Conservation, and other institutions and state agencies to work together towards establishing a centralized database. Otherwise we have nothing to measure our performance (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• Carbon tax: PNG needs to URGENTLY legislate environmental tax law to tax companies involved in REDD and Carbon Credit activities. Currently there is none consequently the State is losing billions of revenue on related activities each year. This legislation should demonstrate a cohesive understanding of the true purpose of taxation in the relationship between nature and society.

• Review of Governments 10 Impact Projects: The current government who was also the government in the last term in 2007 introduced and fast tracked 10 impact projects of which 5 are agro forestry projects with the aim of enhancing the socio economic livelihood of the rural people. These 10 impacts will impact a substantial area (2 million hectares) of forest in the country. Of the production forest 3.748 million hectares, 11.264 million hectares have been acquired, the remaining unacquired is 2.484 million hectares which is basically committed to the 10 impact projects so WHAT’S LEFT FOR REDD (PNG EFF et al 2010)?

• Proper Monitoring System: There must be a proper monitoring system put in place to monitor the REDD process to ensure it is done transparently. Currently there is no National Policy on REDD, neither is there any law to regulate and govern the processes of REDD and its benefits in PNG that we are aware of. Government must clarify on who owns the carbon. Government must address FMA issues clearly in areas where REDD projects are designated.The development of a Policy Framework, which the government anticipates to complete by first quarter of 2009, requires a wide and thorough consultation with all stakeholders. We are however concerned that proposed timeframe is too short given the complexity of the issues and the diverseness of the stakeholder. Establish Climate Change policy. (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• Transparent Benefit Sharing Mechanism: Currently there is no benefit sharing mechanism in place that we are aware of. This needs to be developed. The policy should include the following: - Carbon trading rights shall be with the landowners; Existing logging concession rights should be bought out, based on the value as always claimed by the companies (no profit and transfer log export prices) (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• Payment of Environment Service (PES) Payment for Environmental Services (PES) system draft gives the outline for a transparent operational framework for Papua New Guinea; It ensures that maximum benefits reach the actual providers of the environmental services, the local landowners. This draft has been presented to PNG Government, and the group has offered their support to the PNG Government to assist in developing the potential of PES for PNG people and country, in a truly equitable and transparent manner, in accordance with the highest international standards (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• Capacity Building: Capacity Building needs to start immediately with capacity needs assessment. There should be local and national input in all discussions, research, trials, etc as much as possible. Local capacity building is needed, but that may not become and excuse flooding the country with foreign experts (spending a big part of the funding) Government must fully involve LLGs to create awareness on climate change and REDD. Engagement of foreign consultants is a waste of public funds when local experts are readily available to be engaged (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• Land Tenure: Land rights must be properly identified as there is more customary land; government must act quickly to address this. This can be done through identification of genuine customary landowners, demarcation of project area, demarcation of clan boundaries, genealogy, and many other information has to be collected and documented to bring credibility to the REDD project. The international rules are strict – nothing should be done to disadvantage landowners or forest dwellers. Proper land use planning on all resource development is needed. Government must deal with food security along with climate change (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• Voluntary Registration Laws: Overall, New voluntary registration laws should be delayed until the infrastructure to regulate it is in place. Likewise operations of REDD+ should be put on halt until legal mechanisms are in places. REDD+ will be an onslaught on the current system and will result in an increase of existing land issues (PNG EFF et al 2010).

• All stakeholders involved must share information and work together to achieve positive outcomes in these issues.



  1. Hi Wences
    A very interesting article.
    Have any of your recommendations been addressed?
    Is there an update on the situation?

  2. Hi Wences
    A very interesting article.
    Have any of your recommendations been addressed?
    Is there an update on the situation?

  3. hello Wences,
    very impressed by your report. i am a student studying indigenous people and environment issues. would you mind to send your full report to my email address please? thank you very much!