Food and Technology Blog

Mozambique-EU forest carbon deal is fraught with problems, new report reveals

Posted Jun. 17, 2013 / Posted by: Jeff Conant

In Sofala province, Mozambique, a group of initiatives collectively known as the N’hambita Pilot Project have been promoted as a flagship program for the protection of forests and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations cites it as a model example; well-known retailers in Europe have purchased credits that claim to offset their carbon footprint through the scheme; the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) -- the group that certifies many Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects -- says it meets their Gold Level standard for project design. The European commission has funded it to the tune of 1.5 million euros. But does the N’hambita project live up to its reputation?

Today a group of NGOs in Europe, including Friends of the Earth France and FERN in the UK, have issued a report called "Carbon Discredited: The offset project that couldn't count its own trees," that charges that the N’hambita Forest Carbon Offset Pilot Project, run by the company Envirotrade, and initially funded by European Commission (EC), has failed to deliver most of its climate change, development, and financial objectives.

The findings are particularly relevant to concerns about climate policy as viewed from the US, as the N'hambita project is the flagship example of a case where polluters in developed countries -- in this case, the EU -- seek to offset their industrial emissions by purchasing carbon credits from a tropical forest protection scheme. California is seeking to do much the same through its pending REDD+ offsets agreements with Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil. Whether the N'hambita project is deemed to be a success or failure is important not merely because of the public money the European Commission poured into the project, or because of the immediate impact on the people and forests of Sofala province, but because it will have a long-lasting influence on developed countries' approaches to carbon offsetting and international support for forest protection.

In a press release issued today, UK environmental rights group Fern called on the EU and Member States to stop funding carbon offset projects, including REDD+ projects. They also called on the State of California to rethink its plan  to accept forest carbon offsets in the state's carbon market.

Carbon offsetting is a mechanism to try to balance carbon emissions in the global North against claimed emission reductions in the global South. Forest carbon offsets are particularly problematic because the claimed emissions reductions come from planting or conserving of trees despite scientific concerns that the carbon stored in trees cannot be equated with industrial emissions. The numerous and complex difficulties with trying to measure forest carbon mean that forest offset projects cannot provide verifiable and accurate reductions in emissions.

Such projects also carry significant social risks; according to the new report, the N'hambita project exacerbated hunger in Sofala province as farmers devoted effort to care-taking trees due to the contracts they had signed with Envirotrade, when they could have been tending their fields or generating more income in other ways. Recent research by La Via Campesina Africa confirms the social problems faced by farmers involved with the N’hambita project. Villagers are paid for seven years to plant and conserve trees, but sign a contract to do so for 99 years, which includes the clause that: “It is the farmer’s obligation to continue to care for the plants they own, even after the seven year period covered by this contract”. Via Campesina, the world's largest federation of peasant farmers, also found that communication between the company and farmers was fraught with problems.

"Carbon discredited" also reveals that N’hambita has been a financial disaster for Envirotrade, as carbon sales were unable to cover costs. Indra van Gisbergen, Forest Governance campaigner from FERN, pointed out that “the European Commission should not be investing taxpayers' money in schemes to offset emissions. Their focus should always be on improving forest governance and securing tenure rights so that communities have control over their forests and can rely on them for their lives and livelihoods.”

The N'hambita project is just one of innumerable 'green-grabbing' projects across the tropics -- projects that use forest protection as a pretext for devoting land and labor in poor countries to resolving global climate problems, and in the process effectively marginalize peasant farmers while failing to address the drivers of the climate crisis. 

To download the full report, click here

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