Tuesday, September 8, 2009

UGANDA: Carbon Trading Scheme Pushing People off Their Land

By Wambi Michael,

MOUNT ELGON, Uganda, Sep 5 (IPS) - As the world's attention increasingly turns to the impact of climate change, at least one project intended to reduce global carbon emissions is accused of displacing indigenous persons from their home in Uganda.

Under carbon trading programmes, companies that release greenhouse gases can either reduce their emissions or buy the right to keep on polluting, by paying for emissions-reducing projects somewhere else.

The United Nations considers carbon markets an efficient system to guide investments toward cutting greenhouse emissions. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established by the Kyoto Protocol allows two types of forestry offsets: reforestation of previously forested areas and afforestation, that is, planting new trees where forests have not existed for over 50 years.

Carbon trading is divided into two separate markets: the compliance market - as provided for under the CDM and the European Union's Emission Trading Scheme, mandatory programmes worth 32 billion dollars last year - and the much smaller voluntary carbon offset market.

Voluntary carbon offsets involve individuals, companies and even governments to pay for projects to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions. These projects range from wind farms and other renewable energy sources, to efforts to reduce methane released from landfills, to forestry.

The voluntary carbon offset market is growing rapidly, but in Uganda, the Forests Absorbing Carbon-dioxide Emissions Foundation (FACE), a Dutch organisation involved in the voluntary carbon market, has generated controversy as indigenous people in the Mount Elgon region have been displaced to clear the way for tree-planting projects.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority-FACE Foundation project involves planting of trees inside the boundaries of Mount Elgon National Park.

The project entails FACE Foundation planting 25,000 hectares of trees to absorb carbon dioxide and in doing so, offsetting emissions from a new 600 MW coal- fired power station in the Netherlands. FACE Foundation then sells the credits to GreenSeat, a Dutch carbon-offset business with Western clients, mainly airline companies.

Early last year, GreenSeat calculated that it costs a mere 28 dollars to plant 66 trees which "compensates" for the carbon-dioxide emissions of a return flight from Frankfurt to Kampala.

Although the project has a guaranteed lifespan of 99 years, the indigenous communities on the mountain are bitterly opposed to it.

Moses Mwanga, chairperson of the Benet Lobby Group, an organisation pushing for the rights of the Benet, told IPS during a visit to the area that the evictions have caused indescribable suffering to the Benet who are now living as squatters, having lost their land and other belongings to armed park rangers.

With an estimated 123 million tons of carbon credits traded in 2008, the voluntary carbon market across the world nearly doubled from 65 million tons of credit traded in 2007.

A report published jointly by carbon market analysts at Ecosystems Marketplace and New Carbon Finance - both U.S.-based observers of global trading in emissions credits - indicated that voluntary carbon trading credits were worth $705 million, up from $331 million in 2007.