MONROVIA, September 15 (IPS) – The fate of Liberia and its forests is linked. Yet a new climate change deal, expected to be announced at the United Nations climate change talks in Dubai this November, would drive a wedge between our communities and their forests.
Currently, forests make up more than two-thirds of Liberia’s land area and are essential to people’s livelihoods. They were illegally plundered by former President Charles Taylor to finance a civil war that left an estimated 150,000 people dead.
And since 2003, when the war ended, vast tracts of forest land have been handed over to foreign investors, as a corrupt minority has enriched itself through illegal logging at the expense of the impoverished majority. Since then, we have lost nearly a quarter of our forests to economic development projects – with most of this loss occurring in the last ten years. This is a disaster for the communities who live on these lands and for efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Today, another chapter opens in the complex history of Liberia’s forests.
In late March, Liberia’s Ministry of Finance signed a memorandum of understanding with a United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based consultancy called Blue Carbon LLC, giving it the exclusive right to manage an area of rainforest covering one-tenth of our national territory. The deal, which was negotiated in secret, is reportedly being finalized.
Under the deal, Blue Carbon will pay Liberia to manage and preserve one million hectares of forest for 30 years, and sell carbon credits from emissions “saved” by protecting those forests to major polluters, who will use them to offset their own emissions.
This is an important part of our country, destined to be pawned into the hands of the planet’s biggest polluters, allowing them to continue extracting and burning fossil fuels while claiming to protect the planet.
If this agreement comes to fruition, it will likely do so under dubious legality and without the prior consent of communities living in the forests.
Additionally, this is part of a global trend called “carbon colonialism,” whereby, instead of taking concrete steps to decarbonize, companies offset their greenhouse gas emissions by paying to preserve forests or d other ecosystems, often against the will of local or indigenous communities. living there. A similar agreement with the government of Zimbabwe was announced in mid-August.
Money is desperately needed to support local communities protecting their forests in Liberia as elsewhere and there may well be “offset projects” that are truly beneficial to local or indigenous communities, but this one is not. is not part.
The chairman of Blue Carbon LLC is Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the UAE royal family, who holds major interests in the country’s oil and gas infrastructure.
The United Arab Emirates, a fossil fuel state, is planning a huge oil and gas expansion, although at the end of the year it will host the UN climate COP28.
In order to polish their environmental reputation ahead of the COP, the UAE government and various state-owned companies have hired some of the world’s largest PR firms to mount a greenwashing campaign.
The blue carbon deal – which is expected to be unveiled at the COP to show how the UAE is meeting its commitments under the Paris climate agreement – is part of this greenwashing.
Study after study shows that community land rights are the best tool for preventing deforestation, better than government or privately managed protected areas, like those that would apparently be implemented if the blue carbon deal is finalized. The most recent UN report on climate change highlights that community land rights are essential to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
The deal, which ignores this research, also poses a major threat to rural Liberians and their hard-won land rights. About 70 percent of Liberia’s land is owned by communities. About a third of our population lives in forested areas, and local people who live on the land targeted by the agreement will only be consulted about it after it is signed – that is, if they are consulted at all. All.
As such, it is a “climate land grab” that undoes some of the steady progress Liberia has made in recognizing community rights.
The legality of the agreement is also questionable, and the agreement appears to violate our constitution and a number of Liberian laws, including the National Forest Reform Act (2006), the Community Rights Act (2009), the on public procurement and concessions (2010), and the land rights law (2018).
You can only sell carbon if you own it. Liberian law clearly states that communities own their customary forest lands and resources.
The living conditions of our people are deteriorating day by day. Liberia is one of the last countries in West Africa to still have large areas of forest, but this valuable resource is disappearing at an alarming rate.
Liberians must remain open to working with anyone, including businesses, who can help us protect our forests and the rights of our people. But we must remain resolute in our opposition to false climate solutions like this deal.
Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor has been defending community land and forest rights in Liberia for two decades. His efforts were recognized with the Whitley Award for Environment and Human Rights in 2002 (UK), the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2006 (US), the Award for Outstanding Environmental and Human Rights Activism from the Alexander Soros Foundation (US -United) and the Mundo Negro. Fraternity Prize in 2018 (Spain).
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