As the world’s attention increasingly turns to the impact of climate change, one of the solutions on the table for reducing global carbon emissions involves the displacement of indigenous persons as western companies rush to invest in tree-planting projects in developing countries.
The term carbon trading refers to commercial approaches to promoting environmental responsibility.
Under carbon trading programmes, companies that release greenhouse gases can either agree to reduce their emissions or buy the right to keep on polluting.
The United Nations considers carbon markets an efficient system to guide investments toward cutting greenhouse emissions.
The clean development mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol allows two types of forestry offsets: reforestation of previously forested areas and afforestation, that is, planting trees where forests have not existed for over 50 years.
One such investment in Uganda, by the Dutch organisation Forests Absorbing Carbon-dioxide Emissions (FACE) Foundation, has generated controversy as indigenous people known as the Benet 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 ha 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 offsets 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 in 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.
“As we talk now, people are living in pathetic conditions. When the evictions took place many government officers came here, but they have not helped us. It is one year later but we still have a lot of harassment by Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers.
“Whenever we want to access to things like bamboo, which our people used to survive on, or land for grazing for our animals, or if we collect honey, people are arrested. People have even lost their lives,” he said.
Mwanga said they were uprooted from their homes on land that has now been turned into forest.
West on climate change
“You know, when you say forest, the impression is that these Benets might have moved from somewhere else and entered the forest.
That is not the story. The story is that we are indigenous people who have lived in Mount Elgon since time immemorial.
“So it is home for us – it is not a forest. But the government gazetted in 1993 to become a national park without our knowledge. So when you say that we are in a forest that statement disturbs us because it is our home,” he insisted.
In 1993, a year before the Uganda Wildlife Authority-FACE Foundation tree-planting project started, the Ugandan government declared Mount Elgon a national park and, with that, effectively striped the people living within its boundaries of their rights.
Uganda Wildlife Authority warden in Mount Elgon, Richard Matanda, denied that the eviction of the Benet from Mount Elgon had to do with the FACE Foundation project.
“They had encroached on forest land and the area had to be conserved.
So they were removed to replant the area with trees for wildlife conservation.
And whatever we do in these areas – even evictions -have to comply with principles of responsible forest management and the laws of Uganda,” he claimed.
According to figures published by Oslo-based market analysis firm Point Carbon, the CDM provided for 32 billion dollars in certified emissions reductions trade in 2008 – more than double the previous year’s figure.