Thursday, June 11, 2009

The carbon rip-off

While the world considers the possibility of a deal to trade forest carbon in Bonn, back in the forests of Papua New Guinea, unscrupulous entrepreneurs are ripping off the locals over carbon.

No, its nothing to with the government. This time its ordinary conmen travelling from village to village. An Australian forestry worker who has worked in Papua New Guinea for years, and who asked to remain anonymous, says he has uncovered a carbon trading scam being perpetrated in villages around Ponpondetta, which lies in the Oro Province, a coastal area of Papua New Guinea quite close to the capital Port Moresby. Somewhere over 40,000 people live in the Province.

The scam works like a carbon “broker” hires agents to travel from village to village who offers to register them in the province's forthcoming carbon bonanza, which will be worth hundreds of millions of US dollars. Locals are asked to pay 1,110 Kina (£250) for “registration as a shareholder” in a carbon trading company. Of course none of this exists, its all nonsense. But, says one cynical journalist, "this is a country where a conman was able to convince locals to pay 10 kina to look at his magic rock in a bucket".

I've posted a copy of the kind of receipt that is given. I've obscured the surname of the person who fell victim to this scam to avoid any kind of possible unpleasantness. Around 500 people are believed to have signed up to one scheme.

It is perhaps no surprise that the snake oil salesmen who sell cures for every ailment including AIDS, would recognise how easy it to sell hot air. Indeed, it is quite a popular idea in the country right now, the idea that one can simply decide to issue "symbolic" carbon certificates. But it begs the question of if this is what is happening in just one province what could be happening in a population of six million or more broadly around the world.

What is striking about the invention of an avoided forest carbon market is the extent to which it is quickly spawing a variety of imaginative ways of fleecing landowners and indigenous people in the rush for green gold. Whether it is unscrupulous locals, entrepreneurs from the cities or abroad, or even entire regional or national governments, everyone has realised that the avoided forest carbon market is the opportunity of a lifetime.

So how does this inform the international negotiations in Bonn ? Its another warning about being careful. If there is any doubt about my meaning, let me spell it out in the words of one British based forestry analyist: "REDD is an idea dreamt up by economists who have no idea how fucked the developing world is".