Monday, September 28, 2009
Its a fascinating story, Carbon Planet has been paying a company called Nupan which has then been paying the vice-president of the country's ruling party, James Kond, as a consultant who offers to "assist you to secure endorsement of these projects for carbon trading from the PNG government".
By Ilya Gridneff
PORT MORESBY, Sept 24 AAP - A Papua New Guinea governing party power broker was paid 200,000 kina ($A85,000), ultimately funded by Australian environment firm Carbon Planet, for "consultation" on carbon trading deals central to a pending investigation.
James Kond, PNG's ruling National Alliance (NA) party vice-president, received the money on May 14, 2008, as part of Carbon Planet's $1.1 million spend with companies in PNG for carbon projects they predict are worth a billion dollars a year.
Documents obtained by AAP show Carbon Planet's money went through Hong Kong-based company Forest Top, that then paid a number of entities including Australian businessman Kirk Roberts and his PNG company Nupan and its local facilitator Kond.
On April 16, 2008, Kond signed a memorandum of agreement with Forest Top, Roberts and Nupan assuring his work would earn him "10 per cent of the net cash flow generated from carbon credit sales".
Kond's Western Highlands Province-based business Koo management was: "to liaise with and advise the PNG government" on Nupan's deals that Carbon Planet would then broker for the global voluntary carbon market.
Kond stands by the deal and says there was no conflict of interest.
"It is a confidential business arrangement and none of your business about the way we do business," he said.
"I've been deputy NA leader for 10 years and doing my part to improve PNG and to help policy (and) there is no need for these investigations.
"I have not dealt with Carbon Planet, I invited Kirk (Roberts) to PNG and receive money from Nupan as their country representative."
Adelaide-based Carbon Planet declined to respond to questions.
Kond's other Nupan responsibilities included: "to bring together all of the parties and other persons required to achieve the commercialisation of the carbon credits from the specific present and future projects in PNG".
In a series of letters obtained by AAP, Kond writes to Roberts on December 28, 2007, suggesting PNG's Kamula Doso forest in Western Province and April Salome forest in East Sepik as potentially lucrative future carbon trading sites.
"I will personally be there to assist you to secure endorsement of these projects for carbon trading from the PNG government as I am part of the PM Somare government through being an executive member of the NA ruling party that has direct influence on shaping government policy," he writes.
In February, 2008, Kond urges PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare to meet him and experts from Australia.
"I am delighted to inform you we have already secured two projects for this carbon trading program," he said.
"I am now seeking a formal appointment ... to brief you on this matter."
Somare's media spokesperson Betha Somare, who has seen the letters, said: "The PM has never met Kirk Roberts or his associates".
AAP understands PM Somare's then chief of staff Theo Yasause met Roberts and also met several members of Carbon Planet.
Yasause later became PNG's Office of Climate Change (OCC) director but was suspended pending an investigation that includes why the office went bankrupt in less than a year of operating.
The investigation will also delve into a series of "sample" carbon trade documents Yasause signed as OCC director as well as a mandate to assure international carbon deals.
Acting OCC director Wari Iamo in a newspaper advertisement on August 31 said PNG was waiting for United Nations endorsed carbon trading rules, expected after the Copenhagen climate summit in December.
"Carbon trading agreements cannot be legally signed over these (PNG) lands until the government has put in place an appropriate policy and legal framework," he said.
Carbon Planet in July announced a merger with Australian publicly listed company m2m Group, saying they had 25 potential carbon trading projects in PNG that could generate $1 billion a year.
But Carbon Planet has not said where their PNG projects are, what the landowners benefits are, nor do they recognise that the 800,000-hectare Kamula Doso forest is subject to a court injunction on projects.
Carbon Planet's merger with m2m is "continuing with some delay arising from the complicated and novel circumstances of this emerging industry," m2m said in a statement.
* A note about Wire Services
To explain, Gridneff's employer AAP is what is known in journalistic lingo as a "wire service" or news agency. Other well-known agencies include Reuters, Press Association and Agence France-Presse. With correspondents around the world these agencies provide, electronically, wholesale news for their subscribers -- the world's main retail news companies (newspapers, radio and television), who may then chose to publish it.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
For most of those at the coal face of these things, the feature only really grazes the surface of major unresolved issues. But the point of the piece is to introduce a wider audience to the idea of REDD and some of the issues it faces.
As with most pieces of this size and scale there is a substantial tranche of overmatter to follow on this blog. A great deal was left on the cutting room floor. I've picked up some helpful material about Waxman-Markey, and also quite a lot about palm oil which is, frankly, quite depressing. But for now, here is that piece itself. You can follow the link to read it at The Economist.
The conclusion I reach about REDD, for anyone who doesn't want to read the entire article is merely that paying for environmental services is basically a good idea, but whether it is going to work to deliver global carbon emissions reductions will really depend on whether we can get a lot of little details right. That remains to be seen.
I also take the point made to me by several people I interviewed, which is that if we decide it isn't going to work, then it absolutely isn't. My view is, lets give REDD a chance to work. Scary to think that it is one of the better options on the table.
Last gasp for the forest
Sep 24th 2009
A new climate treaty could provide a highly effective way to reduce carbon emissions by paying people to not cut down forests
IN THE south-eastern corner of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, in the municipality of Novo Aripuanã, there is thick forest cover—for now. But as new, paved highways are driven into the trees, illegal loggers inevitably follow. At the current rate of deforestation, around one-third of the forest in Amazonas will have been lost by 2050, releasing a colossal 3.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (More...)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Lets roll back to July, when President Nicolas Sarkozy made a fine speech calling for a ban on the trade in bluefin tuna. How, then, is it that France was one of the six nations that did not support a ban in the trade of this species? I do hope that Prince Albert of Monaco, who recently had the insight to ban the sale of bluefin in the principality, will not be inviting the President and his wife out for sushi any time soon.
21 other European nations supported the ban. Those that opposed were Malta, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, France, and Greece. [see update]
Its a common myth that journalists have to balance a story. In fact, we are supposed to report the truth. Balance is only really useful if you have no idea where the truth lies. (This is why, for example, the media was engaged in a long struggle that is now over, over whether to "balance" stories about climate change.) In this case the truth is that this decision by these six nations is just simply wrong and Europe's politicians have failed yet again to do their jobs.
Its not just France. Last year we had the Spanish and the Japanese strutting around at an international conservation meeting (IUCN) claiming to support a ban on the trade in bluefin--presumably because it was good public relations to be seen to be doing something at this forum. A year later we have to swallow the stomach-churning hypocrisy of the behind-the-scenes work of the Japanese lobbying Europe hard against the ban, and the Spanish trying to organise outright opposition. (Do the delegates to these meetings not mind being made to look like idiots for backing a policy that is undermined behind the scenes by the rest of the government?)
How can this happen?
In trying to fathom it out, I am reminded of an episode of the hit US series Ugly Betty when Marc takes a female date with him when he meets his parents in order to conceal the fact that he is gay. In the slang, the female date was his "beard" to make him look more masculine.
I guess what this is all leading up to is that I'm wondering is whether all these big announcements that governments are going to save the bluefin are actually little more than "green beards" which seek to conceal the true orientation of their governments. (I would invite others to nominate their politicians for "green beard" awards in this vein, for politicians who make big environmental announcements but who actually do the opposite behind closed doors. It can easily be accomplished with an impish attitude and a copy of Photoshop.)
I have to say, if the green beard is the explanation for all these 180 degree turns in policy then it must be very disheartening for the civil servants working in the environment departments of various ministries around the world to find themselves being used as PR flunkies for bad environmental policy.
Instead of helping, they are promoting the idea that their government is doing something meaningful, responding to public pressure, when the government is quietly doing the exact opposite behind the scenes.
Luckily there is still hope for a bluefin listing. Although the niceties of the convention on endangered species dictate that "range" states be the ones to propose a species for listing there are a number of other range states that might decide to step up to the plate. These include US, Canada, Brazil, as well as Norway and others. The bluefin tuna has stocks in both sides of the Atlantic. And while the stock on the American side is not collapsing as badly as that of the stock on the European side, bluefin do travel between the two stocks and it is impossible to differentiate between them at port. So any of these states are within their rights to put the bluefin up for a CITES listing now that Europe has failed.
Wouldn't it be ironic if Brazil were to propose the bluefin for listing? Brazil, which is constantly being lectured about protecting its vast biodiversity and rainforests by northern Europe. How delicious if it had to step in to protect one single species simply because the politicians in Malta, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, France, and Greece are too spineless to do it. [see update]
At the moment there has been a bit of a waiting game with everyone waiting to see what the Europeans would do. Well, governments of Norway, Canada, Brazil and America, lets get this job done. ICCAT is embarrassment to everyone.
Please do not make me report again on this farce of a meeting next December knowing that its closed door backroom deals are all that stands between the bluefin and extinction for the next two years.
1. Portugal changed to Greece throughout. Portugal surprisingly voted for a ban. Just goes to show, you can't trust everything you read in the newspapers.
2. please email me your nominations for the best "green beard" awards for politicians who advocate green policies but do entirely the opposite elsewhere or behind the scenes.
3. I have corrected the confusion between the eastern and western side of the Atlantic. 25.9.09
Sunday, September 20, 2009
It is time for European nations to finally show leadership and ban the trade in tuna
LATE tomorrow morning in Brussels an important meeting takes place for the bluefin tuna. It could well decide the fate of the species, and whether it is going to be fished to extinction or at last protected from the overexploitation that has caused its population to crash to unprecedented lows. The northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is classified as critically endangered for the Western Atlantic stock and endangered for the Eastern Atlantic stock 1,2.
It is an appalling story. Historically the bluefin has been tragically failed by a group of nations that collaboratively manage the fishery. The organisation known as ICCAT (The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) is supposed to manage the fishery but in reality it is little more than set of paper pushers in Madrid for the nations that meet every December. Every year, behind closed doors, the member nations hand themselves quotas far in excess of scientific advice. These quotas are handed out in the knowledge that Europe’s fishermen will then go out and catch more than double this allowance through illegal landings in the poorly managed fishery.
Bluefin politics are ugly because all these deals to allow the hunting of a species to extinction are done behind closed doors and in order to eward a vocal but powerful political group—fishermen.They have allowed the economically irrational over extraction of a resource, and essentially stolen fish that belongs to all of us and given it to a handful of people.
For a long time, Europe’s tuna fishermen have had things nicely wrapped up. The tuna fishing interests of Italy, France and Spain would lobby the Commission’s directorate general of fisheries, which would say nice words publicly about bluefin conservation, monitoring and management and then go out to ICCAT every year, and then negotiate another deal that was disastrous for the fishery.
Matters came to a head last year when the chair of ICCAT warned its members that if they didn’t show some leadership then management of the species would be taken away. Such calls were in vain. So now the world looks towards a trade ban under a convention known as CITES in order to protect this fish. While the bluefin easily qualifies (such is its level of imperilment) if only that were enough to make sure that could be protected. Politics, as ever, intrude.
The first step for the bluefin is for two members of the CITES to propose a listing before a deadline in October. Monaco the Mediterranean principality, under the leadership of its bluefin-loving Prince Albert, was the first to step forward. Now the world is waiting to see what the Europeans will do. At first the news was good, France threw its weight behind the plan, to the surprise of conservationists President Nicolas Sarkozy supported an end to the overfishing. Britain, Germany and other northern European states have supported a ban. So after some political warfare in Brussels between the department involved in ‘managing’ fish and the department involved in environmental protection, and some heavy lobbying by the sushi-loving Japanese, the Commission decided that a proposal to CITES was appropriate 3.
It is with regret that I write that I now understand that the vote on Monday is far from a formality. Rumour now has it that the French are now backing away from a full CITES listing, and the Spanish are trying to organise outright opposition.
Meanwhile, fresh evidence has emerged of how completely out of control this fishery is with illegal fishing continuing unabated, a French vessel has recorded some astonishing abuses by the Turkish fleet. The management measures that were supposed to protect the bluefin are not working.
All this underscores the need for a trade ban. Trade bans are not always the solution for an imperilled species, as they create some crazy economic dynamics such as an illegal trade dominated by organised crime. And on land a ban eliminates the value for a species and can in turn encourage habitat conversion. But habitat conversion isn't a problem for the bluefin, and organised crime is already heavily involved in the bluefin trade. So CITES is the only serious tool left to allow the international community to address the needs of a species that lives outside of the control of national governments. It is no longer reasonable to argue that ICCAT can be trusted with a job that it has failed so long to perform.
Furthermore a ban would, finally, prevent the fashionable diners of America, Europe and Japan to keep consuming the species with a clean conscience or blissful ignorance. Nobu restaurants around the world would finally be forced to remove the bluefin from the menu. Others would follow.
If European nations fail show leadership over a CITES listing, it may be that the only hope is that the Americans will step in. The politics are not straightforward, as Jane Lubchenco, head of America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said when I asked her about this a few weeks ago, there are concerns about how a CITES ban would affect the domestic bluefin industry in America, where the situation is not as disastrous as in the Meditteranean.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the Americans are watching the Europeans very closely indeed and waiting to see how its hand plays out. At the Bali conference on climate change in 2007, America was warned that it was either to "lead or get out of the way". That message should now be delivered to the Europeans over bluefin.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Support for the apparent backing of the government in these credits came from a signature on the credits that appeared to be by a government minister, and an associated letter that gave the company ClimateAssist the right to monetise these carbon credits on behalf of the government.
The company ClimateAssist is in fact an Australian gentleman called Graham Corby. I spoke with him several months ago. The first thing to say is that if anything in what follows remains unclear this is not for lack of trying on my part. Mr Corby has failed to follow up on his promise to send me more information about his carbon credit generating scheme, and since I published his carbon credits, doesn't want to talk further about his business. But he told me plenty in April, so lets begin with that, because I sense I am not the only person interested in his activities at present.
Mr Corby claimed he was assisting Papua New Guinea in the sale of these carbon credits. The idea he said was to "use some of the credits to do projects up in Papua New Guinea". He told me, "The Papua New Guinea government gave us the credits and made us the brokers to monetize the credits." So I asked Mr Corby, what does it mean, exactly, to monetize the credits? Does it mean to sell them? He said, "Yes and no. There's companies that want to loan money against the credits and they want money back after the projects are finished". He continued, "Some companies want to buy them, but they're not in a position to buy them until the REDD thing comes in with Copenhagen at the end of the year. But other companies are looking at lending money to us to do the projects and then we pay them back over a four year period." In other words, the credits being offered were printed prior to any actual project to produce carbon emissions reductions.
Mr Corby agreed that the credits I had were his, and had been used to start his business, but that they had changed dramatically over the years. "We couldn't get them into trade or anything like that. And I had to go back to Papua New Guinea, it was 2007, and get others issued, and then I went back in 2008 and we got the last original ones issued". The serial numbers are the same, he added. "Because we couldn't do anything with the first two lots".
What was wrong with the original lots I asked? "Companies I was working with were not in a position to put funds there. Once Australia signed and ratified the protocol last year, we got new ones issued and the power companies actually took them as voluntary credits against the Australian government fining polluters". He added, "well they haven't bought them. They're in the process of lending money to us. They won't buy them until Copenhagen".
Have you paid the government of Papua New Guinea for these credits, I asked? "...We haven't paid them because we haven't sold them. And we, until Copenhagen comes into force we can't get any of the loan funds. But once it does come in then we'll have the loan funds to do projects there. What we've been doing has been on our own initiative and our own funds"
I'm confused, I say, how is it that the government can issue credits before they're actually generated?
Mr Corby: "They're not issuing them. ClimateAssist is issuing them on a voluntary basis from company to company"
Mr Corby: "It's a company to company deal."
Me: "Are you allowed to do that?"
Mr Corby: "Oh yes. It's voluntary participation."Me: "Right, so because the company, the power companies are voluntarily saying that they'll voluntarily buy them from you, then it's OK for them to be credits that haven't actually been generated?"
Mr Corby: "Haven't been generated until Copenhagen. Once that's been. Once Copenhagen is in then we can go back to the government and say right, you've got them there, here's the money, and generate the true credits that aren't voluntary."So there you have it, once Copenhagen has come in, Mr Corby will be able to go and generate the "true credits that aren't voluntary".
So what about money? How much does he think these deals would be worth? Mr Corby said, "at the moment we've signed a joint venture agreement with one company and we're, we have sold them for $12 USD a tonne." You'll have to do the maths for me, I've no idea what that is, I said. He replied, "Eh – It's huge. I haven't got that in the brain, It is huge. " As for the project deals he says, "There's one that's 50 million USD, another that's 32 million, and another that's 27 million". (If you look at the notes on these "credits" one set claims to represent 87,460 million metric tonnes of carbon, the other 33,333,333 million metric tonnes.)
Mr Corby said that no money had passed hands between his company and government officials, adding that there was "a financial arrangement that if REDD comes in we would provide money for that office to operate". (This claim was first published by Reuters just prior to my first article on the subject, but as yet it remains unverified as to whether any such arrangement was ever actually officially agreed to by the government of Papua New Guinea.)
So what are all these carbon avoiding projects that Mr Corby is working on? There are projects all over the country he claimed but would not say where. He said some involve coffee projects where coffee is planted in the forest, instead of outright deforestation, another involves planting trees for the paper industry so that government doesn't have to cut down trees in the forest, and there is even a palm oil project. Are they REDD projects I asked? "They will be REDD projects if the Copenhagen summit is ratified. If it is not, then these projects are projects that can produce funds to pay back the companies that are investing with us".
Mr Corby seems to be arguing that various projects that would be financially viable in their own right, might also qualify for REDD credits if the deal is done in a particular way at Copenhagen. For example, I asked him why he would get carbon credits for planting trees for the paper industry, he said that two would be planted and only one would be used to make money. "The other tree stays there for eternity".
The international community is very keen on 'learning by doing' as a way of figuring out REDD, but I can't imagine that these are the kinds of deals that everyone had in mind. And is this part of a broader concern about creating the perverse incentives for cutting down forests and putting in plantations?
Finally, before everyone rushes in to blame the government, I think it is worth reminding ourselves that in June, The Office of Climate Change in Papua New Guinea added to the story by issuing a statement about Climate Assist saying:
"This company sought to negotiate Carbon Credits in the market places that were not issued by this Office. This Office has had no dealings with this company in respect of credits issued. We were aware of this some months ago. We have our lawyers pursuing this matter with foreign law enforcement agencies as a matter of fraud. As such we cannot comment further on it." I've also received information which backs up this notice in the form of a cease and desist notice issued late last year by the Office of Climate Change to Mr Corby.
N.B. These credits were first issued prior to the creation of the Office of Climate Change, so the statement doesn't actually answer the question of whether someone in government did become involved in promoting the brokerage of credits through Mr Corby as early as 2005.
I think the final word in this very curious, and opaque story, must go with Mr Corby himself:
"We are issuing voluntary credits between my company and other companies. That's why we have to give the money back to the other company. But these companies then go to their government and say we're supporting these projects, and they then are given a breaks from their government because they're supporting something that's green." Mr Corby went on to explain that these were power generating companies, two in Germany, one in Canada, and two in Japan. He wouldn't be specific about which companies these were and said that they would only discuss these deals after Copenhagen."
Thursday, September 03, 2009
The story so far... dodgy carbon credits purporting to represent forest carbon and signed by a government minister appeared in Papua New Guinea a few months ago. The credits caused consternation around the world, as nations prepare to do an international deal over forest carbon at the climate talks in Copenhagen. But a number of things have never been entirely clear. How much carbon, and how much money, the companies involved in these deals think they are handling in the country and what, exactly were those dodgy carbon credits used for?
Kirk Roberts -- Nupan Trading. Dubbed the Kingpin of the carbon cowboys. Buyer of carbon credits from Papua New Guinea landowners, self proclaimed “one of the most important foreigners in PNG”. Former professional show-jumper, licensed horse trainer who was fined for doping a racehorse and instructing a vet to withhold veterinary records.
Dave Sag -- chief executive of Carbon Planet. Carbon Planet is the Australian carbon brokerage that wishes to sell forest carbon offsets to individuals, corporations, banks and governments.
Wari Iamo -- acting head of the Office of Climate Change. Dr Iamo is conducting the investigation into what went wrong previously in this office, and to pull together the country’s strategy for Copenhagen by November.
In today’s Sydney Morning Herald are two extremely illuminating articles about our drama so far. In one, Kirk Roberts has claimed to have power of attorney over 90 forestry deals in Papua New Guinea, “giving him control over land potentially worth tens of millions of dollars”. He has declined to give any information about how these deals were done, and what landowners understood by them.
But in the second article, Dave Sag finally spills the beans about the dodgy carbon credits. What were they for he is asked? Mr Sag says that Mr Roberts had used mocked-up carbon certificates signed by Mr Yasause as "props'' when negotiating with landowners, but he denied they were intended to mislead.
Quote from the article:
He said the documents, which purport to represent a million tonnes of ''voluntary carbon credits'' issued by the UN under the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation - or REDD [Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation] scheme - were created by PNG officials simply to explain the scheme. ''Those certificates are worthless. … No one who knows anything about carbon would take them in any way seriously,'' Mr Sag said. ''They ended up in Kirk's hands because they would have been produced as a prop to be taken out and waved in front of people in order to provide some physicality to what is essentially an ephemeral thing.''Readers ought to judge for themselves whether or not these credits were intended to deceive. It is true that nobody who knows anything about carbon would take them seriously, but I guess the point is that the landowners certainly do not know very much about carbon at all. The story then goes on to report that one landowner claimed he was co-erced into signing a deal. And Wari Iamo calls plaintively to landowners not to sign any more agreements with private companies until after Copenhagen.
But what about money, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that “Carbon Planet, which has acquired a publicly listed company, told investors recently it had $100 million in potential REDD projects in PNG, which is an order of magnitude larger than what Mr Roberts was claiming.
However, more privately, in a document I’ve obtained that was created by Carbon Planet, their business model is illuminated. In it, it claims: 25 REDD Projects have been contracted at $1 billion per annum to date. (These are probably Australian dollars but it isn’t entirely clear).
I guess the disparity between these figures could depend on a number of factors (an over-active imagination being one of them). More seriously, some of them could refer to turnover, how much money would pass through the hands of these traders and brokers, the other could refer to their cut. Seeing as we don't know what percentage of any carbon deal that Mr Sag or Mr Robert's company is getting we don't really know what they hope to make on the deal.
But lets imagine for a second, that this figure of a billion turnover is in some way accurate. Even if the companies concerned were to return most of this money back over to the landwoners, even if they only took a 1% fee this would amount to over $10m a year. If they took 10% they would make $100m. All from an initial investment of $1.2m Australian dollars. Quite a punt.
The Carbon Planet business model also claims eight REDD memorandums of understanding have been contracted in Indonesia, at $600m per annum. In addition they have five CDM projects at $76 per annum expected in 2009 in Pakistan. The company is also working on securing carbon credit projects in Africa, Australia, Azerbaijan, Peru and South America.
The idea then seems to be to create “REDD” projects for carbon and biodiversity credits and sell these onto the voluntary market after certification through the various standards that are emerging. These certified credits will then sell these on to trading organisations, climate change consulting and accounting firms, PR, Advertising and Marketing firms doing Corporate Social Responsibility programs, and direct to banks, governments, corporations and traders.
I guess the real worry is that in the rush to do something about carbon emissions quickly and cheaply, when push comes to shove, how much is it really going to matter what a landowner who cannot even read or write understood about his land when he signed a cross on a piece of paper?
I am a top foreigner in Papua New Guinea, says carbon kingpin
MARIAN WILKINSON AND BEN CUBBY, Sydney Morning Herald
September 4, 2009
BEN CUBBY AND MARIAN WILKINSON
September 4, 2009
p.s. a name check also to Ilya Gridneff the AAP wire reporter who did a lot of the legwork that ended up on the front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald this morning.
Updated September 11th, 2009. "Sidney" changed to "Sydney" throughout. Apologies.