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Forest and Carbon Harvesting: The Case of Liberia

By S.Karweaye

According to the UN data, deforestation produces around s 12–20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the UN’s Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) scheme is viewed as an effective way to cut emissions by buying carbon credits, or “offsets”, from developing countries who keep their forests standing. The Paris Climate Agreement recognizes REDD+ and the central role of forests in Article 5.

The UN plans to preserve the world’s forests by allowing owners to trade the carbon stored in endangered forests on condition the trees are not felled. The plan aims to slash 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions that come from deforestation and is one of the few aspects of a global deal to fight climate change. Ghana was the second country in Africa after Mozambique to receive payments from a World Bank trust fund for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. 

On March 2023, the Government of Liberia (GOL) and the newly founded United Arab Emirate (UAE) -based entity, Blue Carbon, through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to implement carbon removal projects in forest sector under Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement. According to the GOL press release, the MOU was cemented following the recent visit of President Geoge Weah to the UAE. 

Blue Carbon was established in 2012 by Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the Dubai Royal Family and Chairman of the company. According to the company website, the Dubai-based company’s mandate is to create environmental assets, nature-based solutions and register carbon removal projects. Commenting on the MoU with Liberia, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum said,  “We are honored to sign this MoU with The Republic of Liberia. This bilateral association marks another milestone for Blue Carbon to enable government entities to define their sustainable frameworks and help transition to a low-carbon economical system, thus reaching their Net Zero goals in compliance with the transferability of credits under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.”

The UAE, Opec’s third-largest oil producer, aims to become carbon neutral by 2050 after dubmitting  its  second Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)  in September 2022 in response  to  the Paris Agreement, which increases the country’s 2030 climate target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 23.5% to 31% of a business-as-usual scenario for the year 2030.  The UAE intends to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the year 2030 by 31%, relative to the BusinessAs-Usual (BAU) scenario. Consistent with the approach, the country has planned to invest $163 billion in  clean and renewable energy  over the next three decades in order to achieve  net-zero emissions by 2050.  

Recently, the UAE invested more than $50bn in renewable energy projects across 40 countries, and it plans to double that over the next decade. In February 2023, Blue Carbon and the Government of Tanzania through the Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFS) signed an MoU. In the same month, Blue Carbon signed  (MoU) with Zambia through the Ministry of Green Economy and Environment to implement carbon removal projects in the forest sector under Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The 28th session of the Conference of the Parties, or Cop28 as it is informally known, will be held in the UAE next year. The meeting, which followed on from Cop27 in Egypt last November, will try to find solutions to the threats posed by climate change.

So the information that  Blue Carbon  of UAE  signed $50 billion sorely with Liberia is FALSE. The 50 billion  is part of the renewable energy project across 40 countries and not Liberia alone.  Blue Carbon agreements with Liberia, Zambia, and Tanzania are geared towards developing forestry-based carbon removal projects in these African countries to generate carbon credits. These agreements fall under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which allows international trade in carbon credits used to meet countries’ targets set out in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

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Why Liberia? 

Liberia is home to 43 percent of the remaining Upper Guinean forest, which also covers parts of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast. It’s home to endangered forest elephants, pygmy hippos and western chimpanzees. It is estimated that one-third of Liberia’s 5 million people live in the country’s forests. Liberia is a densely forested country, a resource it could potentially use as a major source of revenue to pay to protect its forests and reduce emissions.

However, Liberia’s forest sector is vulnerable to corruption, which is exacerbated by weak 

institutional capacities of the government agencies in charge of these sectors and a lack of enforcement of existing laws. Since 2000, some  22% of the nation’s tree cover has been lost to deforestation, largely due to pressure from logging and small farms.

Liberia is ranked 174th, out of the 180 countries of the world and the least in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a score of 24.90 on the  2022 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), . Thus, corruption affects environmental regulations by introducing a bias, not only in the adoption process but also in the implementation process and the application of these regulations. Illegal logging is rife. In Liberia, a country marked by high levels of corruption, polluters or the extractors of natural resources can escape environmental regulations by offering bribes to the administrative authorities responsible for environmental regulation. 

An  unpublished report from an investigation into logging in the Liberian rainforest found illegal operations “on a significant scale,” with multiple missteps or breaches of law by the government agency charged with protecting those forests. According to the report, in 2018,   a logging company in Grand Bassa County called Renaissance Group Inc participated in illegal logging of $4 million in tropical hardwoods in Grand Bassa County by a company called the Renaissance Group Inc. Liberia’s Ministry of Justice commissioned a forensic investigation by international experts. The investigation led the  Foreign Development Authority to 1,640 illegally harvested ekki logs in a lot owned by Renaissance Group Incorporated. The report outlined a string of irregular and questionable decisions made by top FDA officials following that discovery, including the imposition of a fine against Renaissance amounting to just $5,000 — a tiny fraction of the timber’s market value.

The investigation said this token fine was part of a pattern of negligence by the FDA’s Weah-appointed director, Mike Doryen, and other senior personnel at the forestry agency, who were described as having committed “serious breaches of Liberian law” in their response to the case.According to the justice ministry investigation, SGS, an independent auditing group that holds an EU-funded contract to monitor Liberia’s timber trade, expressed concern over the minimal fine in a letter to the FDA. The agency then imposed an additional $100,000 fine on Renaissance — still far more lenient than Liberian forestry laws mandated. Based on the total value of the timber and the severity of the violation, the panel that carried out the investigation said the logs should have been seized and Renaissance should have paid a fine of around $1.75 million.

The investigating panel said there was “sufficient evidence to conclude that illegal logging on a significant scale” had been carried out by Renaissance. It recommended the logs be confiscated and that Weah convene a special presidential committee to further examine the government’s response to the case. Neither recommendation was implemented by President Weah. 

According to Liberia’s renowned newspaper, Daily Observer, in January 2023, Renaissance Group Incorporated won  a controversial lawsuit in Liberia, when a court ordered forestry officials to allow a shipment of illegally harvested ekki logs to be exported. Liberian environmental groups say the ruling is emblematic of a breakdown of the laws regulating the country’s logging sector under the current president, George Weah, and exposes its rainforests to serious threat.  In March 2023,  the paper revealed ” kewa Group of companies, a Nigerian firm operating in Margibi and Grand Bassa County at the time, forged another company’s document to acquire a new logging contract.”

In 2007, a British company Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC) approached the Government of Liberia to negotiate the allocation of a 400,000-hectare forest carbon concession – a fifth of Liberia’s rainforest- to sell carbon credits to clients who want to offset their carbon emissions.  A Global Witness investigation of the financial, social, and environmental risks involved in the proposed deal revealed regular payments were made to Liberian government officials and a politician via a middleman. According to Global Witness, the British company’s proposal to rent out one-fifth of Liberia’s forests for carbon offsetting could have bankrupted the impoverished Liberian state because under the contract, if Liberia’s forests had failed to deliver the full estimated number of carbon credits, based on a minimum target price of around $13.5 per tonne of CO2, it could have been liable to make up the difference to a maximum of $2.2bn.

In June of 2010, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed a three-man committee headed by Counsellor Nabelee Warner to probe a proposed Carbon Concession agreement between the Forestry Development Authority or FDA and a UK-based company, Carbon Harvesting Corporation. The appointment of the committee was about a report released by Global Witness concerning the existence of a carbon concession agreement between the Liberian government represented by the Forestry Development Authority and the UK-based CHC covering one-fifth of Liberia’s forests.

According to the Committee’s report investigating the fraud, corruption, misinformation, and illicit nature of the deal, several people were involved in bribery and corruption regarding the CHC contract, but most of them carefully concealed their activities making direct evidence hard to obtain. It was found by the investigating panel committee that not only did the FDA board deliberately fast-track the deal, provide misleading information, and skim over the proposal by CHC, but there existed a ‘criminal conspiracy’ to violate various Liberian national laws for profit.

There’s a great worldwide scramble going on to find forest lands that would qualify for carbon harvesting to gain access to the $16 trillion global carbon market.

 In March 2023, Liberia renowned and leading newspaper, the Daily Observer revealed ” kewa Group of companies, a Nigerian firm operating in Margibi and Grand Bassa County at the time, forged another company’s document to acquire a new logging contract.”

 Papua New Guinea and Malaysia

There are signs that much carbon harvesting is already leading to social conflict, possible fraud, and worsening land disputes. In 2009,   the director of climate change in Papua New Guinea was suspended following allegations that unofficial carbon credits worth $100m were issued from 39 potential Redd projects by an Australian-based carbon company. Landowners claimed they had been forced to sign over the rights to their forests by so-called carbon harvesters. Like Liberia, Papua New Guinea has a history of rampant corruption and illegal logging. In April 2022, the country imposed a moratorium on new voluntary carbon credit schemes to give the government time to create a regulatory framework for future and existing deals.

Carbon harvesting has the potential to be fantastic for forest communities in Liberia, but also to go wrong. As evidenced in the Global Witness investigation, carbon harvesting is widely expected to reward political and commercial elites with billions of dollars of public money, with little or nothing reaching the communities that will be expected to protect the forests. In Liberia, where 1.5 million live and depend on forests, potential carbon harvesting projects might be in limbo because much of Liberia’s forests have never been surveyed, and land ownership is fiercely disputed. Local communities are supposed to earn a share of carbon credit sales to pay for better health, education, and alternative livelihoods, but is that possible in Liberia?

In Malaysia, a controversial carbon harvesting deal in Malaysian Borneo is worth an estimated $80 billion. The Nature Conservation Agreement (NCA) ostensibly protects 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of rainforest in the state of Sabah from logging for the next 100 years by selling the carbon stored in the trees, plants, soil, and rivers to commercial polluters looking to offset their emissions. But a months-long investigation by Al Jazeera showed that the NCA was hammered out in secrecy, and with what activists and Indigenous leaders said was no due diligence or consultation with landowners. Al Jazeera’s investigation also showed that a Singaporean shell company with no obvious experience in carbon trading stood to earn up to $23bn from the deal.

Liberia can learn from her own experience as well as experiences from Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and other countries. The carbon harvesting market is a remarkable opportunity to generate billions for the Liberian economy’ obligations for climate finance whilst enhancing energy access, generating jobs, safeguarding biodiversity, and promoting climate action. Liberia with its vast forest can produce millions of carbon credits annually by 2030 by exploiting the predicted rise in carbon trading activity. This level of production would support millions of jobs and bring in billions in revenue. 

Efforts to tackle deforestation and forest degradation have still to prove effective. While efforts to halt deforestation  in place, persistent extraction  of logs driven by expanding demand makes it difficult to control timber harvesting. With the Government of Liberia (GOL) and the newly founded United Arab Emirate (UAE) -based entity, Blue Carbon MOU, Liberia should begin to consider establishing a clear carbon tax policy as it lays the foundation for carbon credits to grow into a significant industry, however, this may be difficult given the poor electricity and infrastructural deficit in the country. Nonetheless, a clear carbon tax framework will help the nation raise revenue to fund necessary climate change initiatives. Also, If Liberia seeks to improve the environment, policies should be put in place to reduce the level of corruption. We are watching!

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