Communities Demand Consent Right In Blue Carbon Deal

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Communities that would be affected by a potential carbon credit deal between Liberia and the United Arab Emirates-based Blue Carbon are demanding their right to consent. 

The Liberian government has been negotiating with Blue Carbon to sequester carbon on more than a million hectares of forestlands as part of a US$50 billion deal that also involves Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and possibly Angola. The potential 30-year deal would affect towns and villages in Margibi, Sinoe, Lofa, Gbarpolu and  RiverCess.

But local people who own the forest have not given their consent as required by Liberia’s land and forestry laws. More than a dozen people The DayLight interviewed in potentially affected communities in River Ces and Margibi expressed dissatisfaction. 

“We think we should be contacted and we should be apart because carbon has something to do with the community people,” said Matthew Walley, a local forestry leader in the Central River Cess District, River Cess County. The proposed Blue Carbon agreement targets over 57,000 hectares of forest in the region.

“We want the government to halt the arrangement and they should come to us and sit with the community,” Walley added.

The Liberian Government has been negotiating the deal after signing a memorandum of understanding with Blue Carbon in March. Liberia sees the agreement as an opportunity to meet its climate objectives, including to slice its deforestation rate by 2030. Blue Carbon, owned by a member of the UAE Royal Family, aims to use the deal to help reduce carbon emissions globally.

But national and international campaigners have criticized the deal for—among other things—disregarding the rights of rural communities. The Land Rights Act and Community Rights Law… with Respect to Forest Lands guarantee locals’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for land and forest-based concessions.

A draft of the controversial agreement, seen by The DayLight, shows that the government intends to get communities’ consent between August and November. However, that should have happened prior to the government’s initial MoU with Blue Carbon, based on the principle of consent.

“The government feels that they have power over [us who] live within the communities. So, they do things on their own they don’t inform us,” added Marthaline Smith, a member of the leadership.

“If they want to really give our forest out to company or NGO, we have to sit down and discuss it…,” Smith added.

“The government has to talk to me first,” said Harry Lawgar, an elder in the Poye community Gibi District, Margibi County.

The deal targets the Gibi Proposed Protected Area, covering over 88,000 hectares of forest. Like in River Cess, Lawgar and other people in GibiTheDayLight interviewed raised qualms for being overlooked.

“Everybody should be inclusive,” said Jerome Poye a townsman also in the Poye community.

“The community has to get the understanding of it,” Lawgar added.

Locals said they needed to know exactly what was in the agreement for them.

The current draft agreement apportions 70 percent of carbon royalties for Blue Carbon and 30 percent for the Liberian government in the first 10 years and 50 percent apiece thereafter.

It also sets aside 50 percent of the carbon royalties, 40 percent interest from the government’s shares and a five percent interest payment from the government’s stakes in the project for the communities.

But it does not say how the carbon credit will be valued and traded, and how the carbon saving will be generated. It also fails to say what certification standards it would use.  Experts say these are the major components of the carbon market, which is still emerging globally.

The international community criticized the “vague” proposed deal when they discussed it on August 3, according to a document seen by The DayLight.  

Villagers in Central River Cess and Gibi, two of Liberia’s remotest regions, demanded to know about their benefits. They said they needed everything from clinics, roads, schools and livelihood programs.

“We want to know the calculation. If I get 57,000 hectares preserved as carbon area, what will be the calculation?” This was a question Walley asked. “Through what kind of benefit-sharing mechanism?” He asked another question.

“How the calculation will be done; we don’t know because they will not just come and give the community US$50 or US$100; saying that it is our benefit,” Walley added.

“We will not accept it.”

[Tenneh Keita contributed to this story] By James Harding Giahyue/thedaylight.org

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