Let’s get carbon trade right

Editorial, Normal

The National

PAPUA New Guinea controls the third largest virgin tropical forest on earth.
That makes a rich habitat for flora and fauna diversity that would be the envy of many countries of the world where virgin forests have virtually disappeared from irresponsible land use over the centuries.
And now this huge tracts of untouched virgin forests have the potential to become the richest source of funds through carbon trading, perhaps far more than all the hydrocarbon projects operating in the country combined.
Not a tree needs to be chopped down for the money. The world’s rich nations and carbon emitting industries will pay to leave our forests untouched into the foreseeable future.
Some £30 billion are being traded on the London Carbon Exchange at the present time and PNG can receive a fair chunk of that money if it gets its house in order, which at present, is not.
The Office of Carbon Trade which has been set up to manage the mechanics of carbon trading was done in good faith but the office is not even legally established.
Its first director, Dr Theo Yasause, has been suspended and now things are hanging in limbo with a caretaker management.
In the meantime, companies from Australia and PNG – conscious of the potential for carbon trading – are swooping in on ignorant landowners right around the country and are convincing them to sign over their rights to their forests.
Opposition leader Sir Mekere Morauta has revealed several names of companies which were alleged to be engaged in carbon trading in PNG claiming amounts in the hundreds of millions.
If this is indeed a fact, we need to know why such operations can be allowed to happen without any legal safeguards in place to protect the legitimate rights of the people.
Yesterday, this newspaper re-carried a report in the Sydney Morning Herald that an Australian company has been involved in a K276 million scandal involving various landowning groups in the country.
The story is yet unclear as to what really happened but the indications are that a company calling itself Carbon Planet  has, through a PNG intermediary, used mocked up carbon certificates to “encourage” landowners to sign over their rights to their forests.
The mocked up certificates were signed by Dr Yasause. The documents, which purport to represent a million tonnes of “voluntary carbon credits” issued by the United Nations under the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation were created by the Office of Climate Change officials to explain the scheme to villagers.
The chief executive of Carbon Planet, one Dave Sag, reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Those certificates are worthless. No one who knows anything about carbon would take them in any way seriously.”
So we ask the question: Why are these people roving the countryside giving out these certificates to our people who are probably clueless as to what is going on?
Indeed, while the certificates might be “worthless”, we should like to know just how much the people are turning over to these companies and their intermediaries when they accept the useless certificates.
So if the certificates are worthless, just how much are the owners of forests going to get in the deal, we wonder.
It may well be a legitimate and lucrative operation which might see our rural people earn some money for their forests and improve their living standards but in the absence of Government policy and proper systems, processes and procedures, the entire thing comes out ill-planned and even a mite suspicious.
Taken together with the history of this country where our illiterate rural population have always been taken advantage of by fly by night operators and spivs and con artists, we must be doubly cautious.
As stated earlier carbon trading, particularly with the kind of forests PNG is endowed with, is a billion-kina industry.
We stand to lose much if we do not organise ourselves and prepare our people well.
We call on the Government to set up proper mechanisms, possibly with a new ministry and department of carbon credit.
In their absence, we stand to lose all and our people can be taken advantage of.