Liberia's inquiry into a carbon offsetting deal is a vital step forward
You report that "a British company's proposal to rent out one-fifth of Liberia's forests for carbon offsetting could have bankrupted the impoverished west African state" (UK firm's carbon offset deal 'could have bankrupted Liberia', 24 July). While this was certainly accurate reporting, it also missed a vital point – that this marks a vital step forward for Liberia.
The article outlined an investigation into the proposal to manage Liberia's forests for carbon offsetting. But "if Liberia's forests had failed to deliver the full estimated number of carbon credits … it could have been liable to make up the difference to a maximum of $2.2bn". Liberia's GDP last year was around $1.6bn.
Such a story could lead one to worry that Liberia is not ready to benefit from international finance in return for improving the management of its forests. But actually, it demonstrates quite the reverse. The article, which reports that the government has launched an inquiry into the deal, shows that Liberia is prepared to address potential corruption and ensure that investment in the country is for the benefit of its people rather than a few individual interests.
The government has said that if it is to enter the carbon market, it will uphold the highest standards for climate, community and biodiversity benefits, and transparency and good governance are key to reducing deforestation.
The parties that revealed the flaws in the proposal deserve praise for their vigilance. But the critical difference between Liberia today and 10 years ago is that this is now a nation that listens to criticisms, investigates and takes swift action. Given its recent history, this is a revelation.
The nation has been shattered by 15 years of civil war and desperately needs to rebuild, but its entire annual national budget is a meagre $372m (according to the president's website), less than that of many British local authorities. So if we are to preserve these forests we need to find a means of generating money from them other than the timber industry and conversion to agriculture.
Deforestation is responsible for nearly 17% of global carbon emissions – more than the entire global transport sector – and Liberia is home to nearly two-thirds of the remaining rainforest in west Africa. Preventing the loss of Liberia's forests is vitally important in mitigating climate change, and is also essential in preventing the further loss of the area's unique biodiversity.
My organisation, Conservation International, has been working with local partners and the Liberian government to help build a green economy in which it can meet its development needs without compromising the environment – but it's going to take time, effort and determination to help this nation reach its potential. Support from a responsible private sector, investing in ecosystem services for sustainable economic growth, will be a key component of this.
So let's give credit to Liberia for shutting down a potentially dodgy deal and moving forward in a prudent manner, rather than reinforcing the western belief that Africa is inescapably corrupt.