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A major private-sector project to reduce carbon emissions through forest management in Bolivia is a ‘scam’, environmental group Greenpeace said in a report released earlier this month. The NGO claims that the environmental and social benefits of the initiative have been grossly oversold, although the project sponsors - along with some other green groups - insist that the efforts have been worthwhile.

The report was released as climate negotiators prepare for a major meeting in Copenhagen in December. The notion of including a mechanism on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, or REDD, has gained wide support in the talks, but a deal has yet to be struck.

In the Bolivia project, three major US energy corporations - American Electric Power (AEP), BP Amoco (BP), and PacifiCorp - joined forces with the Bolivian government in the biggest-ever attempt to curb climate change by reducing deforestation. The initiative, called the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project (NKCAP), sought to create carbon credits that the participating countries could sell on carbon markets to ‘offset’ their greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, some environmental organisations, specifically Greenpeace, claim to have found numerous pitfalls in this approach.

The recent Greenpeace report, entitled “Carbon Scam,” compares the project’s pledges to its actual emissions reductions, as determined by the findings of an extensive investigation conducted by Greenpeace. Based on this report, Greenpeace concluded that NKCAP fell short of its overall goal to reduce CO2 emissions, failed to effectively monitor leakage, and did not provide benefits to local communities. Moreover, the NGO argued, the project sponsors have not proven that the forests that were ostensibly protected by the NKCAP would have been demolished in the absence of the project. The report also alleges that NKCAP sponsors overestimated the project’s emissions cuts by 90 percent, misrepresented recent deforestation trends in Bolivia, and left unanswered many vital questions.

But NKCAP officials, joined by numerous environmental organisations, have refuted many of Greenpeace’s claims. The project should be seen as a first step toward fulfilling “the rigorous requirements that are now being used for tropical forest conservation,” said Glenn Hurowitz, the Washington director of Avoided Deforestation Partners and a former Greenpeace employee.

Moreover, several forestry experts have said that NKCAP’s overestimation of pollution cuts is the result of enhanced computer models and satellite technology that adjusted the baseline for what would have occurred if the project had not been conducted. Supporters of the project emphasise that it is an experiment that can help inform future national legislation and help improve other REDD programmes. Sarene Marshall, the deputy climate change director of Nature Conservancy, called the project a successful learning process that has unmistakably proven that such projects can work.

While both sides have gathered facts and figures, much of the debate comes down to how such data are interpreted. Greenpeace claims that REDD offsets are among the least reliable, lowest-quality offsets available, using the NKCAP as an example. Conversely, other environmental groups and NKCAP supporters believe that this specific project has provided an ample amount of information for future REDD agreements. Moreover, the initiative has proven that REDD projects can attract the private capital needed to build developing nations’ capacities to manage forest carbon programmes, they say.

More information

The Greenpeace report is available here: http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/usa/press-center/reports4/carbon-scam-noel-kempff-clima.pdf

”CARBON SCAM: New Greenpeace report exposes how coal and oil companies are trying to use forest offset projects to cheat the climate,” GREENPEACE, 15 October 2009; “Green Groups Clash Over Reliability of Forest-Based Carbon Offsets,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 October 2009; “Use of Forests as Carbon Offsets Fails to Impress In First Big Trial,” THE WASHINGTON POST, 15 October 2009; “Greenpeace Questions Rain Forest Project,” THE NEW YOUK TIMES, 15 October 2009; “Carbon Scam: Noel Kempff Climate Action Project and the Push for Sub-national Forest Offsets,” GREENPEACE, October 2009.


Issued by:  International Centre For Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD)



Issue date: October 30, 2009

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Extpub | by Dr. Radut