in Australia, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea Australia Forest Carbon Partnership: 10 questions for Penny Wong

Penny Wong is Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Water. Ilya Gridneff is a journalist working for the Australian Associated Press in Papua New Guinea.

Recently, Gridneff sent 10 questions to Wong asking about Australia’s funding to Papua New Guinea regarding climate change. Given that PNG is currently embroiled in a scandal over the issuance of REDD “credits”, the questions seem perfectly reasonable. The Australian government has established a multi-million dollar series of initiatives on forests and carbon that are explicitly aimed at influencing the negotiations towards establishing a REDD mechanism under the UNFCCC. It is an extremely sensitive, important international issue. It is also public money. “The predictable, anodyne Australian Government response would be funny if it wasn’t the bane of my existence,” Gridneff writes.

Here are Gridneff’s questions, the government’s response and Gridneff’s attempt to follow up. REDD-Monitor has also sent these questions to Penny Wong and looks forward to posting replies to the questions.

Gridneff’s questions:

1) Under the Papua New Guinea Australia Forest Carbon Partnership (PNGAFC) signed by PM Kevin Rudd and PNG PM Somare in March 2008 “Papua New Guinea and Australia will engage in a strategic policy dialogue on climate change” – can you explain what sort of “dialogue” has been occurring considering that the PNG government through their Office of Climate Change (OCC) has been offering carbon deals while no policy or legislation is in place – in particular with questionable REDD deals?
2) “Australia will work actively together to increase Papua New Guinea’s capacity in forest carbon monitoring and assessment” considering a raft of voluntary pilot schemes are already in full swing towards coming online – is this a signal that the Australian government has built enough “capacity in forest management” for these projects to be credible?
3) Is the Australian government concerned that there remains an apparent lack of monitoring, capacity and assessment in PNG’s climate change institutions but pilot schemes are already being established ?
4) The PNGAFC says: “Building on Australia’s experience in national carbon accounting and measurement, Australia will provide scientific, technical and analytical support to inform Papua New Guinea’s development of its own national carbon accounting system ” can you please explain where we are with that? or what technical et al support Australia is specifically providing?
5) “Australia’s $200 million International Forest Carbon Initiative is a key part of Australia’s international leadership on REDD. The Initiative supports international efforts on REDD through the UNFCCC. It is jointly administered by the Australian Department of Climate Change and AusAID.
“Australia has committed up to $3 million in initial funding which includes technical, scientific and analytical support for whole of government policy development and the design of Papua New Guinea’s carbon monitoring and accounting systems” .
Can you tell me how much of the $200 million goes to PNG and how and when is the money is delivered, to what areas?
6) Is it a concern that millions of dollars in funding is going to PNG while serious issues of credibility, accountability, transparency and leadership remain?
(Dr Yasause OCC director is facing the sack after a series of leaked documents show significant “anomalies” – Dr Yasause refuted the leaked documents as merely “samples” stolen from his office drawer. When AAP asked why the head of one of PNG’s most lucrative resource industries would make “sample” documents, Dr Yasause said: “we want to see what it looked like”.)
7) Who does Australia deal with in PNG’s OCC – what specific individuals – as it appears there will be a regime change shortly and most PNG government officials are embarrassed by the OCC’s current direction?
8) Would Australia’s Climate Change Office support moves to get Australian Federal Police involved in monitoring carbon deals as part of transnational crimes? Is there any “dialogue” between the two agencies on this issue?
9) A range of Australian companies are operating in PNG offering carbon trade deals or brokering – often facilitating some of these dubious deals that have been recently exposed by media such as AAP- what responsibility does the Australian government or the Climate Change office have in monitoring Australian companies in dubious carbon trade practice?
10) How concerning is it that the director of the PNG office of climate change also wants to personally “produce and sell” carbon credits – essentially he becomes policy maker, legislator and trader- while the legality of this is questionable – does it jeopardises the integrity of the PNGAFC?
(This has been exposed in a signed letter to Jackson Yagi from Dr Yasuase dated September 20 2008 regarding the April Salome area East Sepik in relation to Australian company Earth Sky)

The response from the spokesperson for the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong:

Australia and PNG established the Forest Carbon Partnership to cooperate on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), and assist Papua New Guinea to participate in future international carbon markets.
Australia has committed up to $3 million in initial funding which includes technical, scientific and analytical support for whole of government policy development and the design of Papua New Guinea’s carbon monitoring and accounting systems.
At the recent Australia – PNG Ministerial Forum (10 June), Australia and PNG signed a Work Plan under the PNG – Australia Forest Carbon Partnership. This recognises the key activities which need to occur for PNG to be able to participate in any international forest carbon market.

Gridneff writes that he followed up by asking “why respond with answers that contained the same information as my questions?” The spokesperson has not responded to either emails or calls.

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  1. what are the names of Australian companies facilitating carbon deals in PNG?

    Is Carbon Conservation one of them?

    Does the government owe the public more information on this as a matter of law? Pretty disgraceful response!

  2. More information is needed to answer questions adequately. Public derserve to know what is the content of the Work Plan recented made in the 18th Ministerial Forum in Brisbane.

  3. @maria – As far as I’m aware Carbon Conservation is not one of the Australian companies working in PNG. The companies we do know about are Carbon Planet and Climate Assist PNG.

    The opposition climate change spokesperson, Greg Hunt, is also asking the government to answer these questions, which were first posed by AAP journalist Ilya Gridneff. Here’s a follow up article by Gridneff:

    Govt urged to front up on climate funds
    11:33 AEST Tue Jul 7 2009
    By Ilya Gridneff

    The Australian government must say whether millions of taxpayer dollars given for climate change initiatives overseas are actually saving trees, opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt says.

    Mr Hunt said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong needed to explain the success of programs such as the $3 million Papua New Guinea Australia Forest Carbon Partnership, signed more than a year ago.

    Australia also pledged $200 million to the region under the International Forest Carbon Initiative (IFCI).

    The Rudd government refused to answer a series of questions from AAP about how exactly the money has been spent.

    In recent months, a number of inconsistencies between Australian government expenditure on climate change and related outcomes in PNG have been exposed.

    “The government needs to provide answers as to whether Australian tax dollars and, just as importantly, global rainforest protection dollars, are reaching their stated objectives,” Mr Hunt told AAP.

    “We are not opposed to PNG, we are opposed to wasting money.”

    Mr Hunt said Australia’s IFCI, of which Indonesia and PNG are beneficiaries, was inherited from the previous John Howard government when current federal opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull was environment minister.

    Mr Hunt called on the government to audit every overseas climate change dollar or admit it is wasted on administration, siphoned off improperly or merely empty rhetoric.

    Senator Wong did not answer questions about the millions Australia spends on foreign climate change initiatives.

    She did not comment on the effectiveness of these bilateral agreements, considering a raft of anomalies with PNG’s Office of Climate Change (OCC) and the suspension of its director Dr Theo Yasause.

    PNG is investigating Dr Yasause who denies wrongdoing after a list of leaked documents showed he signed on carbon deals to companies while no policy or legislation existed.

    On Friday, AAP reported PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare’s nephew had been accused of pressuring East Sepik landowners in their home province to sign up for carbon deals.

    Last month, AAP reported conmen travelling near Popondetta, in Oro province on the northwest coast, had sold 500 villagers fake carbon trading deals by promising big returns from “sky money”.

    Australia’s Macquarie Bank earlier this year pulled out of PNG saying it was too difficult to guarantee their customers the integrity of carbon projects.

    An AusAID spokesperson said a three-month “corporate planning adviser” providing “technical advice on financial and accounting systems, IT and communications and HR processes” would soon be placed in PNG’s OCC.

    AusAID would not reveal the adviser’s salary but said so far, under the Carbon Partnership, $300,000 had been spent on education workshops held across PNG in May this year.