in Bolivia

Carbon scam: the Noel Kempff project in Bolivia

noel-kempffGreenpeace recently released a report which illustrates clearly why REDD offset projects will neither address climate change nor stop deforestation. The report, “Carbon Scam: Noel Kempff Climate Action Project and the Push for Sub-national Forest Offsets”, looks in detail at the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project in Bolivia.

The report questions the claims made by the project developers about leakage, additionality, permanence and the ability of the project developers to measure accurately the amount of carbon stored in the forest. In the twelve years of the project, estimates of the emissions reduction have fallen almost 90%, from about 55 million to 5.8 million metric tonnes of CO2.

The project started in 1996, when The Nature Conservancy and Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN) created the Noel Kempff project. The following year, the Bolivian government signed an agreement with three massively polluting energy corporations: American Electric Power (AEP) BP-Amoco (BP) and Pacificorp. Under the agreement, the corporations would pay to protect almost 650,000 hectares of rainforest for 30 years. In return, the carbon offsets generated allowed the companies to continue polluting.

The Noel Kempff project is one of the best known “avoided deforestation” projects in the world. On its website, The Nature Conservancy claims that the project is “An example of REDD success” that “simultaneously addresses climate change, conserves biodiversity and brings sustainable benefits to local communities.”

Roman Czebiniak, Greenpeace international’s Political Advisor on Climate Change and Forests, is a co-author of the Greenpeace report. “This report should end any talk that sub-national carbon offset projects can be used to reliably cut carbon emissions,” he said in a Greenpeace statement. “The idea that companies could continue burning oil and coal so long as they set up a park in developing country sounds ludicrous. We have shown that it is ludicrous on paper as well.”

The Noel Kempff project is extremely weak in several areas. The project investors used an estimate of 15% for project leakage in submissions to the UNFCCC and the US Congress. Yet Greenpeace points out that a 2002 report by Winrock International estimates that project leakage could be as high as 42-60%. Leakage is only measured on one area south-west of the project. Leakage elsewhere is simply ignored, although, as Greenpeace drily notes, “the impacts to the atmosphere would be identical to leakage occurring in the limited areas where it is monitored.”

The third party auditor of the project, SGS, was suspended by the UN in September 2009, as a result of being unable to prove that its staff had properly inspected the projects it was accrediting for carbon trading or even that the staff were properly qualified to do so.

In 1996, a new forestry law was passed in Bolivia, which changed the economics of logging, leading to a 75% reduction in the area of land under concession in the country. Greenpeace notes that this “undermines the arguments that [the project’s] additionality can be proven in a measurable, reportable, and verifiable manner”.

Permanence is almost impossible to guarantee, for the simple reason that it involves predicting the future. Drought, forest fires, forest die back, pest infestation, disease or political changes could all have a dramatic impact on the forest in the project area. In a rapidly changing climate such threats to the forest become more likely to happen. If AEP, BP-Amoco and Pacificorp have already used the project to offset their emissions and the forests were to be destroyed, this would double the volume of CO2 emissions. Between 1997 and 2004, Greenpeace found that AEP, Pacificorp, and BP reported about 7.4 million tons of carbon offsets from the Noel Kempff project to the US Department of Energy. This is considerably more than the amount verified for the 30 year project: 5.8 million tons. Greenpeace explains that the investors “may have claimed millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions reductions that never occurred”.

The Nature Conservancy claims to be working with and providing benefits for local communities. Greenpeace also questions these claims. One villager told Greenpeace about a herd of cows the project provided in an attempt to provide “alternative livelihoods” for the community. Unfortunately, the cows were European and unable to survive in Bolivia. “They all died in the end,” the villager said. “The cows were so expensive that a whole herd of local breeds could have been bought for the price of a single one.”

Meanwhile, between 1998 and 2009, electricity utilities in the US have spent a staggering US$1.16 billion lobbying the US Congress on issues such as carbon trading and offsets. In 2008, AEP spent US$11 million lobbying Congress.

“In order to protect the climate we need to stop burning coal and stop burning down our forests – not do one at the expense of the other,” Greenpeace’s Roman Czebiniak said. “The objective of a REDD mechanism is to establish a means for the international community to make substantial advances in fighting climate change by stopping deforestation. REDD is not meant to provide low-cost, low-quality ‘sub-prime’ carbon offsets to oil and coal companies, or to create a new playground for banks and carbon traders.”

In a response to the Greenpeace report, The Nature Conservancy makes a pathetic attempt to brush off the criticism: “Getting REDD right and doing it at national scales is essential for making forests a part of the climate solution. The Nature Conservancy is proud to have had the courage to take the first steps with the Noel Kempff Climate Action project.”

Greenpeace has exposed the Noel Kempff project for what it is: a carbon scam. The purpose of the project is to allow pollution to continue in the US. That much is blindingly obvious from what American Electric Power chief executive Michael G. Morris told the Washington Post: “When Greenpeace says the only reason American Electric Power wants to do this is because it doesn’t want to shut down its coal plants, my answer is, ‘You bet, because our coal plants serve our customers very cost-effectively.'” We would perhaps not expect anything else from the biggest coal-burner in the US. But the Nature Conservancy is supposed to be an environmental organisation. It has been caught REDD-handed, aiding and abetting a climate crime.

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  1. Getting even the NKCAP basics and its methodologies wrong this report only proofs that Greenpeace is lacking the professional and technical skills to deal with REDD. Those of you who are interested in getting the facts right than being brain-washed by anti-offset propaganda might have a look at FAN´s statement on the Greenpeace “report”:

    Natalia Calderón Angeleri
    Coordinator Climate Change and Environmental Services Department
    FAN Bolivia

  2. congratulations

    What’s true is true…

    even the government say no we no that it’s is TRUE…

    All the best my good friend

  3. Hy Natalia… Excuse me…

    Just one note,
    According with Brown, S. et al. (2007) , the following rule of thumb suggestion is:
    • For projects above 100,000 ha, the reference region should be about 5-7 times larger than the project area.
    • For projects below 100,000 ha, the reference region should be 20-40 times the size of the project area.

    So in the noel project… the driver of deforastation and environmental pressure could not be considered taking the reference zone smaller than it was supposed to be… so it’s make the carbon amount get high…

    And another think is leakage is big issue in redd projects…

    we both know that even the leakage belt is fucking huge this will not be enough to support the human pressure… because 10 years before a Redd project is necessary to RE EDucate the actors of each reagion…

    My best regards
    my pleasure to know you
    keep on touch

  4. Pablo

    Can you please provide a full reference or link to the ‘Brown S et al, 2007’ paper that you mention above?


  5. Hy Juergen,

    RED-NM-001 / Version 01

    Citation: Brown, S. F. Achard, R. de Fries, G. Grassi, N. Harris, M. Herold, D. Molicone, D. Pandey, T. Pearson, and D. Shoch, 2007b. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries: a Sourcebook of Methods and Procedures for Monitoring, Measuring and Reporting.

    All the best my good friend

  6. In its recent report about REDD, the Indigenous Environmental Network makes the following comment about the Noel Kempff project:

    Noel Kempff is the largest REDD pilot project in the world is a 30 year “partnership” on indigenous land with oil giants British Petroleum and Amoco[1] which coincidentally are participating in “the biggest global warming crime in history”[2] and violate Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Tibet,[3] Sudan,[4] Canada[5] and the United States[6]. BP has also benefited from a regime of paramilitary terror in Colombia[7] and is implicated in a coup d’etat in Azerbaijan.[8] Other partners include the biggest coal burner in the U.S., American Electric Power (which depends on coal and uranium mining[9] that have devastated native lands and health[10]) and PacfiCorp and The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy says that REDD is more important than cutting emissions.[11] REDD could be the cheapest way[12] for these polluting companies to buy permits to pollute. Cheap carbon credits from REDD could allow climate criminals to continue to destroy the earth and her peoples.

    [1]“Through a unique partnership, the Government of Bolivia, the Friends of Nature Foundation (FAN), The Nature Conservancy and three energy companies (American Electric Power, PacifiCorp and BP Amoco) have teamed up to jointly implement the US $11 million Noel Kempff Mercado Climate Action Project–the largest forest based carbon project in the world.” The contract is for 30 years. See TIME:,9171,1864302,00.html
    [2]The Independent:
    [3]Corpwatch: “BP challenged to get out of Tibet”
    [4] Los Angeles Times: “slavery and genocide in Sudan”
    [5] The Globe: “a form of genocide” PBS: Extreme Oil – Athabasca Tar Sands The Guardian
    [6]Greenpeace: Inupiat Eskimos sue BP
    [7] The Independent
    [8] BP and Amoco behind Coup
    [9] American Electric Power gets 66% of its energy from coal and 6% from nuclear power. See Fuel Diversity graph on p.4 of its 2008 Annual Report AEP is also an aggressive proponent of the oxymoron “clean” coal and the highly dangerous false solution to climate change called Carbon Capture and Storage
    [10] Indigenous Environmental Network See video Dine’ Grandmothers resist relocation to radioactive lands
    [11] The Nature Conservancy: Forest offsets more important than emissions reduction targets
    [12] The Economist:: “Companies would then buy cheap credits and continue doing business as usual rather than cutting their own emissions.”

  7. Dear Chris,

    I do not want to doubt that in any field there are good and bad practices. But wouldn´t one think that in most places the VCS and CCBA validation and verification processes should actually avoid most (maybe not all) of these project failures? VCS validators are said to argue quite a lot with developer on how the final carbon model for the project should look like.