in Brazil, India, Netherlands

Dutch TV programme on CO2 offsets (part 2): “I can fly to America with a clear conscience, because someone in Africa has a biogas plant for cooking.”

Last week, REDD-Monitor posted episode one of Keuringsdienst van Waarde’s investigation into carbon offsetting. In case you missed it, here it is: “One cent per square metre: Dutch TV programme finds out the cost of Brazil’s rainforest.” Last week, we saw the Dutch TV consumer programme buying a plot of rainforest in Brazil. This week, the Keuringsdienst team looks deeper into the implications of CO2 offsets.

In episode two, Keuringsdienst registers the land they bought in Brazil. It is interesting to note that Michael Greene of the Brazil Property Group forgets to bring his passport. No questions are asked at the land registry. But questions about the offsets deal are raised in an interview with Jutta Kill from the Brussels-based NGO FERN.[*] Keuringsdienst visits the offset forest by boat and nails a sign on a tree announcing who owns this area of forest. A highlight is the interview with Gert de Gans of Fair Climate Fund. It is toe-curlingly embarrassing to listen to (the presumably well-meaning) Gans acknowledge that European’s high carbon lifestyles are offset by some of the poorest people on the planet. Professor Ramos de Castro of the University of Pará explains some of the further injustices of the carbon trade, such as the blaming of forest dwelling local communities for forest destruction, rather than large-scale agriculture and industrial plantations.

Again, this is a rough translation. While my Dutch may be improving (I can speak German, which helps somewhat), my Portuguese remains non-existent. If any Portuguese speakers could help with the translation of Professor Castro’s comments, I would be happy to update this post.

The programme ends with the announcement: “To be continued…” REDD-Monitor looks forward to posting the next episode, once it is broadcast.

CO2 Compensated

Keuringsdienst van Waarde
Broadcast 7 April 2011

[The programme starts with a review of last week’s episode…]

Voice over: The Keuringsdienst went to buy CO2 offset forest. 70 football fields in Brazil. Not for our emissions, but for yours: the viewer. Cost: a careless €5,000.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): It should be all in here. €4,865.

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): OK, it looks good.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): You’re happy?

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Yeah, I’m happy.

Voice over: We are also happy. The CO2 debt is almost redeemed. We just need a stamp at the land registry and the offset can begin.

[In the land registry office…]

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Do you have your passport?

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Yes.

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Actually I don’t have my passport with me, I forgot. To do the documents.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): This is kind of like the, how do you call it? The cadastre?

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Yes. But they are privately owned and there’s a lot of them. Every little municipality has one.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): So they kind of monitor, or know, who owns what piece of land where?

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Yes.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): So we are actually buying the land now?

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Yes, well, doing the title deeds. Making the title deeds.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): So do they know what I’m using it for? Do they know I’m using it to compensate TV viewers?

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Well, because the land is so small, they don’t care. For this municipality you have up to 165 hectares you can do it like that.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Alright.

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): And then if you go above that then there’s a bit more paperwork that goes into it. But it’s still not an issue.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): So it’s really no questions asked? I just, they just registrate or?

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): No questions asked.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Alright.

Voice over: The land registry in Brazil does not ask questions, says our land seller. But then the Keuringsdienst does.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): So, this is starting to make it official.

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Starting to make it official. Now we take this and register it in Portal[?] and then it’s done.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Wow, so.

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): That’s it!

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Feels good.

So that’s it for now right?

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): That’s it we’re done. It was great doing business with you.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Thank you. I hope the forest will compensate, you know, as it should.

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): It compensates everybody.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Yeah. I’m excited. So, we’ll be in touch. Thanks again.

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group): Take it easy.

Voice over: Take a drink and get some nuts. You can now enjoy your favourite programme, guilt free! Everyone is compensated. But is everyone happy? In Brussels is an organisation that is fond of the forests and what lives in them. Just look how happy they are.

[Maurice Dekkers (KVW) knocks on FERN’s office door…]

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Hello.

Jutta Kill (FERN): Hello. Hi.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Maurice Dekkers, Keuringsdienst van Waade.

Jutta Kill (FERN): Jutta Kill from FERN. Come in.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Thank you.

Jutta Kill (FERN): Have a seat.

From about 10 years ago we started to see that some of the large plantation companies around the world were interested in something called the carbon market, the carbon offset market.

[Text on screen: Offsets expert Jutta Kill]

And having worked on the impact of plantations and having documented the impact of large plantations on communities, and on the environment, we became very suspicious, when we heard that those plantation companies were looking at a mechanism that would allow them to say they are contributing to helping us deal with climate change and at the same time they could make some money from that to expand their tree plantations.

[Maarten Remmers (KVW) and Eddy Loomans getting on a boat in Brazil…]

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Well here goes.

Jutta Kill (FERN): The principle is that in a forest a lot of carbon is stored, you know, in the trunks, in the leaves, in the roots, that’s a lot of carbon.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

[Back in FERN’s office…]

Jutta Kill (FERN): And if you cut the tree that carbon is released as carbon dioxide, as CO2, and enters the atmosphere. And somewhere between 10 and 20, 25 per cent of our emissions globally come from changing land use, including a large part from cutting down forests. So, if you’re a forest owner who has always looked well after your forest and you had no intention to cut your forest then you will not benefit from the carbon market because you’re not changing your behaviour. You wouldn’t have cut the trees anyways, so you cannot provide any additional extra savings. You cannot prevent any additional extra emissions …

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): No.

Jutta Kill (FERN): … from being released. If however, you were an owner who had the intention to cut the forest, or if you can find somebody to construct a credible story, that you were going to destroy the forest, then you’re in the business.

Voice over: Only if you threaten, you are in business. Our Belgian business friend let us see the forest in question. The threatened Keuringsdienst offset forest.

[Back on the boat in Brazil…]

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Nevertheless it is fascinating actually that this area can compensate people who watch television in the Netherlands.

[Text on screen: Land seller Eddy Loomans]

Eddy Loomans: [laughing] It is perhaps for many people a new idea. But that is how it works.

This is currently the biggest problem of the Amazon forest.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): They come here. They ‘break’ a piece of land.

Eddy Loomans: Indeed. They come seeking a better life. They take a piece of land, burn it off. Or they pick the best trees out to make a canoe. Then they cut down trees to make charcoal out of it. And then come the cows, pigs, and so on and so on. The forest doesn’t regenerate any more and becomes a sort of grassland. We have analysed the area. If nothing happens, within 10 to 15 years this area will be completely cut down. Burned, gone. Probably houses built, cows grazing, and permanently lost.

[Back in FERN’s office…]

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): When I buy a piece of water, just I buy a piece of water. Somewhere.

Jutta Kill (FERN): A piece of land?

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): No, water.

Jutta Kill (FERN): Water. A lake, or something?

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): No, not a lake. In the sea.

Jutta Kill (FERN): OK.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): And I say, well, I’m going to shoot every fish that swims through my square metre of sea. Or, maybe, when you pay me money, I don’t do that. Is that the same? Is that?

Jutta Kill (FERN): That is indeed the idea. You have a piece of land. You say this is what I was going to do, and it would have had a negative impact on the climate. Cutting trees, I was planning to do that and I don’t see why I shouldn’t. You know, there’s more money in it for me cutting down the tree than keeping it standing. So, if you want me not to cut down that tree you have to pay me. And you have to pay me enough to not do that.

[Maurice Dekkers (KVW) in a lift…]

Voice over: Fortunately, offsets can be different, without a threat, with so-called credits.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Maurice Dekkers, Keuringsdienst van Waarde.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Gert de Gans, Fair Climate Fund.

Come this way, to my office. Shall I go first?

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes. Have a look. Beautiful colors.

Someone thought smartest thing: That you can sell it.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Indeed.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): That’s the bottom line, huh?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): I want to try to understand.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): I can explain in a very concrete example.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

[Text on screen: CO2 project dealer Gert de Gans]

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Fair Climate Fund supports a project in India.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): A partner there builds 18,000 biogas plants. This means that 18,000 families …

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Can we do it on the basis of one family?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Very good. Yes.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): We have one family.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): We have one family.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Where are we?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): In Bagepalli, in India.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Bagepalli. Bagepalli. One family in Bagepalli.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Bagepalli. Yes. The woman traditionally needs about two hours each day walking to collect wood.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): The woman.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): The women. Yes. That wood is the basis of the fire they use to cook the food.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): This is done very simply on three stones, with the wood in between.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): On the ground.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes, a sort of barbecue.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): A sort of barbecue. Indeed, yes. Through the burning of wood, the CO2 comes into the air. And CO2 contributes to climate change.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes. And that is not good.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): That is not good.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): So you say to this family in Bagepalli: This wood is not good.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): No. You better change, because you have cows. This family we are looking at, has two cows.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Two cows. Yes.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Our partner in India says to those families: You better change to the use of biogas.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Biogas. OK. Yes, yes. Because that is better?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): That is better for the environment. By the burning of biogas, no CO2 comes into the air.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): That is very good.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): That is very good. If one switches to biogas, the three tonnes of CO2 per year …

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Less.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): not emitted, less not emitted.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes, yes, yes, yes.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): And CO2 is now … a commodity.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): That can be sold on the market, on the international market.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes. So the not emitted emissions can be sold?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes, they can be sold.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): To whom?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): They sell them on the international market and in this case to the Fair Climate Fund.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): So you buy something that does not happen?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): People have switched from wood to biogas.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Normally you buy something and then you get something. But you will get nothing. There is nothing.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes, we will get what we pay for.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): What then?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): We get rights.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): But the rights are based on nothing.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): On nothing. That’s right. That’s right.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Who buys that?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): We sell those rights to the Dutch market. We sell them to individuals, companies, organizations.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Anyone can actually buy?

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes. Anyone can buy it.

[Marijn Frank (KVW): walks into Green Credit Card office…]

Marijn Frank (KVW): Hello.

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): Hello. Welcome.

Marijn Frank (KVW): Marijn Frank, Keuringsdienst van Waarde.

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): Patrick Bunnik. Come in.

Marijn Frank (KVW): Thank you. You know everything about making buying green?

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): We have developed a credit card that makes buying green. That’s right.

Marijn Frank (KVW): You have invented this, the green card.

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): We didn’t invent this. The credit card has existed for many years.

[Text on screen: Green Credit Card Director Patrick Bunnik]

We invented the ClimaCount offset scheme. That is the logo, here. This gives insight into CO2 consumption. We know what you have purchased with the card and what the CO2 impact was. And we can offset that.

Marijn Frank (KVW): OK.

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): By planting trees or buying CO2 allowances arising from circumstances such as generating sustainable energy.

Marijn Frank (KVW): OK. So really it’s a sort of trade in CO2 rights?

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): We are one of the parties, which buy up rights.

[Back to the Fair Climate Fund office…]

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Say I have a factory and am extremely polluting.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): I can say, then I can offset that. I can say, I need this industry, that is my business.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): But I buy a credit …

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): … making it seem like I have less emissions.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes. That’s right.

[Back in the Green Credit Card office…]

Marijn Frank (KVW): If I’m buying a Hummer …

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): That can’t be with a credit card. But I understand your example.

Marijn Frank (KVW): Yes.

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): Yes.

Marijn Frank (KVW): Am I still CO2-neutral?

Patrick Bunnik (Green Credit Card): Theoretically speaking, if you could buy a Hummer with a credit card then it is theoretically true that we would compensate.

[Back on the boat in Brazil…]

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Is it around here?

Eddy Loomans: Let me check. Yes, that’s right. That is correct.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Here?

Eddy Loomans: This is your forest. What you see on the left is your offset forest.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): The Keuringsdienst von Waarde offset forest.

Eddy Loomans: Exactly.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): It goes a long way in that direction.

Eddy Loomans: It goes quite deep and to the left and to the right.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): So this compensates for our viewers in the Netherlands?

Eddy Loomans: It offsets the cocktail nuts, the beers, and so on.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Our own piece of jungle. To mark the reservation, I’ve brought a sign.

Eddy Loomans: [Reading in Portuguese] This forest is owned by the TV programme Keuringsdienst van Waarde.


[Translating the sign] This forest is owned by the TV programme Keuringsdienst van Waarde.

[Maarten Remmers (KVW) walks into the jungle in Brazil…]

Michael Greene (Brazil Property Group) – voice over: I think it’s a good idea. It’s a good idea to save the planet.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Eddy?

Eddy Loomans: Yes.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): It looks good.

Eddy Loomans: Good.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Sounds like a good offset forest.

Eddy Loomans: Has it been officially claimed?

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Not yet. I’ll sit and see where I will. Here people can see it coming sailing along.

Eddy Loomans: Yes.

So. Looks fine, Maarten.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Right?

Eddy Loomans: Yes, fine.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): [Slips.] Whoa.

Eddy Loomans: Watch out.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Keuringsdienst offset forest. Beautiful forest. Yes. Absolutely.

[Back in FERN’s office…]

Jutta Kill (FERN): You’re buying into an illusion that your emissions have been neutralised. Assuming that you bought the forest from somebody who had genuine title and who didn’t just take the piece of forest from somebody else …

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Is this also possible that this is not our land?

Jutta Kill (FERN): If you bought a piece of forest in the Amazon,

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

Jutta Kill (FERN): Just as if you’d bought a piece of forest in many of the other intact forests around the world, there’s a very high possibility that you’ve bought a piece of land where there is conflicts or uncertainty over the title of that land. What does that mean? In a lot of those intact forests, they are also the home and territory of indigenous peoples. In most of those places, indigenous peoples have not had their land recognised. It’s been taken from them, including by a lot of speculative land sellers and companies selling land, including in the Amazon.

Voice over: Well, that’s great! Maybe our forest is not ours! Maybe our offset is not even real! Was it nothing more than hot air? We come into contact with a professor in the Department of Amazon Studies of the University of Para. Maybe she can help us further.

[Maarten Remmers (KVW) walks along a wooden jetty in Brazil…]

Maarten Remmers (KVW): Hello? Miss Castro?

Ramos de Castro: Hello. Si. I think the chances are you have made a false purchase.

[Text on screen: Amazon Sociologist Prof. Dr. Ramos de Castro]

That it is an illusion. The illusion could take two forms. I sell a piece of land that does not exist. An imaginary piece of land. Another is a symbolic sale because you have the possibility of creating more forest because you with the emission allowances contribute to the preservation of the forest.

Maarten Remmers (KVW): The company I bought the land from, they say, they protect the land because the people who are in the forest, they are the threat to the forest and they will take it down and if I will not buy it, they will also take my piece and by buying it, it’s protected.

Ramos de Castro: Research shows that people who live in the forest live from the natural resources. They have developed ways of conserving the resources. There is now an ongoing process, particularly by the growth in emissions trading, the basic idea summarised, that you could protect forests by those allowances goes hand in hand with a demonisation process. The rights of the people who live here are being restricted and they are labelled as criminals. In between are the well-meaning Europeans and the middle class who believe that with the pieces of land that they buy, the forest can be saved. Not so. Those who are women and know how to cook are missing.

The demise of the forest is due to the rise of exploitating companies the mechanised and small-scale agriculture and large scale livestock. They are usually driven by external interests from the south of Brazil and the international market. We must not blame and demonise the local communities.

[Back to the Fair Climate Fund office…]

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Imagine: you must fly to America for your work. You must go. By boat is not an option. You can offset emissions from air travel through the Fair Climate Fund.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): Yes.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Because there is no alternative.

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): No. So someone in Africa, if I may say so bluntly, I can fly to America with a clear conscience, because someone in Africa

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes

Maurice Dekkers (KVW): has a biogas plant for cooking.

Gert de Gans (Fair Climate Fund): Yes. That’s right.

[Marijn Frank (KVW) in an office, on the telephone.]

Marijn Frank (KVW): Good afternoon. My name is Marijn Frank. I have a question. When booking a ticket for a small fee could I offset my CO2 emissions?

Woman’s voice on phone: Yes.

Marijn Frank (KVW): How does that work? What happens to the extra five euros I pay?

Woman’s voice on phone: That goes to a windmill project on Bonaire.

Marijn Frank (KVW): Oh, OK.

Woman’s voice on phone: Clean energy is produced to achieve the energy supply for the island.

Marijn Frank (KVW): Oh. So because I book a ticket, a windmill stands.

Woman’s voice on phone: I’m so sorry. Um… You sound very, um … pushy.

[Back to FERN’s office…]

Jutta Kill (FERN): In Europe we have over-used our, let’s call it “dump” space for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most of the greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere today, the ones that are you know beyond, that drive the normal concentrations beyond the normal, go back to emissions that result from industrialised countries. So offsets mean that instead of reducing our own use of the dump space we ask those countries and within those countries those communities who have used the least who have had the least contribution to climate change, who virtually produce no emissions to reduce them even more, so that we can continue our high carbon emission life-style. I think that is very unjust.

[Back in Brazil on the wooden jetty…]

Ramos de Castro: I would suggest you to the Land Institute of the state of Pará to go to ask whether they will to verify that the ownership rights are correct. Whether you have really bought a piece of land or whether you have been misled. Misled by a group of domestic and foreign companies where land is supposedly being sold. These companies thereby make money from the image of the Amazon and environmental problems.

[Text on the screen: To be continued… This episode has been presented by your carbon neutral dahltv, a Blazhoffski company]

Full disclosure: FERN has, in the past, funded REDD-Monitor. However, FERN did not pay for this post. Click here for a full list of REDD-Monitor’s funders.

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  1. As they say in the southern US…I resent the alligation, and I resent the alligator…Ha ha…but really… is it so much fun to make fun of everything…maybe its more fun for you if the the goal is especially noble… like saving forests. Go for it. Youll probably win. Have fun…