By Chris Lang
Earlier this month, Ecosystem Restoration Associates, a Canadian carbon trading company, announced a REDD-type project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company described the project as, “the first Forest Conservation Concession Contract awarded by the government of the DRC.”
The first? Well, yes and no. A year ago, Shift2Neutral announced that it had signed a deal aimed at protecting the forests of the DR Congo. That’s right, all of them. But a couple of months later DR Congo’s Minister of Environment, José E. B. Endundo, declared the deal “illegal” and “void”.
Of course it would be ridiculous to compare Ecosystem Restoration Associates with Shift2Neutral. Ecosystem Restoration Associates is a company with a board of directors, an office with more than one person working in it, a client list, and even a share price (shares in ERA Carbon Offsets Ltd, which owns ERA, are currently trading at $0.11 down from a high of $0.45 at the end of September 2010).
Nevertheless, there remain serious questions about ERA’s project in DR Congo. Yesterday, REDD-Monitor received the following anonymous contribution. It is posted here unedited and in full:
Ecosystem Restoration Associates’ project in DR Congo: plenty of REDD-hot air?
Earlier this month, Vancouver, Canada, based Ecosystem Restoration Associates Inc. (100%-owned subsidiary of ERA Carbon Offsets Ltd), became the latest carbon speculator to claim a ‘first’ in developing a major REDD project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company said that it was “pleased to announce the signing of the Forest Conservation Concession Contract for the 299,640 hectare Mai Ndombe property”, which is located in Bandundu Province in the northwest of DRC’s huge forest area.
Whilst the deal has inevitably been met with excitement in the carbon finance world, there are very worrying aspects to the arrangement. Some observers will see it as exemplifying the worst dangers of ill-conceived REDD schemes.
The majority of the ‘property’ – about 275,000 hectares – is comprised of two former logging titles of a company known as BIMPE AGRO. In 2008, BIMPE’s logging areas had been declared illegal and ‘non-convertible’ into legal logging concession by an official Interministerial Commission which was set up by the World Bank to rule on the legality, or otherwise, of all of the country’s 150 or so logging operations.
In its April 4th 2011 announcement on the signing of a Carbon Rights Agreement with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, ERA stated that the “Improved Forest Management portion of the project will result in the cessation of active commercial logging activity”. This in itself would probably be seen by most as a positive development, but the problem is that by April 2011, any (illegal) logging activity within ERA’s ‘property’ should already have ceased two years previously, under government order. As with many of the illegal ‘logging’ operations supposedly closed by the Interministerial Commission, there is doubt as to whether BIMPE’s areas were ever actively logged (other than perhaps through sub-contracting to neighbouring logging companies), and at least one of the two concessions might well have been acquired by BIMPE purely speculatively. The government’s official figures show no recorded timber production at all by BIMPE between 2002 and 2006, the only years for which data are available.
Any logging within ERA’s ‘property’ was therefore strictly illegal and should have been shut down by the government. There was little prospect that the areas would be opened up for legal logging because Congo’s Minister of Environment, Jose Endundo – who signed the ERA deal – had recently reaffirmed that there is no intention to lift a national moratorium on the allocation of new logging operations that has been in place since 2002.
The full details of ERA’s intentions in its ‘property’ are not yet clear, and the management plan for the ‘conservation concessions’ has not been posted online. However, despite the glaring question-marks about the underlying ‘additionality’ of ERA’s new REDD offset deal, the company has at least doubled the amount of carbon which it claims will be ‘saved’ through the deal; in April this year it stated that approximately “700,000–1,000,000 tonnes” annually would be saved, but claimed in its August announcement that “Current modeling indicates significant emission reductions in the range of 1.5 to 3.0 million tonnes per year will be produced [sic] once the project is fully implemented.”
The details of the Conservation Contract have also not yet been revealed, though under Congolese law it should be published within 60 days of its signing, i.e by October 4th, 2011. The length of the contract is critical, as it would probably need to be in the order of at least 50-100 years to be significant in retaining terrestrial carbon, whereas ordinary concession contracts in DRC only apply for 25 years. Whilst the company has not yet obtained any form of certification of its operations (both VSC and CCBA have been mentioned), it “expects” to begin issuing credits as soon as 2012.
ERA is no stranger to controversy about its operations. In 2008, ERA’s ‘forest restoration’ programme in the North Alouette River area of British Columbia was described by a member of BC’s parliament as an environmental “disaster” and a “sham” – because the tree-planting programme had first involved clear-felling of the existing trees. Whilst the programme risked causing a carbon deficit for perhaps 40-60 years, carbon credits generated by the scheme were being sold to Air Canada to allow customers to offset their flight’s carbon emissions.
ERA’s claims and approach to the Congolese ‘non-logging’ operations are remarkably similar to another scheme with which the company is involved. In June this year, it announced that it was purchasing 250,000 carbon credits from a forestry offset scheme called Darkwood, also in British Columbia. The 55,000 hectare project, run by Nature Conservancy Canada, has come to the attention of critics because the estimated number of credits generated rests on not carrying out a hypothetical future increase in logging to five-times the recent actual logging rates, which almost certainly would never have occurred under a ‘business as usual’ scenario.
As well as Air Canada, ERA’s “clients and product users” include Shell Canada, which is the majority owner of the Athabasca Oil Sands project, considered by some to be the filthiest fossil fuel project on the planet. It is possible that carbon credits of questionable additionality issued by ERA will help provide a green gloss for companies that are continuing to be major players in perpetuating global climate change.