in Canada, DR Congo

Free, prior and informed consent? Not in Ecosystem Restoration Associates’ REDD project in DR Congo

In a press release last month, Ecosystem Restoration Associates (ERA) announced that, “Through the development and monetization of high quality carbon offsets, the Mai Ndombe project will deliver ecosystem, social, economic, biodiversity and climatic benefits for communities within and beyond the project area.”

Unfortunately, ERA hasn’t bothered to tell the communities what those benefits might be. In March 2012, staff from Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and Cercle pour la defense de l’environnement (CEDEN) travelled to Mai Ndombe in Bandundu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were there to find out more about ERA carbon trading project. What they found was shocking, but perhaps not particularly surprising.

In its press release, ERA announced that it has entered a joint venture agreement with Wildlife Works (another carbon trader, with a project in Kenya) to “cooperate on project finance, technical development, implementation, and eventual carbon sales from offsets developed within the project area”. ERA estimates that the project will generate between 1.5 and 3.0 million tonnes per year, starting this year.

FPP and CEDEN found that, “none of the communities had been informed about what the carbon market actually is, or how it works”. They haven’t been told what the impacts of the project might be on their livelihoods, nor are they aware what they might gain from the project. At least one community has refused to collaborate with the ERA project.

A previous post on REDD-Monitor notes that any additionality in ERA’s project is extremely dubious and comments that, “Some observers will see it as exemplifying the worst dangers of ill-conceived REDD schemes”: “Ecosystem Restoration Associates project in DR Congo: Plenty of hot air?”.

Carbon Concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Neglect Communities

Forest Peoples Programme E-Newsletter April 2012
In 2011 the private Canadian company Ecosystem Restoration Associates (ERA) signed a management contract with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a former logging concession of almost 300,000 hectares that adjoins the western reaches of Lac Mai Ndombe in Bandundu Province. Carbon trading and the generation of carbon credits through forest preservation and enhancement is the main objective of the ERA project. As part of our global project targeting support to communities in REDD pilot areas, and in the DRC, in March 2012, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and Cercle pour la defense de l’environnement (CEDEN) staff travelled to the region where we held meetings with the customary leaders from 6 communities living inside the ERA concession area. The objective of these meetings was to find out what was happening on the ground, and the extent to which communities were informed about goals, objectives and modus operandi of ERA staff.
Some of the communities we spoke to had been directly targeted by ERA, in that they had received some visits from ERA staff and local government authorities, including the Minister of the Environment. The communities reported that they had been told that the project had arrived, and that they were promised some new schools, but they were not asked if they wanted to participate, nor were they told about the potential impact of the project on their customary rights and control over their lands. Communities still do not know what ERA research teams are doing in their forests and at least one community has flatly refused to collaborate in the ERA scheme.
It was also reported to us that while carbon credits had been mentioned during some of the preliminary meetings with ERA staff, none of the communities had been informed about what the carbon market actually is, or how it works. They were told simply that the project would generate carbon credits and that they would benefit from this. The communities were not told that ERA had licensed the rights over the entire 300,000 hectare concession and were therefore charged with the management of the entire area. They had also not been told what would happen to the management of their customary areas covering both forest and farmlands across the concession, even though we estimate that at least one third to one half of the ERA concession overlaps local communities’ customary territories. Communities were not informed of the scale of profit that ERA might be able to achieve by taking over the communities’ forest, nor were they told what proportion of this profit would be shared with them. This is not in line with the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
The outcome of our visit to the region was that local communities from across the ERA project area requested to collaborate with FPP and CEDEN in order to: secure additional and impartial information on the ERA project targeting their customary lands; to become informed of their legal and human rights, and to find out about the potential impacts of carbon projects on community land tenure. The communities asked FPP to advise and support them if and when contracts were offered to them (this has already been mentioned to some of them by ERA staff), and to generally support them to engage with the project at all levels.
After our visit we arrived back in Kinshasa to discover, from a press release targeting stock market investors, that ERA had signed a deal with Wildlife Works (another carbon credit trader based in Kenya) and that ERA was boasting about the amount of carbon credits contained in their concession in the DRC. We look forward to sharing this press release with the communities from that area – they will be very interested to hear how much the carbon in their forest is worth.

PHOTO Credit: John Nelson, FPP.

UPDATE – 25 April 2012: Sentence with link to previous REDD-Monitor post on ERA’s Mai Ndombe project added.

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  1. Everyone seems to be at fault here: the Congolese government should never have issued the ‘carbon concession’ to ERA in the first place without ensuring that the free prior and informed consent had been obtained from local communities; ERA should not have signed the agreement with the government without evidence that that consent had been granted; and similarly Wildlife Works (sic) Carbon should not have entered into the deal unless they had strong reassurances about local consent. Perhaps ERA has something about consent in its agreement with the government but, contrary to Congolese law, that agreement has not been made publicly available.

    More worrying is that all this has been going on under the nose of both the World Bank and UN-REDD, which is supposedly setting out an expensive ‘REDD readiness process’ in DRC, and which this agreement seems to make a mockery of.

  2. Can somebody tell me whether this project is still continuing ? It seems like an interesting case on how (not) to develop REDD-projects in the DRC. Thanks.