As climate breakdown gets worse, the corporations most responsible are looking for ways to continue profiting from ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Norway’s oil company Equinor is a classic example of this. The company plans to continue drilling oil – including in the Arctic – while investing in “natural climate solutions” to offset its emissions.
At the end of last year, two Norwegian academics, Hanne Svarstad and Tor A. Benjaminsen, wrote an article in the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen criticising Equinor and the lack of a public debate in Norway about REDD.
The Norwegian government is by far the largest funder of REDD. Norway is one of the richest countries in the world, and one of the largest oil exporters. Equinor is 67% owned by the government.
In their article, Svarstad and Benjaminsen describe Equinor’s plans to invest in rainforests while continuing to drill for oil as a “climate masquerade”. REDD-Monitor’s post based on their article is available here.
Equinor wheeled out Bjørn Otto Sverdrup, the company’s senior vice president of corporate sustainability, to respond to Svarstad and Benjaminsen. Sverdrup insists that Equinor’s investment in rainforests to offset its emissions is not a “climate masquerade” but an “important climate measure”.
Conserving forests and landscapes can “contribute up to one third of the solution to the world’s climate problems”, Sverdrup writes. Equinor’s commitment to rainforests is “linked to the establishment of a new standard that will ensure a good and professionally founded framework for the conservation of tropical rainforest”.
Equinor threatens future generations
Svarstad and Benjaminsen replied to Sverdrup in a recent article in Dagsavisen. They point out that as Equinor’s head of corporate sustainability, Sverdrup’s job is “the company’s costume manager”.
Svarstad and Benjaminsen quote the Bruntland Commission’s definition of sustainable development: Development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Svarstad and Benjaminsen write that,
If we take the Intergovernmental Panel’s 1.5-degree report seriously, it is obvious that the opportunities for future generations are threatened by the fossil fuel that Equinor earns billions on. At the same time, the company will now also focus on carbon offsets associated with climate measures in tropical forests, which entails an immediate threat to the living conditions of poor people.
In May 2018, Svarstad and Benjaminsen wrote an opinion piece in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten under the headline, “Norwegian climate policy affects the poorest”.
While Norwegian-funded REDD projects allow rich Norwegians to continue their comfortable lifestyles and fossil fuel companies to continue making profits. Meanwhile, some of the poorest people in the world have to change their livelihoods as strict conservation measures are introduced to protect their forests.
Actually existing REDD
A recent paper published in Conservation and Society looked at “actually existing” REDD and found that,
Early evidence from REDD+ projects suggests major challenges, including: ongoing weak enforcement of domestic laws on forests and land, leading to limited effectiveness; contestation or conflict over property rights and community benefits; as well as securitisation and violence, often perpetrated by government agencies.
Svarstad and Benjaminsen point out that while Norway has thrown billions of dollars at REDD, the results are a complete failure in terms of reducing deforestation. Indeed, in the past ten years, the rate of tree cover loss in the tropics has increased dramatically:
Svarstad and Benjaminsen conclude that,
Over the past ten years, Norway has invested heavily in forest-based climate measures in the global South. This initiative is rooted in an argument on cost-effectiveness. The results in the form of reduced emissions, however, have proved to be very modest, while the negative consequences for people’s living conditions are significant.
There is nothing to indicate that the oil company Equinor in this area will succeed with anything other than diverting attention to its own main business. The company’s strategy therefore contrasts sharply with the goal of sustainable development.
PHOTO Credit: Amis de la Terre.