By Chris Lang
A US-based company called NIHT Inc. is running the NIHT Topaiyo REDD+ Project in Papua New Guinea. According to the company’s website, “NIHT is a Purpose Driven company collectively inspired to apply our talents and abilities to partner with communities”. But in June 2021, the Kamlapar Incorporated Land Group wrote to PNG’s Climate Change and Development Authority demanding that the CCDA orders NIHT Inc. “to halt all its operations on our land”. The letter accused NIHT Inc of carrying out “illegal operations”.
The letter was also addressed to David Antonioli, Chief Executive Officer of Verra. The Kamlapar ILG demanded that “Verra stops all credit sales from the project”. Since the letter was sent, the NIHT Topaiyo REDD+ Project has sold 503,440 carbon credits, according to Verra’s Issuance Records for the project.
The Kamlapar ILG first wrote to the CCDA in October 2020 with the demand “to urgently stop carbon credit payouts” from the NIHT REDD project.
The Kamlapar ILG has received no formal response from the CCDA, Verra, or NIHT Inc.
From 6-8 September 2021, a CCDA Regional Consultation on REDD+ Safeguards workshop for the New Guinea Islands Region was held in Kokopo, East New Britain Province. At the workshop, NIHT Inc gave a presentation highlighting benefit sharing, grievance redress, and free, prior and informed consent. The presentation (which is available here) makes no mention of the issues raised by the Kamlapar ILG.
NIHT Inc payments “a slap in the face”
In August 2021, NIHT Inc hired a helicopter and together with Alpha 6 International security guards attempted to hand out 200 Kina (about US$55) to everyone over the age of 15 in the Konoagil Local Level Government area. Incidentally, Phil Baquie, NIHT Inc’s CEO, is also a director of Alpha 6 International. Here’s a picture of Baquie from the Alpha 6 International website:
People receiving the money had to sign a receipt and have their photograph taken holding the receipt. One of the photographs was included in NIHT Inc’s presentation in Kokopo:
Some people refused to accept the money because they did not know where it came from, what it was for, or what the implications of accepting the money would be.
Some Kamlapar clan members were particularly upset because they have been asking the CCDA to stop sales of carbon credits from the project. They saw the payments as “a slap in the face”.
While they were handing out the cash, NIHT Inc’s representatives promised that the next payment would be 500 Kina, but did not say when the payment would be, or how regular the payments would be. Unfounded rumours are spreading through the communities of ships arriving with the next round of payments. People are travelling to other villages to check on the rumours and whether other villages have received the next payment.
The NGO letter protesting NIHT Inc’s operations
On 15 September 2021, eight NGOs in Papua New Guinea wrote to William Lakain, the Acting Managing Director of the Climate Change and Development Authority in PNG. The letter demands an “Urgent temporary stop for voluntary carbon market projects in PNG” and focusses on the problems with NIHT Inc’s REDD project.
The letter is posted in full below:
Attn: Mr. William Lakain
Acting Managing Director
Climate Change and Development Authority
9th Floor, Dynasty Tower
Savannah Heights, Waigani Drive
Date: 15 September 2021
Dear Mr. William Lakain,
RE: URGENT TEMPORARY STOP FOR VOLUNTARY CARBON MARKET PROJECTS IN PNG
We, the undersigned NGO’s, write this letter to you to voice our grave concerns on the uncontrolled proliferation of voluntary carbon market initiatives and projects in our country, happening at a time when there are no regulations and guidelines yet in place to administer and control these projects. Due to the rapidly growing interest world-wide on Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change, other initiatives and proposed REDD+ projects are emerging in the country, mostly in very initial stages, there is a rapidly growing interest from REDD+ project developers to get involved in new voluntary carbon market projects in PNG. These projects should be advised that they will only be allowed to proceed once PNG has completed its legal REDD+ framework for voluntary carbon market projects, including their proper nesting within a national REDD+ implementation system.
In particular the operation of New Ireland Hardwood Timber (NIHT) is a big concern for its breaches of legal and proper process, inappropriate approach and dangerous precedent it is setting. The letter sent by Kamlapar ILG to Verra and CCDA has prompted investigations by both authorities. We are requesting that CCDA uses the authority it has to govern all REDD+ projects in PNG, including voluntary carbon market projects, and puts an immediate halt to the use and distribution of all income from the sale of all voluntary carbon credits from the NIHT Topaiyo REDD+ Project, places a moratorium on any new Project Activity Instances to be added, and stop all its awareness and expansion activities, pending an independent investigation of the legality of the Project, which should include an investigation in CCDA’s role in monitoring and approving the project.
The CCMA (2015) does contain a limited number of clauses related to REDD+ voluntary carbon market projects, but refers to and depends on regulations for proper guidance and control, e.g., for essential issues as Free, Prior and Informed Consent and benefit sharing and distribution. Draft versions of the REDD+ Implementation Guidelines, Grievance Redress Mechanism and FPIC Guidelines, and most importantly the Benefit Sharing and Distribution System are still under development, needing further stakeholder input and will still need considerable time to be finalised, approved and gazetted.
This situation means that PNG currently does not have a proper and completed set of aligned laws and regulations to govern REDD+ and carbon trade for the country. At the same time, a number of voluntary carbon market initiatives and projects are operating in the country. CCDA’s position to date has been to allow these projects to take place, as they provide important learning grounds and can inform the development of the documents mentioned above and the development of our overall national REDD+ system.
Unfortunately, this has now led to the situation where Verra, has approved the New Ireland Hardwood Timber (NIHT) Topaiyo REDD+ Project through an online audit performed by auditors without any PNG experience, and without the use of a local PNG expert. The NIHT Topaiyo REDD Project is a VCS grouped project, covering ENBP [East New Britain Province] and NIP [New Ireland Province], and NIHT/NI Holdings has already signed agreements with other ILG’s to be added as Project Activity Instances or group members.
NIHT’s first Project Activity Instance or rather group member is the Kamlapar ILG. The manner in which NIHT engaged with the Kamlapar Clan and achieved VCS Validation and Verification is currently under investigation by both CCDA and Verra, following a letter by the Kamlapar ILG Paranount Chief and ILG Executives, outlining illegal and fraudulent practices related to this project, and asking both organisations to use their respective authorities to temporary stop this project, until all issues mentioned are dealt with. The allegations against NIHT’s Topaiyo REDD+ project are serious with numerous infractions of the Climate Change Management Act (2015) alleged.
Further to this, these allegations violate the Cancun safeguards which are the global basis for REDD+,
especially the requirements for:
- Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of local communities and,
- The full and effective participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular indigenous peoples and local communities. Not only is FPIC prescribed in the Climate Change Management Act (2015), but it is specifically mentioned in The PNG National REDD+ Strategy (2017-2027) as a mechanism for ensuring that the Cancun safeguards are upheld, and FPIC is further detailed in the Guidelines on FPIC for REDD+ in Papua New Guinea (2017, currently being updated and finalised).
Further, the issues brought forward in the letter from the Kamlapar ILG, plus the reports received from other communities and ILG’s within NIHT’s operational area, clearly indicate that NIHT’s approach is both inappropriate for our PNG community situation and sets unwanted precedents that endanger development and implementation of a transparent and equitable national REDD+ system.
Some of the major issues are lack of proper awareness at the community level, signing of carbon credit contract in town without prior community visits, communities being unclear of the actual benefit sharing mechanism, and unsupported excessive claims made on future benefits, no clear link of benefits (to be) received to actual efforts and long-term commitments by the participating clans, no sustainable land use planning done, cash hand-outs to other clans from carbon credit income from the first NIHT VCS Project Instance.
This situation was brought to the attention of CCDA already more than a year ago, with clear suggestions made to senior management to put a temporary stop to new voluntary market projects, or new instances of existing grouped projects, precisely for the reasons mentioned above. Unfortunately, no action was taken, which has now led to the expansion activities of the NIHT Project actually seriously threatening the very success of REDD+ in PNG, as huge expectations are being created and precedents are being set, while people are completely unclear of and in most cases actual very much confused about the actual mechanics of the REDD+ project they are or want to become a part of.
We have gone through a lengthy process to develop REDD+ in PNG. These combined efforts have led to the present situation of our country, where after lots of inputs from national and international stakeholders, financially and in kind, we can now start to generate financial benefits from improvements in the management of our precious forest resources. These benefits will come from a national system with nested voluntary market projects. The most important part of this system is that it needs to be transparent and equitable, appropriate for our PNG customary societies, guarantees permanence of emissions reductions, and ensures the vast majority of REDD+ benefits are reaching the owners and custodians of the land and forests we are talking about, and will be used for long-term improvements of their livelihoods.
The two voluntary carbon market projects currently active (April-Salumei and NIHT) do not do that, and the precedence being set by especially the operations of NIHT in NIP and ENBP form a major threat to the development and implementation of a national REDD+ system that will work for the government and people of PNG.
Meanwhile the trial work by FORCERT under their PNG Communities BEST (Benefits from Environmental Services Trust) Program, covered by their MOU with CCDA, continues to provide important positive and constructive contributions to the development of a national REDD+ system. Their first project, the PNG Communities BEST REDD Tavolo Project is scheduled to go to VCS and CCBS Validation and Verification in October 2021. Considering the important role of this Program and the close collaboration with CCDA, this project should be allowed to proceed.
Our assertion is that CCDA has failed to adequately monitor the process undertaken by NIHT and has not implemented the necessary safeguards to ensure the process was conducted legally. For these reasons, their operations should be halted, and NIHT should only be allowed to recommence use and distribution of carbon credit sales, and project awareness and expansion activities, after it has proven its project design and approach fully adheres to the finalised and approved PNG REDD+ safeguards guidelines and regulations.
Currently, Papua New Guinea’s global reputation in REDD+ is at risk. Given that REDD+ could, if well managed, provide numerous long-term social and environmental benefits for our rural communities in PNG and the country as a whole, we are deeply concerned by the seriousness of the situation and lack of decisive and timely action by CCDA to safeguard our reputation.
CCDA should not avoid taking the needed decisive action, by hoping that once the REDD+ safeguard guidelines and regulations are approved, the current problems will all somehow immediately be solved. These problems have already festered for too long, and to avoid the situation further aggravating and endangering the development and implementation of a transparent and equitable REDD+ system for PNG, urgent action is needed. The CCDA has to show PNG and the world that it will use the authority it has to ensure proper implementation of REDD+ in the country, to protect the interest of its people and the reputation of PNG’s REDD+ system.
We strongly insist that swift and decisive action is taken by CCCDA as the National Designated Authority for REDD+ by putting an immediate temporary stop to all new voluntary carbon projects in PNG, until all PNG REDD+ safeguard guidelines and regulations are completed and approved for implementation and enforcement. An exception should be made for projects managed by PNG based NGOs developed in line with the CCMA and the draft REDD+ regulations and guidelines. Additionally, we ask that CCDA implements the urgently needed actions on the NIHT Topaiyo REDD+ Project as detailed above.
Thank you very much for your consideration and prompt action.
Executive Director, CELCOR
Executive Director, INA
Executive Director, PwM
Sangion Appiee Tiu
Executive Director, WBCA
Country Director, WCS-PNG
Program Development Manager, WWF-PNG
NB: Responses to this letter can be send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: Hon. James Marape, Prime Minister
Cc: Hon. Wera Mori MP Minister for Environment Conservation and Climate Change
Cc: Hon. Walter Schnaubelt, Minister for Forests
Cc: Mr. John Mosoro – Acting Managing Director, PNG Forest Authority
Cc: Mr. Gunther Joku, Managing Director, Conservation and Environment Protection Authority
Cc: Hon. Sir Julius Chan, Governor, New Ireland Province
Cc: Mr Lamiller Pawut, Provincial Administrator, New Ireland Province
Cc: Hon Nakikus Konga, Governor, East New Britain Province
Cc: Mr. Wilson Matawa, Provincial Administator, East New Britain Province
Cc: Hon. Elias Kapovore, Member of Parliament for Pomio