Green Resources Hedging Around Growing International Calls for Radical Reform of its Plantation Forestry Practices

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Paris climate talks at the end of 2015 no doubt left some feeling as though global politics might have turned a little green. With a Climate Agreement aiming at keeping global temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, national governments have some heavy lifting to do in cutting emissions.

The green economy—including carbon markets and other payments for ecosystem services—is being championed as the ‘solution’ to meeting this target, alongside expanding the renewable energy sector. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) and related projects, and with a strong focus on developing countries, is part of what Naomi Klein calls the new ‘Gaia capitalism’; where making money is directly tied to saving the planet. But if that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is!

Community meeting in Kwolokwol village, September 2013. Credit Kristen Lyons
Community meeting in Kwolokwol village, September 2013. Credit Kristen Lyons

In 2014, the Oakland Institute exposed the activities and impacts of Green Resources, one of the largest plantation forestry companies operating on the African continent and trading under the banner of green economic development. On the basis of nearly eight months in the field, visiting villages directly affected by the company operating at its two sites, our report documented the diverse forms of what we called carbon violence, on which start up and management of this company’s forestry plantations rely.

Our report described communities losing access to land they have historically relied on for vital livelihood activities, including grazing animals, cultivating food crops, and cultural activities. License arrangements lock up land so as to protect corporate rights, while denying those of the local people. Many villagers have been forced to move their livelihood activities into marginal and less productive land, including moving grazing animals into wetlands, riparian and other ecologically sensitive zones, and moving crop cultivation onto steep and rocky slopes.

Yet after documentation and campaigns by NGOs and media over the years, including a recent Swedish television program, things have finally caught up with the company. Green Resources’ failure to comply with its own claims of best practice and international standards’ compliance has now expelled the company from the international carbon market, at least for now.

Green Resources sole carbon credit buyer for its Ugandan operations at the Kachung site—the Swedish Energy Agency, who had signed a 20-year contract with the company—has frozen its remaining payments. The Swedish Minister for Climate and the Environment, Asa Romson, has also spoken out strongly against the companies’ conduct.

The Swedish Energy Agency has provided detail of significant reforms that will be required to correct Green Resources’ mismanagement, a prerequisite for re-engaging payment for carbon credits. There are nine different areas in which action is required, and amongst these include: enabling community members to access land to grow food crops and graze animals, recognition of local people’ land rights, producing a socio-economic analysis and development plan, as well as the introduction of improved grievance mechanisms, road maintenance and more.

This response sends a clear message to the world: climate solutions that ignore the rights of local people are unacceptable. That the Swedish Energy Agency is refusing to pay Green Resources the rest of its money is also demonstrative of the precarious nature of Gaia capitalist market solutions to the climate crisis.

We are yet to see how seriously Green Resources will take on these demands. In a statement on the company’s website, Green Resources’ Management, acknowledged: “We have and may still be making mistakes in our operations and in our relationship to the local communities. We are dedicated to continue to improve our operations and rectify any justified or negative issues raised by local stakeholders.” But at the same time, this response also demonstrates the company’s attempt to diffuse criticism and deflect attention away from serious concerns directed towards the company’s conduct. The promises also fall well short of the substantive reforms the Swedish Energy Agency has outlined. Green Resources’ promises for action include:

  • Making improvements in its complaints process through the implementation of a new Grievance Mechanism;
  • Recognizing its unsatisfactory activities related to support for the agricultural operations of farmers living in areas around the plantation, and on this basis, proposing implementation of a new plan to rectify this;
  • Undertaking a full review of the company’s relationship with the local community to improve these relationships;
  • Stepping up work to improve local agricultural practices; and
  • Conducting an internal investigation into SWE’s claims that company staff demanded fines for cattle grazing, and responding appropriately.
  • Whether Green Resources will follow through on these promises remains to be seen. But regardless of whether the company acts on its own recommendations, such reforms fall short of the substantive calls for action as outlined by the Swedish Energy Agency. On this basis, the Oakland Institute—and joining Protect Forest, the Timberwatch Coalition and the Global Forest Coalition—calls on the Swedish Energy Agency to stand firm on its strong response to this poor corporate activity, by Cancelling outright its carbon credit contract with Green Resources, given the project is so deeply flawed;
  • Taking action to recover payment already made to Green Resources;
  • Taking steps to ensure the Kachung plantation is de-registered as a Clean Development Mechanism activity;
  • Ensuring affected local communities are compensated for their losses and allowed to return to the land currently licensed to Green Resources.
  • Finding local solutions to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency instead of transferring responsibility to poor communities in Africa.

To learn more: Lyons, K., Richards, C. and Westoby, P. (2014) The Darker Side of Green. Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda. Oakland Institute.