A False Forest in Uganda
How a project claiming sustainable development and climate change mitigation brought human rights abuse and environmental destruction.
What connects Ugandan farmers, a Norwegian company, Sweden and Caribbean Pine trees? A questionable project that claims to fight climate change, but instead drew attention for human rights abuse and environmental deterioration.
In the Central Forest Reserve of Kachung, Uganda, a Norwegian company called Green Resources leases around 2,500 hectares to grow pine trees. The Swedish Energy Agency (SEA) pays Green Resources for the carbon credits the trees generate, in a deal worth over $4,000,000. Sweden’s low carbon footprint relies on its domestic efforts but also on ninety-six projects it finances in developing countries as part of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism.
The Ugandan government, in order to enable the project, had violently evicted local people prior to the arrival of Green Resources. These people, who mainly relied on subsistence agriculture, had lived in the Kachung forests for generations until they were evicted by the National Forestry Authority (NFA).
The SEA and Green Resources were made aware of the evictions by an independent due diligence audit, but the SEA deleted the section of the report on the socioeconomic risks and wrote on its website that “a new healthy forest is emerging where there previously was only unused bush land.”
Supporters of the plantation assert that they are contributing to sustainable development and climate change mitigation, with endorsement by the UN.
For its part, Green Resources denies the charges of social and environmental harm, committing on its website to protect the environment and to “help develop local communities where it operates.” The project was also accredited by three well known bodies: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), all of which are supposed to guarantee the social and environmental benefits of such projects.
Due diligence audits were also performed by other external actors, with diverging conclusions about any positive outcomes of the project and the extent to which it came with or without significant social and environmental costs.
These differing conclusions by independent monitoring audits indicate issues with the oversight of the project, but certain facts can be ascertained nonetheless.