'This Fraud Must Stop': How a Green Norwegian Company is Using Climate Change to Exploit Ugandan Villages
D. Amari Jackson
When it comes to our global climate, few would argue that growing more trees is a bad thing. After all, forests naturally soak up greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and other industrial functions, pulling harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and recycling it to optimize Earth’s capacity to sustain life. Consistently, a decade ago, the Norway-based company Green Resources began planting forests on 2,670 hectares (6600 acres) of land in the government-owned Kachung Central Forest Reserve in northern Uganda under an international ‘carbon credit’ program where governments, industry or private individuals can compensate for the emissions they generate.
Here’s how it works. Companies like Green Resources acquire grassland and savanna in African nations and grow forests by selling carbon credits to entities like the Swedish Energy Agency looking to offset their own carbon pollution. In this fashion, the total emissions to our global atmosphere can be kept in check as countries like Sweden balance their own harmful industrial practices with proactive, healthier practices elsewhere.
Unfortunately, for struggling villagers who have long lived within the Kachung reserve, this ostensibly well-intentioned environmental effort has greatly damaged their own environment. Seventeen villages have been impacted as residents have been forced from their land, some violently, and their lack of access has restricted their ability to grow food, graze animals and engage in cultural practices. Local workers have been mistreated and underpaid. And the chemicals used by Green Resources in their forestry process has made the land more toxic and less able to sustain the small-scale subsistence farming and livestock herding these villagers depend on.
As a result of these inequitable practices—also referred to as “carbon violence”—and critical international attention from media and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), the Swedish Energy Agency halted payments to Green Resources in November 2015 and informed the company to recognize human rights and clean up its practices. “Villagers were deprived of vital resources and experienced threats and violence, and there is a lack of clarity regarding ownership in the reserve,” an agency spokesperson told Development Today at the time. The extraordinary suspension of payments on this $4.1 million carbon deal running from 2012 to 2032 would only be lifted in 2018, the Swedish agency said, if Green Resources addressed concerns raised by local communities. They included initiating an effective communications and complaints process, enabling cattle grazing, producing a socioeconomic analysis and development plan, repairing local wells, and respecting local land rights given the villagers, despite the land’s federal status, have a legal claim based on longevity and common law.
“When Swedish Energy Agency suspended payments two years ago, it only acted after being publicly exposed in the media and growing pressure from NGOs,” said Frédéric Mousseau, policy director for the Oakland Institute, an independent think tank on international policy. “Prior to this exposure, the agency had decided to ignore the situation and the impact of the project on the people.”