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Talk to the trees: PNG’s big dollar ‘carbon trades’

PNG’s Office of Climate Change (OCC) seems to be in strife after a proposal to make $625 million from non-existent carbon trading was revealed.

Last month a PNG governors’ conference sought a probe into OCC affairs. Eastern Highlands governor, Malcolm Kela-Smith, a resolute critic of OCC, sponsored a motion that, until audit and Public Accounts Committee reports are delivered, the Office should be restrained from issuing carbon credits or approving carbon trade projects.

The governors say they don’t want OCC to be a regulator, participant or beneficiary of carbon trading. Instead they want it to operate as a normal government agency. They want it to consult with provincial governments in drawing up legislation to control the proposed trade. The governors clearly don’t trust OCC.

Furthermore, they are writing to the Norwegian government, the UN and AusAID to record their disquiet with OCC. Norway has expressed interest in buying carbon credits for the preservation of a huge forest area in the Sepik.

Let me backtrack a bit. At the centre of PNG’s climate change controversy is climate change ambassador, Kevin Conrad, who in Bali two years ago challenged the US to lead the world on climate change or “get out of the way”.

Mr Conrad is also a director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, an alliance of 33 countries promoting avoided deforestation – that is, stopping trees being chopped down.

The main thrust of the Coalition is that, if rich countries want poor countries to preserve their forests as a way of reducing carbon emissions to keep the planet cool, they should pay the poor countries to stop deforesting.

At present the UN does not endorse offsets based on avoided deforestation. But the proposed process for formalising carbon trading is now the subject of international talks in Bonn and the UN and donor countries such as Norway are enthusiastic about the approach — which PNG has been promoting.

Even before agreement has been reached, a market has emerged in avoided deforestation on the assumption that, one day soon, real credits will be delivered. And the PNG Government seems to have got in early - apparently pre-emptively issuing them. At a price.

“The OCC has no legal mandate to issue any forest carbon credits,” said Prime Minister Somare’s press secretary, Betha Somare, who claimed officials are investigating how credits came to be issued. According to a report in the respected UK business magazine, The Economist, at least 39 other ‘credits’ have been issued by OCC.

One of these caused particular outrage in PNG: 800,000 hectares of virgin rainforest in Kamula Duso, one of the reasons for the crisis meeting of the governors last month.

After being confronted with a copy of the Kamula Duso credit by The Economist last week, Ms Somare said “very recently apparent irregularities within OCC have come to our attention.

“As a result the prime minister has asked for a review to be carried out and a report to be made to his office,” she said.

Kevin Conrad has commented that it’s too early to state what went wrong but says an “independent review” is underway, mounting a defence that “carbon speculators” are putting pressures on landowners in many countries to sell large tracts of forest ahead of a possible deal on avoided deforestation in Copenhagen later this year.

Some might say it’s a case of ‘give me the money or the tree gets it’.


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International Observer

I am told that Kevin Conrad has been taking large amounts of money in exchange for saving PNG's rainforests. Some PNG landowners say they have been given false promises about this.

They say huge amounts of forest areas have been exchanged to large companies linked with dodgy NGO's and it is thought that illegal activities may be revealed in the not too distant future.

Keith Jackson

Yasause blames stolen 'sample documents'


Office of Climate Change and Environment Sustainability (OCCES) director Dr Theo Yasause has emphatically denied any wrongdoing amid reports he issued up to 39 false multi-million-dollar carbon trading deals.

Dr Yasause told reporters in Port Moresby yesterday that stolen documents leaked to the media were "samples" not designed for official use.

Documents obtained by The Economist magazine in the UK and available on the internet show a series of what appears to be multi-million-dollar carbon trading deals with foreign companies in various regions of PNG.

"I've not sold or made any money out of this process," Dr Yasause said. "I've done no deals, or sold any credits."

Dr Yasause said even though the leaked documents appear to carry his signature, the OCCES official seal and another colleague's signature, they did not represent real deals. "It's not a false document but a sample," he said.

Asked why he would make sample documents, he said: "We want to see what it looked like. It's speculation by certain individuals who have no regard for the process. They should have asked before they released this kind of statements," he said.

"It was a sample stolen from my drawer, we were looking at several types of project."

Dr Yasause said a criminal investigation would be conducted to find out who stole the "sample" documents, along with a review of the OCCES.

"We never received any funding from foreign entities," he said. "We have not issued any credits to anyone."

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