Are Carbon Credits Good for Both the West and the South?

Yesterday, I arrived back in Kisangani, D.R. Congo where I’ll be working for the Norman Borlaug Institute for the next several months on an agriculture project for the U.S. Department of State and AFRICOM. Already, I’ve had several local brews and spent an afternoon cruising on the Congo River. A couple of the fellow expats that came along on our river cruise yesterday are working for a company called Jadora International, which specializes in providing “carbon credits”.

Spawned by the Kyoto Protocal and the fashionable “reduce your carbon footprint” campaign, carbon credits basically allow individuals and companies to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing credits. The source of these credits are centers of biodiversity that have been secured by companies like Jadora International through local concessions. For example, in D.R. Congo, Jadora has secured about 1,550 square km of rainforest to act as carbon credits for the West.

There has been some backlash against the carbon credit industry, citing concerns over treating carbon credits the same as other natural resources in developing countries. The most controversial case thus far involved a UK-based organization called Carbon Harvesting Corporation which sought rainforest concessions from the Government of Liberia, but would have left all forest maintenance and care the responsibility of the Liberians.

Besides the potential for fraud, what about property rights or the lack thereof in developing countries. Carbon credit corporations negotiated directly with the national government to secure their concessions for a fixed period of time. Yet in countries where property rights are limited or non-existent, this could mean the same sort of land-grabbing that has been reported throughout Africa for farming and mineral extraction. How can companies like Jadora ensure that their concessions do no harm the local populations? For starters, companies like Jadora can maintain strong relationships with the local communities that they own concessions in. They can work to ensure that preservation of the natural environment also means a better quality of life for those living on concession land.

Jadora does work closely with the communities within which it works. Not to mention, the majority of employees for Jadora are locals, who enjoy the benefits of “zero displacement policy”. This means that when Jadora’s activities lead to job losses in the timber industry, Jadora provides alternative employment for these former loggers. Jadora also works with the local communities to provide training in how to cut down on their consumption of wood-based products and how to live more environmentally friendly while maintaining their income levels.

This all sounds great, but Jadora is not your typical corporation. So while the company is profitable, its owners are willing to sacrifice profit for sustainability and positive community outreach. It’s unlikely that all carbon credit companies would be willing to do the same in a growing, but still uncertain industry.

For the moment, I remain skeptical about how much Africa and other developing countries will be able to benefit from their natural resources via carbon credits.  


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