Papua New Guinea: Allegations of logging on carbon credit protected rainforest raise concerns over integrity of carbon offset schemes
"Carbon colonialism", 14 February 2023
The south-western shores of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, are fringed by pristine rainforest.
An American company called NIHT Inc has partnered with local people here to put an end to deforestation in the region.
NIHT stands for “New Ireland Hardwood Timber”, and as the name implies, it started out as a timber company with its own plans to cut down the rainforests.
It shifted instead to preserving the trees and turning the carbon within them into an asset.
Businesses in Australia have been enthusiastic customers of NIHT Inc.
They’ve been buying carbon credits from the NIHT project to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. And the pitch is attractive, with NIHT promising to stop “exploitative commercial timber harvesting in the project area” and to “alleviate the impact of poverty”.
We’d heard there was logging taking place on part of NIHT’s dedicated carbon project, the very land it has been promising to protect.
The company now concedes logging has been happening since 2020.
“NIHT, they promise us some of the benefits like school, church, road, health centres, [a] housing scheme, they would build houses for local people,” he said.
“They only paid 200 kina ($80) each.
“So, while waiting for NIHT, the landowners, they get a logging operation in our area … now both of them are operating.”
NIHT presents the 200 kina as a fair payment – but we didn’t meet anyone who was satisfied.
The company says money went to every man, woman and child in a broad local government area on New Ireland, under a fair and equitable model devised by the community.
Sionel Topen signed a contract with NIHT three years ago on behalf of some members of the Kamlapar clan, and soon came to regret it.
He claims he and his fellow landowner representatives signed a contract they did not understand and weren’t offered independent legal advice.
“There was never any proper explanation about the contract or how the project would work. There was only talk about the money,” he said.
NIHT’s marketing material boasts that 47,000 individuals have received benefits.
It now concedes it’s well under half that number.
Lawyer George Akia, who represents some members of the Kamlapar clan, believes the contract is “one-sided”.
The document states that net revenue is defined as all revenue collected from the sale of the carbon credits “minus any unusual costs associated with the issuance of the carbon credits”.
“NIHT has the unfettered discretion to take out any costs it wants to and ultimately minimise the payment to the customary landowners,” Mr Akia said.
“It’s totally unfair.”
In an email, NIHT told Four Corners it only deducted costs directly related to the certification, issuing and marketing of the carbon credits.
Carbon project verification body Verra suspended NIHT’s right to trade credits after Four Corners provided it with information about CEO Stephen Strauss’s chequered corporate history.
NIHT told Four Corners it was supporting the New Ireland provincial government’s efforts to stop unwanted logging.
The company said it had now managed to end two instances of logging in its carbon project area.
It’s not clear what the logging means for the value of the carbon credits.
NIHT is adamant that the logging does not affect the integrity of its carbon credits already sold, but conceded it cost it 300,000 credits, estimated to be worth $US3 million in net revenue.