Oslo launch summary – a great success

The Darker Side of Green – a great success launching at the House of Literature, Oslo.

Over 35 people from a diversity of NGOs, Universities, Government and the company Green Resources attended the launch of the report today in Oslo. Attendees included representatives from the Norwegian Forum for Environment and Development (a coalition of 55 NGOs), the Norwegian Trade Campaign (a coalition of 17 labour unions, farmer organisations and NGOs), CARITAS Norway, RORG (Framework Agreement Organisations), the Norway Development Fund, Spire, Future in our Hands, NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Corporation), a representative from the Green Resources Advisory Board, as well as representatives from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the Norwegian Farmers and Smallholders Union.

In addition to lead author, Kristen Lyons, providing an overview of the carbon violence associated with Green Resources’ activities in Uganda, as detailed in the report published by the Oakland Institute on the same day as the launch, she was joined in a panel discussion by key thinkers and advocates in Norway.

Kristen Lyons at the Oslo Launch of the report.

Kristen Lyons at the Oslo Launch of the report.

Amongst the speakers were Anne Kari Garberg, (Future in Our Hands) who welcomed the report; confirming the findings of this in-depth research as building on her organisation’s earlier work, published in 2011. In particular, she stressed food insecurity as a consequence of land shortages as an urgent issue that the company had a responsibility to address. Also resonating with the report released today [4 November], her earlier work showed the disconnection between Green Resources’ community development initiatives and local community hopes and aspirations. She concluded that:

‘it was about time’ that Green Resources, and along with its key funder NORFUND, started to listen to local people’s concerns.

Let us hope this time is now.

Tor Benjaminsen, from NMBU, also welcomed the report for enlivening this debate in Norway. Key issues emerging from Tor’s broad research on this company – and other carbon market initiatives – shine a further light on the problematic nature of Green Resources’ activities on the African continent, including its failure to deliver on its own promises, the lack of clear and binding contracts, low salaries and late payments. He has also raised repeated concerns about the impacts, including questionable climate impacts, of large-scale monocultures.

Tor also expressed intrigue at Green Resources’ sustained aggressive response – including today from the company CEO – in labeling him, on the basis of his academic research, as a political activist and extremist, as well as more broadly accusing critical research of paternalism and racism. But while he could at least begin to understand why a company driven by corporate profits might strongly rebut critique, he found it perplexing that the government-funded NORFUND also offered such sustained critique.

oakland institute logo

Finally, internationally renowned filmmaker Erling Borgen showed footage from his documentary related to Green Resources’ activities in Tanzania. This highlighted the low salaries, poor working conditions, as well as deaths of six workers employed by the company. His investigative journalism has also highlighted the extent to which mounting anger amongst workers had led to opposition, including burning down trees in protest to Green Resources’ activities.

Coinciding with the release of this film, the Norwegian Government cancelled its purchase of carbon credits from the company.

One board member from Green Resources present at the event appeared to shift his position throughout the course of the discussions; from antagonism and frustration towards us as researchers and the report, to humility, as well as recognition that there are significant problems, particularly at the plantation at Bukaleba, with which they must engage. He concluded the meeting by expressing an interest in taking advice and direction in terms of improvements that might be made in corporate conduct.

Summary

In sum, the panel concluded that the way forward in seeking to address substantive issues raised in this report must at least require the following.  Green Resources must:

  • to deal with the issue of land shortages;
  • to directly engage with affected communities in substantial and meaningful ways;
  • to make transparent the details of contracts between company and workers; and
  • to demonstrate respect for human rights, labour contracts, and salaries that people can survive on.

While there are some substantial opportunities for Green Resources to reform its practices, thereby improving the livelihood outcomes for affected communities, a much broader and critical debate about the place of carbon markets in addressing the climate crisis is needed. Indeed, and backed by the latest IPCC report released this week, there is an urgent need to take immediate and strong action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. It is not clear, on the basis of this research, that global north/south carbon markets can deliver the significant changes required to move us towards a just and sustainable future.

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