Climate change is real, carbon markets are not real solutions


Norwegians know something of what it’s like to live in a climate change world. Migratory birds now arrive earlier in spring, trees are coming into leaf earlier, and palsa mires (wetlands) are being lost as permafrost thaws.  And now, Norwegians wait, while geologists try to predict if, and when, Mount Mannen might collapse, destroying homes in its path, after torrential rain in the region.

And this is just the beginning for Norway, and the rest of the world.
The latest IPCC report released last week calls for urgent and immediate action to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal of zero emissions, if we are to stabilise the climate, thereby ensuring we have a livable world in the future. Reducing our dependence on dirty coal industries represents the fastest and most immediate pathway to stabilize the climate, so to is curbing deforestation. Yet despite these key issues, much attention is being directed towards carbon offset and trading; with hopes they just might be our global ‘get out of jail’ climate card.
Carbon markets assume that if the ‘right’ price is placed on carbon, private companies, and their financial backers, will be driven to invest in so-called ‘green’ projects that capture and store carbon. Carbon markets are championed by those who believe that carbon emissions that take place in one part of the world, can be offset by its capture (or sequestration) in another part. Plantation forestry represents a significant part of the carbon market, with many such projects being established in some of the poorest parts of the world; based on the assumption they will be good for the environment and good for local people. But is the hype from the carbon market cheer squad well founded?
Our research on Norwegian company Green Resources – who is engaged in plantation forestry and carbon offset on the African continent – leaves us wondering who, and what, benefits from carbon market projects? From our in-depth research over two years in Uganda, one of their key project sites, it doesn’t look like either the climate or local communities are beneficiaries. The Oakland Institute launched the report ‘The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda’ in Oslo this week, with the purpose of sparking a conversation about the place of carbon markets in addressing climate change. The profound adverse livelihood impacts associated with this project – from loss of land and heightened food insecurity, to destruction of sites of cultural significance – indicate there must be fairer, and more effective ways, of addressing the climate crisis.
There are many options, including globally just options, for ensuring we are able to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, something we all know is now urgently needed. Keeping coal in the ground and transitioning to renewable energy is a viable option. Expecting some of the poorest of the poor to carry the social and ecological burdens of monoculture plantation forestry projects is not.
There is no quick fix ‘get out of jail card’ to address the climate crisis. Rather, far more systemic and structural changes will be required. Only then we can ensure that we don’t continue to expect some of the most vulnerable members of our communities to carry the burden of the challenges we face.

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