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COP28: Fugitive Italian Turns Savior For Liberia’s Rainforest


Top: Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates, which hosts the ongoing Climate Summit in Dubai, wants over 1 million hectares of Liberia’s rainforests. The DayLight/Jaames Harding Giahyue

By Gio Ferrarius special for The DayLight

From 30 November, the COP28 climate conference will be held in Dubai. The host country the United Arab Emirates has taken an advance on several massive carbon credit contracts in the run-up to the event.

Negotiations are underway in five countries (Liberia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya) to generate carbon credits from a total of 25 million hectares of forest (mostly tropical rainforest) that are expected to bring in billions of dollars.

That sounds spectacular, but who benefits from it? Is it the Africans, the Arabs, or is it nature?

The UAE is promising an investment of $50 billion to make the plans come through, and that could do the job, you would think.

In July of this year, a first contract was submitted for approval in Liberia, covering 1.1 million hectares of tropical rainforest. However, after protests from quite a few NGOs, the project was put on hold. What is the problem?

Well ahead of the contract, in March 2023, the Liberian government already signed a memorandum of understanding with Blue Carbon LLC, a company led by Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook al Maktoum, a member of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates. The Sheikh also runs the family holding company, which manages several businesses, particularly in energy, oil and gas and infrastructure.

It is no secret that the UAE is one of the largest oil traders in the world. So, there is plenty of opportunity for offsetting emission gasses against carbon credits. The economic importance is obvious, but simultaneously greenwashing is lurking, according to climate campaigners.

At first glance, a no-brainer for Liberia and the other African countries. The rich UAE, pumping billions into the economies of these poverty-stricken countries through carbon credits to help kickstart economic activity through infrastructure and employment projects.

But there are many things wrong with the contract that was submitted to the Liberian government. There are problems with the process that has been followed, the organizational context and the terms of the contract.

A fugitive Tuscan diplomat

The Liberian government decided to do business directly with the company, and not involve the communities in the negotiations. This was done on the initiative of the Italian telecommunications entrepreneur Samuele Landi, who is a member of the board of Blue Carbon and also the general counsul for the UAE in Liberia.

Before leaving for Dubai in 2008, Landi was CEO and major shareholder of an Italian telecom company Eutelia, a merger company of PlugIt, which he founded in the late 1990s, and mainly focused on “value-added telecom services” (erotics, horoscopes, weather reports).

Samuele Landi

Eutelia had big plans, and acquired the heavily loss-making Italian branch of the Dutch Getronics, as well as the Bull branch on the peninsula, only to succumb to its expansionism.

In that process, Landi, with his management board and some family members, embezzled tens of millions, according to a verdict against him in 2020.  The accusations comprised Landi’s involvement with Liberia, which goes back to that very same period when he diverted assets to the amount of 8.4 million euros to NETCOM Liberia, in which Eutelia held a 36.5% stake. The amount was written off in Eutelia’s books but never repaid. Netcom was a Liberian startup, of which the valuation was questioned by Eutelia’s auditors, court records show.

Landi was sentenced to nine years in prison and has been a fugitive in Italy ever since. He lives and works in Dubai, where, at the time of the demise of Eutelia, he was busy with a tender for a substantial telecom contract in Qatar.

Landi did not respond to queries for comments, but in an interview with Climate Home News, he said he had referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming it was an unfair trial.

Contempt for the original inhabitants

Liberia has only one large city, the capital Monrovia, with almost 700 thousand inhabitants (including the surrounding urbanizations of about a million). After that, there are twelve cities with between ten and fifty thousand inhabitants: another 300 thousand inhabitants. The rest (almost five million Liberians) live in thousands of hamlets and villages spread over – mainly – rainforest in the 15 counties. The local population (outside the cities) lives mainly on what nature offers them, apart from some modest commercial activity.

There is hardly any infrastructure and few paved roads. Traveling is a real challenge, especially in the hinterland. Furthermore, no, or inadequate electricity supply, and a lousy telecommunications network.

The fragmented topography of the country translates into equally fragmented land ownership. The lion’s share of the territory is owned by local communities. So, Blue Carbon will have to deal with the leadership of these communities, because the landowners are the rightsholder in this kind of contract.

Apart from this, there’s a lot to say about the contract proposed to Liberia and the process that was followed. Following two consecutive civil wars, fueled by the marginalization of rural people, mismanagement and corruption, Liberia adopted several laws to protect the nation in the future.

Most of those laws were passed under the rule of Nobel Peace Prize winner President Sirleaf, in the period from 2006 onwards. An important provision throughout these new rules is that projects of a certain size must be put out to tender in competition. Another rule is that concessions for the use of territories can only be granted with the express consent of the indigenous population affected, who are in most cases local communities.

In February 2023 – in defiance of these rules – a letter of intent was signed, and in July, the Liberian government of president and football legend George Weah and the company of the Royals in Dubai attempted to rush the agreement through parliament. And all this without any form of consultation with the landowners.

A project without a plan

This makes the proposed agreements at least illegitimate, and probably illegal. And that’s not all. The purpose of this type of contract is that the local population explicitly benefits from it and is also compensated in some way for the loss of income – and other opportunities to provide for their own livelihood.  Sadly, not one single concrete action is stipulated in the contract. Not for the construction of infrastructure, a road network, schools, hospitals, clean water and electricity supply, and a communication network. None of that.

There is also no provision for the creation of local employment through small-scale business or industry, ecologically responsible agriculture, or sustainable forest exploitation. Nothing at all is specified.

And it doesn’t end. The size of the investment that the Arabs will make is not determined in the contract. Billions? Yes, but how much, and who manages it?

In the few words that the contract devotes to the organization of the operation, it becomes clear that it’s really a bit of pleasantness between the Liberian state and the company from Dubai. In the end, the local population, who own the land, have no say in how the money is spent.

A one-sided contract

Moreover, the Arabs have generously favored themselves in determining the distribution key for the income from Carbon Credits. No less than seventy percent of the proceeds disappear to the Sheikh and his companions. The Liberians have to do with thirty percent, and in the end, no more than twelve percent ends up with the local population. A very unusual construction.

In the voluntary market, it is normal for the proceeds to go predominantly to the landowner. They must submit a proper plan to a certifying organization in advance, and the most important elements in this are project descriptions for nature conservation and area development that benefit the local population.

The landowner usually pays a commission percentage to an intermediary (10 percent is a normal number), who sells the harvested carbon credits into the market. Next to that, the owner often subcontracts a technical advisor/contractor for the execution of the project.

Not so with the Arabs, everything is in one hand, the hand of the Sheikh.

And what if the results of the project turn out disappointing? Well, there’s no consequence. There is no control mechanism built in, except for annual accounts that have to be submitted, and if the Liberians were dissatisfied at all, they would still be stuck with the Arabs for at least 10 years.

In short, Liberia is handing over the future development of its hinterland entirely to the United Arab Emirates and does not impose any conditions. Should Blue Carbon fail, the Liberians will have nothing to fall back on. Not an inconceivable scenario, since the company does not clarify what expertise it brings to the table, or what exactly it will deliver.

Meanwhile, the money warehouse in Dubai is flowing over, while nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie are enjoying themselves in their new hobby land.

Petrodollars for the rainforest

And now a new phase. Liberia is targeting carbon credits. Actually, the deal was already done. 50 billion for poverty-stricken countries in Africa. Good thing there were critical readers…

At COP28, the upcoming contracts will nevertheless be loudly applauded.

Uncle Scrooge has sketched a fantastic prospect, an unprecedented heap of money, which unfortunately largely flows directly back to himself.

And that in exchange for the autonomy of the Liberians who completely relinquish the perspective of their rural areas. Admittedly, carbon-deals might contribute to mitigating CO2 emissions, and potentially simultaneously benefit poorer countries.

This mechanism obviously only works under the provision of fairness and transparency. This deal brings nothing to the Liberians, and its contribution to climate and nature is dubious, to say the least.

Communities Demand Consent Right In Blue Carbon Deal


Top: A collage showing townspeople from the Central River Cess District, River Cess County and Gibi District, Margibi County. Graphic by Rebazar Forte and pictures by James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

YARPAH TOWN; GIBI – Communities that would be affected by a potential carbon credit deal between Liberia and the United Arab Emirates-based Blue Carbon are demanding their right to consent.  

The Liberian government has been negotiating with Blue Carbon to sequester carbon on more than a million hectares of forestlands as part of a US$50 billion deal that also involves Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and possibly Angola. The potential 30-year deal would affect towns and villages in Margibi, Sinoe, Lofa, Gbarpolu and  River Cess.

But local people who own the forest have not given their consent as required by Liberia’s land and forestry laws. More than a dozen people The DayLight interviewed in potentially affected communities in River Ces and Margibi expressed dissatisfaction.  

“We think we should be contacted and we should be apart because carbon has something to do with the community people,” said Matthew Walley, a local forestry leader in the Central River Cess District, River Cess County. The proposed Blue Carbon agreement targets over 57,000 hectares of forest in the region.

“We want the government to halt the arrangement and they should come to us and sit with the community,” Walley added.

The Liberian government has been negotiating the deal after signing a memorandum of understanding with Blue Carbon in March. Liberia sees the agreement as an opportunity to meet its climate objectives, including to slice its deforestation rate by  2030. Blue Carbon, owned by a member of the UAE Royal Family, aims to use the deal to help reduce carbon emissions globally.

But national and international campaigners have criticized the deal for—among other things—disregarding the rights of rural communities. The Land Rights Act and Community Rights Law… with Respect to Forest Lands guarantee locals’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for land and forest-based concessions.

A draft of the controversial agreement, seen by The DayLight, shows that the government intends to get communities’ consent between August and November. However, that should have happened prior to the government’s initial MoU with Blue Carbon, based on the principle of consent.

“The government feels that they have power over [us who] live within the communities. So, they do things on their own they don’t inform us,” added Marthaline Smith, a member of the leadership.

“If they want to really give our forest out to company or NGO, we have to sit down and discuss it…,” Smith added.

Yarpah Town, River Cess is one of the communities that would be affected if Liberia signs a carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The government has to talk to me first,” said Harry Lawgar, an elder in the Poye community Gibi District, Margibi County.

The deal targets the Gibi Proposed Protected Area, covering over 88,000 hectares of forest. Like in River Cess, Lawgar and other people in Gibi The DayLight interviewed raised qualms for being overlooked.

“Everybody should be inclusive,” said Jerome Poye a townsman also in the Poye community.

“The community has to get the understanding of it,” Lawgar added.

Locals said they needed to know exactly what was in the agreement for them.

The current draft agreement apportions 70 percent of carbon royalties for Blue Carbon and 30 percent for the Liberian government in the first 10 years and 50 percent apiece thereafter.

It also sets aside 50 percent of the carbon royalties, 40 percent interest from the government’s shares and a five percent interest payment from the government’s stakes in the project for the communities.

But it does not say how the carbon credit will be valued and traded, and how the carbon saving will be generated. It also fails to say what certification standards it would use.  Experts say these are the major components of the carbon market, which is still emerging globally.

The international community criticized the “vague” proposed deal when they discussed it on August 3, according to a document seen by The DayLight.   

Gibi District, Margibi County, is one of the communities that would be affected if Liberia signs a proposed carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Villagers in Central River Cess and Gibi, two of Liberia’s remotest regions, demanded to know about their benefits. They said they needed everything from clinics, roads, schools and livelihood programs.

“We want to know the calculation. If I get 57,000 hectares preserved as carbon area, what will be the calculation?” said Walley of River Cess. “Through what kind of benefit-sharing mechanism?”

“How the calculation will be done we don’t know because they will not just come and give the community US$50 or US$100, saying that it is our benefit,” Walley added.

“We will not accept it.”

[Tenneh Keita contributed to this story]

Six Laws Blue Carbon Deal Would Violate Explained


Top: A forest in Sinoe County, one of the places that would be affected by the proposed Blue Carbon deal. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Esau J. Farr

The government of Liberia is in negotiation with a United Arab Emirates-based Blue Carbon in a deal that is worth US$50 billion.

The parties have drafted a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in which Blue Carbon will manage over a million hectares of Liberia’s rainforests for 30 years.     

UAE sees the deal as part of its efforts to create a decarbonized world, according to the Gulf country, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

But it has been hugely criticized for disregarding a number of Liberian laws.

National and international NGOs and the opposition Liberia People’s Party have criticized the draft agreement. All three groups called for the Liberian government to halt the negotiation and make the necessary legal corrections.  

The DayLight takes a look at the laws the deal would violate if sealed:   

The National Forestry Reform Law

The proposed Blue Carbon deal would be a complete violation of the National Forestry Reform Law because it would cover more than 1 million hectares of forest. The law restricts the size of any concession to not more than 400,000 hectares. That is nearly three times the size of the proposed Blue Carbon deal.

The Public Procurement and Concession Act

If it goes through, the Blue Carbon deal will breach the Public Procurement and Concession Act of 2010.   

Section 55 of the law grants the Public Procurement and Concession Commission the power to sole source a concession but only in an “extreme urgency,” and other instances, none of which the deal qualifies for. 

Section 101 of the act also provides for a sole source but limits it to a bidder with specialized expertise only that the bidder can provide, the concession involves research only the bidder can undertake or it would be against national security for a competitive bidding process.

But, none of those instances fits Blue Carbon, established only about a year ago and has not traded in the carbon market before.

The Land Rights Act

The Blue Carbon MoU fails to recognize customary land ownership since it did not seek the free, prior and informed consent information of rural communities.

Article 32 of the Land Rights Act of 2018 grants community ownership of customary land to rural community members. It states that “Customary land is acquired and owned by a community in accordance with its customary practices and norms based on a long period of occupancy and or use.”

Liberia has even created an FPIC policy and an FPIC guideline that reinforces villagers’ consent power.

Noteworthy, “free” means that locals must be allowed to say yes or no without fear or coercion.  “Prior” implies that consent must occur significantly in advance and there must be ample space for consultation. “Informed” means villagers must have all the information about the project, including nature, size and duration. And “consent” can be granted and withheld, even with consultation.

The Community Rights Law…

Nine years before the law, rural communities already owned forestlands under the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. That law also guarantees communities’ right to consent to any concession on their forestland.

The law clearly states in Section 2.2, “Any decision, agreement or activity affecting the status or use of community forest resources shall not proceed without the free, prior and informed consent of [the] said community.”

Section 10 of the National Forestry Reform Law had three years earlier guaranteed community “informed participation” in forestry governance and management.

In fact, community along with, commercial logging and conservation were the “three Cs” of Liberia’s forestry reform process before carbon credit made it “four Cs.”

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Because the Blue Carbon MoU did not seek the free, prior and informed consent of members of the potentially affected communities, it would breach the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Liberia is one of 144 countries that have ratified that instrument, which is not legally binding but shows the direction of the international community on indigenous people matters.   

An excerpt of the September 13, 2007, UN Resolution, the precursor of the principle, states, “Convinced that control by indigenous peoples over developments affecting them and their lands, territories, and resources will enable them to maintain and strengthen their institutions, cultures and traditions, and to promote their development in accordance with their aspirations and needs.”

Community right to consent is also a major part of other human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the very United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that guides the carbon market.  

The Liberian Constitution

Since the right to property is clearly protected in the Constitution of Liberia, it would be unconstitutional for the government to interfere with community property. The government can only grant concessions for forest carbon on forest lands it owns.

The forest areas concerned in the Blue Carbon, are, however, not owned by the Government. There is a good chance that communities own much of the proposed agreement-affected area.  

So, there is an uncertain legal basis for the Liberian government to negotiate a concession for land it potentially does not own. 

This is a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).  

Gongloe’s Party Wants Blue Carbon Deal Halted


Top: A forest and a village in River Cess County. Pictures by William Q. Harmon and Derick Snyder Graphic by Rebazar Forte

By Esau J. Farr

MONROVIA – The Liberian People’s Party (LPP) of Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe has called on the government of Liberia to discontinue a carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as the agreement fails to recognize the rights of indigenous people and exceeds the area threshold for a forestry concession.   

“Blue Carbon must therefore discontinue negotiation with the government of Liberia until it is presented with evidence that would-be affected communities have given their free, prior, and informed consent as required under Liberian law,” the party said in a statement on Tuesday.   

“The Government has an obligation to protect the land rights of customary communities across the country – entering into this agreement with Blue Carbon would contravene that sacred responsibility,” the statement added.

The Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism did not immediately respond to queries for comments.

In March this year, Liberia signed a US$50 billion memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Blue Carbon to implement carbon removal projects on more than 1 million hectares of Liberia’s rainforests for 30 years.

“We are honored to sign this MoU with The Republic of Liberia,” said Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, Blue Carbon’s chairman.  

“This bilateral association marks another milestone for Blue Carbon to enable government entities to define their sustainable frameworks and help transition to a low-carbon economical system…,” he added. Blue Carbon’s mission is to use bilateral agreements to help governments and UAE-based firm’s clients achieve a de-carbonized economy in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, according to its website.

Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel Tweah, Jr. stated the deal would help Liberia prevent forest degradation and deforestation. “We are confident that this collaboration is another step forward for us to mark an era of sustainability…,” Tweah said.  (President George Weah  proposed to the  United Nations climate conference in Scotland in 2021   the establishment of an African Carbon Credit Trading Mechanism.)

But the deal would violate a number of Liberian laws, including on land and forestry as it fails to recognize local communities’ rights.

Under Liberia’s Land Rights Act, communities have the right to control the use, protection, management and development of forest resources. The law guarantees local communities’ right to consent.  

A draft of the MoU, seen by The DayLight, has provisions for local communities’ consent but after the agreement would have been signed.

That is a red flag, as the consent principle, emphasizes the participation of the indigenous people prior to an agreement. It is a major pillar of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Liberia signed into Law.

Also, one million hectares of land would contravene the National Forestry Reform Law, which restricts a forestry concession to 400,000 hectares.

“Allocating one million hectares under a single contract and including communities’ customary land in [the] said contract would violate the forestry law,” the party, vying to unseat the government in October, said.

On Monday, a group comprising several civil society organizations, the Independent Forest Monitoring Coordination Mechanism, also criticized the deal.

It expressed concern over the Blue Carbon MoU’s possible breach of a 2014 climate agreement between Liberia and Norway, which requires to halt deforestation nationwide for US$150 million.  

Under the deal, Liberia would give Blue Carbon exclusive rights to manage several protected areas and proposed protected areas. That includes the Sapo National Park and the Krahn Bassa Proposed Protected Area. The firm would singlehandedly run reforestation, ecotourism and conservation programs, and trade carbon credits.  

“The status of that agreement is currently unclear given the Norway funds have not been fully utilized and the agreement remains in effect until 2025,” the group said.