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Weary of Logging Contracts, Locals  Doubtful of Carbon Deal


Top: Liberia’s proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates targets areas in Lofa County, which hosts logging agreements. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Emmanuel Sherman 

MONROVIA – Forest communities across the country have shown reluctance over Liberia’s negotiation with UAE-based Blue Carbon fearing it would fail them like logging contracts.

Blue Carbon, owned by a member of the Royal family of the United Arab Emirates, signed a carbon credit memorandum of understanding (MoU) in March with the Liberian government.

The deal intends to cover over one million hectares of forestlands in River Cess, Sinoe, Gbarpolu, Lofa and Margibi, places that have had bad experiences with logging contracts.

“We are already challenged with [logging] that has a legal framework,” says Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), comprising some 500 logging-affected communities.

“Our fear is the actual benefit community should get may not get because we don’t know how it is and how it will be,” adds Zelemen.

Logging companies began signing contracts with forest communities over 15 years ago, a major component of Liberia’s forestry reform.

But most contracts have failed, with companies owing huge sums of land rentals and harvesting fees. They have failed to start or complete mandatory projects.  

Matthew Walley, an affected community leader of a 57,287-hectare forest that the proposed agreement targets, questions the proposed MoU’s payment method.  

“If I get 57,000 hectares preserved as carbon area, what will be the calculation? How will it be done? Through what kind of benefit-sharing mechanism,” says Walley.

“The government can’t just come and say this place is declared as a carbon area. We will not accept it,” says Walley.

Andrew Zelemen, national coordinator, National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC). The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Blue Carbon intends to avoid the pitfall of logging, according to the draft agreement, seen by The DayLight.  Communities stand to receive a credit royalty of 10 percent of the value of the carbon credits the forest will generate.

It proposes a payment scheme through a five-person committee, two each from the community and the government and one from Blue Carbon.

“Community will directly benefit from a dedicated Account, not the consolidated account,” says Adams Manobah, the Chairman of Liberia Land Authority (LLA). “And that benefit will go directly into their own account that will be controlled by the people themselves.”

The International community has criticized the proposed payment mode for being vague, according to a document seen by The DayLight.

But communities should not depend on Blue Carbon’s contract for their shares of carbon credits, according to Zelemen. There should be a “roadmap” for carbon trading.

In the roadmap, develop a legal framework that will guide the process of carbon trade like we have law guiding timber trade,” says Zelemen. NGOs have made the same call.

Both Blue Carbon and Liberia want the deal to help their climate targets.  Liberia has a commitment to reduce carbon emissions in its forestry sector in halves by 2030.  Blue Carbon, on the other hand, intends to remove carbon from the global economy with such MoUs in line with the UN agenda to combat climate change.

But communities have not been consulted, a violation of Liberia’s Land Rights Act (LRA) and the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Land, and other legal instruments.

These laws give the communities the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to land and forest-related concessions. A UN-backed doctrine, FPIC requires that villagers give their consent to contracts prior to any project or negotiation.

“I’m not aware [of] the negotiation between the government of Liberia and the Blue Carbon company from UAE,” said Jerome Poye, a member of an affected community in Gibi District, Margibi County, that the draft agreement also targets.

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]