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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.

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.