A carbon offset deal might result in Liberia giving away 10 percent of its land to a private company from the UAE, which would grant the UAE pollution rights equivalent to the carbon sequestration of the forest. This deal would allow the company to control a million hectares of forest. The company plans to sell carbon credits for restoring and protecting the land to major polluters, who can use these credits to offset their emissions.
If the deal is signed, it would go against Liberian laws, including a 2019 law that safeguards communities’ rights to their customary land. The deal would also give the Dubai-based company, Blue Carbon, nearly complete control over a heavily forested area in Africa for 30 years. This would prevent Liberia from using the land to meet its own climate goals.
Initially, the deal was kept secret, and local NGOs only learned about it when it was leaked by government sources. The government hurriedly invited stakeholders to meetings after the leak, but the draft contract was shared with participants shortly before the meetings, making meaningful discussion difficult.
There are concerns about the deal’s impact on property rights and the rights of local communities to determine land use. The contract disregards Liberian land laws that require developers to consult communities about customary land use. While the company is supposed to engage in these consultations, they would happen only after the contract is signed, which is seen as problematic due to the extensive nature of the land.
The profits from selling carbon credits are distributed unevenly, with 70 percent going to Blue Carbon, 30 percent to the Liberian government, and a portion of that being paid to communities. However, the exact profits depend on the value of the credits. The contract also lacks clear details on how carbon credits will be calculated and verified.
Blue Carbon claims to adhere to REDD+, an international effort to reduce emissions from deforestation. However, there are doubts about whether their project truly adds additional benefits beyond what would naturally occur. Buying land that already includes nature reserves doesn’t necessarily provide additional benefits.
Blue Carbon, founded just a year prior, has no prior experience in carbon management. Despite this, they have entered into similar agreements with other countries like Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, and Zambia.
There’s a concern that such agreements prioritize carbon markets over the transition away from fossil fuels, as demonstrated by the upcoming COP 28 climate summit hosted by the UAE. The carbon credits harvested could be used to offset the UAE’s own emissions. The history of previous deals in Liberia, like one with Carbon Harvesting Corporation in 2009, has raised concerns about legality and corruption.
Land defenders and activists who oppose these deals have faced threats and intimidation. The carbon offset market is criticized for not effectively addressing the climate crisis and for potentially exploiting poorer countries.