Carbon cowboys and cattle ranches

Submission on the proposed REDD+ project in Oro Province of Papua New Guinea
by Polly Hemming and Andrea Babon

The proposed REDD+ project in Oro Province of PNG covers an area twice the size of London and is expected to generate a huge 800 million carbon credits over its lifetime.

However, the available evidence fails to provide any assurance that this project has integrity, raising broader concerns about the types of carbon credits that Australia, other countries, and the private sector may use to meet their emission reduction commitments.

The quality and integrity of ‘carbon credits’ sits at the heart of global commitments to reduce the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses. In turn, ensuring the quality and integrity of each project that supplies ‘carbon credits’ is central to meeting the goals agreed to at the UN climate summit in Glasgow in 2021.

Almost all signatories to the Paris Agreement have made clear their intention to use ‘voluntary cooperation’ such as carbon offsets in implementing their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the world’s biggest companies overwhelmingly incorporate carbon offsets into their net zero targets.

The proposed REDD+ project in Oro Province of Papua New Guinea is just one of many carbon credit projects being considered by developers globally and that could supply credits to countries and private entities looking to offset their emissions. The Oro project is enormous in scale, with the project proponent claiming that it could avoid over 800 million tonnes of C02 being released over the life of the project.

This submission, while an assessment of an individual project, seeks to draw attention to the need for significantly improved scrutiny of the sorts of carbon credit projects – and their associated frameworks – being established in a rapidly growing and largely unregulated market.

Kanaka Management Services (KMS), the proponent of the Oro project, has provided no evidence to support their claims that their project will result in genuine benefits for the climate or customary landholders. The project document is poorly written, largely incomprehensible and lacks the details that would enable an adequate technical assessment of the project.

Of particular concern, given that the entire premise of the Oro project is that it will deliver ‘avoided deforestation’ is that KMS fails to demonstrate how the project area is at immediate risk of deforestation and how emissions avoidance activities will be carried out.

The project proponents have shown such a lack of understanding of the environment and people of Papua New Guinea that it borders on contemptuous: not realising that PNG has no railways or cattle in mountainous areas, yet including these things in their assumptions around deforestation in the region they profess to be so familiar with.

The project proponent provides no evidence to suggest that customary landholders have been consulted about the project, nor assurances that they will retain autonomy and control over project activities. This raises serious concerns about potential exploitation and coercion and how future disputes/complaints might be resolved equitably.

It is unclear what safeguards Verra, the framework under which the project would sit, has in place to stop projects of such low integrity being established. Beyond the Oro project, we are concerned that Verra’s broader project approval process may be inadequate and that other low-quality projects of this nature could already be supplying ‘junk credits’ or ‘hot air’ to corporate and government customers.

KMS has provided no evidence that the Oro project has integrity, and our review of the proposed project has raised numerous concerns about the types of carbon credit projects being established in Papua New Guinea.

Due to the lack of data to support the underlying claims that the Oro project will lead to large reductions in emissions we recommend that the project be refused.

Further, we hope that our assessment of the deficiencies in the documentation of the Oro project serves as a reminder to all participants in the ‘global carbon market’ of the need for rigorous, independent, project-level scrutiny to ensure good outcomes for the climate and people.

Full submission