Hidden realities of carbon credits

Hidden realities of carbon credits

Thai governments -- be they Prayut Chan-o-cha's or Srettha Thavisin's -- have hailed carbon credit programmes as vital to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, they can become wolves in sheep's clothing if they favour businesses, leaving local communities and nature vulnerable to exploitation. Despite promises to mitigate greenhouse gases, carbon credit programmes often sideline local communities and worsen social and environmental injustices.

Forest communities fear history repeating itself. The government frequently uses "reforestation" to serve business interests, often violently evicting forest inhabitants.

It has happened before. The military government led by Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon wanted to evict over 10 million villagers in the Northeast for eucalyptus plantations for the pulp and paper industry under the guise of "reforestation". A large-scale grassroots demonstration eventually stopped it during the Anand Panyarachun administration in 1992.

They fear this "reforestation" tactic will resurface under current carbon credit schemes, sparking a new wave of nationwide land rights conflicts.

Carbon credits are like certificates earned from projects that reduce or trap greenhouse gases, sold to businesses to offset their pollution.

Forest agencies are encouraging industries to join reforestation programmes to offset carbon emissions, enabling them to disregard their harmful production processes. This is sheer greenwashing.

The value of carbon credit trading in Thailand surged from 850,000 baht in 2016 to 129 million baht in 2022, with a trading volume of 1.19 million tonnes of carbon. This is expected to rise significantly with Prime Minister Srettha's plan to expand forest coverage to 55% of the landmass by 2037. The aim is to increase the country's carbon sink to 120 metric tonnes per year so Thailand can attain carbon neutrality by 2050.

In what Greenpeace Thailand called a "licence to pollute", the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation, the Royal Forest Department and the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources introduced benefit-sharing regulations with business partners, giving nine out of 10 carbon credits to investors.

Meanwhile, local communities that safeguard the forest are left out of the arrangement, although they are affected by carbon credit forest management and the possibility of forest evictions.

Ethnic Karen forest dwellers in Lampang and Mae Hong Son provinces, for example, are facing eviction threats from national parks' reforestation contracts with power companies.

In Chiang Mai, a Lisu hill tribe village is facing the same threat from park contracts with a beverage giant. In Mukdahan, a forest community is also struggling against a windmill project.

The problem will not get any better soon. In the fiscal year 2021–2022, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation reported reforesting on over 90,000 rai of land through partnerships with six conglomerates. Meanwhile, the Royal Forest Department planted more than 300,000 rai in forest reserves from the carbon credit programmes with 12 companies.

The targeted reforestation areas encompass 16 million rai in national parks, forest reserves, community forests and mangrove forests.

Ironically, while claiming to protect the environment through carbon credit, the government is endorsing destructive projects in protected forests, such as mining, and refuses to address greenhouse gases or issue carbon tax policies to make industries reduce emissions.

Environmental disinformation will likely intensify. The Department of Climate Change and Environment is expediting a climate change bill for cabinet approval so the government can use it to report policy progress to the UN Climate Change Conference in Azerbaijan in November.

Far from addressing comprehensive measures to mitigate the climate crisis and ensuring justice for vulnerable groups, this bill prioritises carbon credit expansion without clear carbon reduction targets, an enforcement system for industry compliance, fair benefit sharing with local communities and measures to prevent green washing.

Furthermore, the bill lacks effective mechanisms to shield communities from the impacts of climate change or establish adequate climate transition and adaptation systems that would hold polluters accountable. The core of the issue lies in top-down, centralised decision-making that deprives people of an equal voice in the legislative process.

In solidarity with forest communities, Thai Climate Justice for All calls for a new bill that ensures people's participation and good governance, empowering citizens with decentralised monitoring systems to hold climate change and carbon credit projects accountable at all levels.

As Thailand aims to expand its carbon credit trading system, it is crucial to address the injustices and power imbalances inherent in these schemes. Without such measures, efforts to reduce carbon emissions will end up merely a green mirage.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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