Mounting concerns surround Sarawak’s carbon market strategy – Save Rivers

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BARAM/KUCHING, Sarawak – On 9 May, in the Sarawak legislative assembly, critical questions were being asked about the state’s carbon market initiatives.

At the same time, timber giant Shin Yang is initiating a questionable carbon project in the north of the state.

Indigenous communities have expressed deep concerns over the implications of these projects, fearing loss of access to their forests and resources.

Notably, the logging companies awarded these permits have a long, contentious history of environmental degradation conflict with indigenous communities.

The total absence of public information about Shin Yang’s carbon permit for this project, as well as several underlying issues regarding the carbon market in Sarawak, has raised concerns.

Shin Yang recently launched the Jalin forest carbon management project. Carbon study permits have also been granted to Samling and Petros.

In the 9 May assembly session, the DAP’s Violet Yong enquired about the Jalin project and raised concerns about Samling’s Marudi carbon credit project and Sarawak’s overall carbon strategy.

The Penan communities of Long Iman and Long Liwok/Liwok received notices from Shin Yang for meetings on 25-26 April regarding social impact assessments for the Jalin forest carbon management project in their area.

Following these meetings, community members expressed confusion about the project’s scope and impacts, feeling pressured by the company to sign documents.

Mutang Tuo from Long Iman explained: “They said, the purpose is that our forest will have more wood and make the air more fresh. How is this going to happen?

“We Penan people are no longer allowed to enter the forest and are no longer allowed to cut wood, hunt and collect forest products. This is what makes us Penan disagree. How could we not enter the forest, while we depend on the forest to live. We also informed Shin Yang that we no longer trust them.”

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Similarly, Samling’s Marudi carbon project, which is being implemented by its subsidiary SaraCarbon, has left communities puzzled. Despite attending consultation sessions, the community members struggled to grasp the concepts of carbon trading.

They believe that if forest conservation is the goal, the communities should be the ones receiving the international funds for their work defending the forests against timber companies.

In these proposals, however, it is the timber companies – that have exploited the forests for profit for decades – that are pocketing the profits.

Sarawak’s carbon law (Forests (Forest Carbon Activity) Rules 2022) does not propose any royalty for affected communities.

Celine Lim, the managing director of Save Rivers, noted: “Under the current laws, carbon projects will repeat the same old story again in Sarawak: timber companies profiting from Indigenous land while the communities remain empty handed.

“The only reason there are still native forests left in Sarawak is either because the areas are not accessible for logging – or because Indigenous communities protected their forests against intruding companies.

“Why should these companies now get paid for the conservation efforts of communities? Why are the culprits of destruction being rewarded and the guardians punished once more?”

Violet Yong raised these questions and more in the assembly sitting. Beyond indigenous communities being left empty-handed, she also asked why the Sarawak public will not be designated a decent share of the profits through taxation: “A 5% forest ecosystem fee is imposed on annual carbon credit revenue. If carbon activity is hailed as the new potential sector to generate income from the forest resources in Sarawak, my question is: why is this fee set as low as 5%? Does this mean that the company that carries out the carbon credit activities will benefit 95% of the derived annual revenue?”

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Other countries tax way more. Zimbabwe, for example, imposed a 30% environmental levy on forest carbon project developers.

Last week, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Francisco Calí Tzay called for a moratorium on carbon markets. He pointed to the widespread human and indigenous rights violations associated with carbon projects globally.

Last month, articles by Sarawak Report and REDD Monitor questioned the very optimistic estimates of carbon credits for the Marudi carbon project and the government’s minimal fees for developers. – Save Rivers

Celine Lim is the managing director of Save Rivers.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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