The Australian carbon trading company Shift2Neutral aims to become “the leading neutraliser of carbon emissions in the world”. The company appeared to come closer realising its aim this week when Reuters reported that Shift2Neutral “signed a deal aimed at protecting tropical forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as boosting renewable energy there”.

If true, this would be by far the biggest REDD-type deal between a private company and a government. But is the deal really what it appears to be? As with other Shift2Neutral announcements, little information about the DR Congo deal is publicly available. REDD-Monitor has asked a series of questions to Brett Goldsworthy, chairman of Shift2Neutral, and looks forward to posting his response.

 

Until then, we have an article by Reuters journalist David Fogarty, and a press release from Shift2Neutral, dated 24 August 2010 (see below). Fogarty’s only source for his article seems to be an interview with Shift2Neutral’s Brett Goldsworthy. Let’s see what Goldsworthy says about the deal.

According to the Reuters article,

“Shift2Neutral and its partners would help value the carbon storage from forest and land protection, certify carbon related services to communities in the DRC and help sell certified carbon offsets.

“It had signed the deal with the national government as well as state governments and local tribal chiefs and landowners after more than a year of negotiations, the firm’s chairman, Brett Goldsworthy, said.”

Shift2Neutral’s press release states that the contract was signed, not with the “national government” as Reuters reports, but with the “spokesperson of the senate”:

“Shift2Neutral and its partners sign an exclusive environmental contract with the Democratic Republic of the Congo through its Provinces, Tribal Chiefs, Land Owners and the spokesperson of the senate has signed a progressive (step by step) agreement with Shift2Neutral for environment and renewable energy to protect the forests, flora and fauna and improve the standard of living to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

(As an aside, it’s worth noting how badly written this is, particularly given the size of the deal. Part of the press release was cut and pasted from Avoided Deforestation Partners’ website – text coloured blue, below. Surely, at some point during “more than a year of negotiations”, Shift2Neutral had time to work on a well written press release?)

It appears that two separate signings took place:

  1. Shift2Neutral and its partners (whoever they are) signed an “environmental contract” with the Democratic Republic of the Congo through its Provinces, Tribal Chiefs and Land Owners.
  2. The spokesperson of the senate signed an agreement with Shift2Neutral. This agreement is “progressive” (step by step) for “environment and renewable energy”.

The agreement, will, according to Shift2Neutral’s press release,

“extend to all the stakeholders of the vast Congolese (Democratic Republic) territory (2,345,000 square km) as progressively through the process and advantages of the project for their urban and rural populations.”

Reuters explains that,

“The deal covers the whole country and is aimed at sourcing carbon offsets from saving forests and reforestation programmes as well as deploying renewable energy such as solar.

“‘It’s the entire nation that we’re working toward but at the moment we’re taking it state by state, piece by piece,’ Goldsworthy told Reuters.

So, a small Australian carbon trading firm, with no experience in managing forest projects (apart from three small REDD-type projects in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, about which details are sketchy, to put it mildly) has signed a deal with as yet unknown people in a country covering an area the size of Western Europe. Road transport from one end of the country to the other is simply impossible. Despite a 2003 peace deal, the UN maintains a US$1.35 billion per year peace keeping mission in DR Congo. On the same day that Shift2Neutral put out its press release, the Guardian reported a horrific story of nearly 200 women and four baby boys who had been gang-raped by Rwandan and Congolese rebels in eastern DR Congo.

“Nothing can ever be guaranteed in a case of a potential war zone,” Goldsworthy told Reuters, with perhaps just a little too much understatement. Reuters reported Goldsworthy as saying that Shift2Neutral “had won the backing of senior government officials and leading figures in the African business community and that this would help mitigate some of the risk of working in a country riddled with violence and corruption.”

No names of anyone from DR Congo appear in either Shift2Neutral’s press release or in the Reuters article. Three days after Shift2Neutral’s press release, the deal has been reported nowhere except the Reuters article. As far as I can tell, no government minister has commented. DR Congo is one of the UN-REDD’s pilot countries, yet there is no mention of Shift2Neutral on the UN-REDD website. DR Congo’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation of Nature and Tourism produced a final version of its Readiness Plan for REDD in July 2010 under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and UN-REDD programme.* Perhaps surprisingly, there is no mention of Shift2Neutral’s “more than a year of negotiations” in that 153-page report. Neither is there any mention of Shift2Neutral.