Nov 28, 2012

‘Our future is now’: Communities in Liberia meet this week to discuss options after large-scale land grab

by Jamie Gorman and Jacinta Fay — last modified Nov 28, 2012 02:45 PM

Between 2009 and 2010 the Government of Liberia allocated more than a million acres of land to transnational palm oil producers Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia without consulting or securing the consent of those living on and using the land. Following the launch of a groundbreaking report from the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)/ Friends of the Earth Liberia, Uncertain Futures, the affected communities are holding a major conference this week to demand that their voices be heard in decision making.

The ‘Our future is now’ conference will take place in Bopolu City, Gbarpolu County, Liberia, from 27-29 November, bringing together communities affected by Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia.

The SDI report highlights how, as over a quarter of Liberia’s land area is now given over by the Government to rubber, oil palm and logging companies, Liberia risks becoming a land ‘lost in concessions’ with an uncertain future for the communities who are the original custodians and owners of the land.

Watch Environmental Crimes: Following the Palm Oil Trail (In English with French subtitles)

These concessions are part of Liberia’s attempt to attract Foreign Direct Investment in the natural resource sector. Large plantations are promoted as a means to create jobs, bring development, and increase the government’s budget. However, they also risk the entrenchment of systemic economic and social injustices against poor and marginalised communities.

Large-scale land allocation to foreign corporations can give transnational companies enormous political power which can subvert local democratic decision making. At the same time as corporate power silences communities, the associated dispossession of rural people from their land contributes to increased poverty in rural areas, widens the gap between the urban elites that benefit from these business transactions and the rural poor who suffer the impacts, and entrenches inequality across Liberian society.

Both the Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia plantations are clear examples of this. According to the SDI report, ‘the situation facing communities impacted by the expansion of Sime Darby’s plantation in Garwula District, western Liberia is dire: the plantation is on their doorsteps, and their farms and farmlands are being swallowed up by it. There are very few alternative livelihood options.’ According to locals interviewed for the report, Sime Darby did not pay compensation for farm lands taken by the company. They also claim that compensation paid for crops that had been destroyed was inadequate and that forest areas used for cultural practices had also been destroyed and planted with oil palm.

SDI campaigner Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor points out that ‘the situation on the Sime Darby or Golden Veroleum Liberia plantation is about much more than the impacts of a single company.’ He warns that ‘allocating large swathes of fertile agricultural land to foreign companies for several decades is dangerous because as these companies expand their plantations, communities’ ability to cope will be stretched to the limit. It will push people further into poverty, as their income generating activities are curtailed and earning capacities become limited.’

During the course of the three day conference community representatives will have the opportunity to discuss this issue. More than 150 delegates from the counties affected by Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum Liberia Sinoe, Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, and Gbarpolu counties will be in attendance, along with a number of Monrovia-based civil society groups and international experts on agriculture, land, and community rights.

Led by local leaders, participants will be offered the opportunity to break into small groups to discuss their perspectives on the issue. At the end of the conference, community representatives will draft and adopt a document that details what they expect from palm oil concessionaires and the government.

For more information
Uncertain Futures (PDF)

Palm Oil  Plantations in Liberia Facts
at a Glance

  • Oil palm, rubbers and logging concessions cover over a quarter of Liberia’s land area with large swathes of fertile land allocated to foreign
    companies preventing their use for food production.
  • Large-scale land grants totalling more than 1.5 million acres have been granted to the Malaysia-based Sime Darby and to the Singapore listed company belonging to the Indonesian Sinar Mas Group, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL).
  • In 2009, the government allocated 311,187 hectares to Sime Darby with a 63-year lease.
  • In 2010, the government allocated 350,000 hectares to Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) with a 65-year lease. The terms of the contract allow for an extension of an additional 33 years
    before the expiration of the first 65 years.
  • These large scale monocultural plantations jeopardize the land rights of local populations, threaten local livelihoods and wellbeing of
    communities, and put the future
    viability of one of the world’s most significant biodiversity hotspots
    into doubt.
  • Communities have been displaced
    from their land with little or no compensation and with few available livelihood alternatives.
  • Affected communities were not consulted prior to these concession agreements being signed by the  government, despite the inclusion of clauses that allow for their crops, communal spaces, and traditional lands to be destroyed, and for their towns to be completely resettled if necessary.



An open letter to governments and their negotiators

by Bill McKibben, Nnimmo Bassey and Pablo Solon — last modified Nov 28, 2012 05:08 PM

By Bill McKibben founder of 350.org, Nnimmo Bassey Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria) & Coordinator of Oilwatch International, Pablo Solon Executive Director of Focus on the Global South, former Bolivian Ambassador to the UN and former chief negotiator for climate change

As the UN climate negotiations kick off in Doha, Qatar, people all over the world are watching as floods wash away their lives, fires consume their houses and droughts decimate food crops. Just this morning, UNEP released a report warning that melting permafrost could release massive amounts of methane--a powerful greenhouse gas--into the atmosphere, bringing the planet ever closer to runaway climate change. Here's a letter from three powerful advocates for a safe climate to the leaders and negotiators in Doha:

To really address climate change UNFCCC-COP18 should decide to leave under the soil more than 2/3 of the fossil reserves
2012 saw the shocking melt of the Arctic, leading our greatest climatologist to declare a 'planetary emergency,' and it saw weather patterns wreck harvests around the world, raising food prices by 40% and causing family emergencies in poor households throughout the world.
That's what happens with 0.8ºC of global warming. If we are going to stop this situation from getting worse, an array of institutions have explained this year precisely what we need to do: leave most of the carbon we know about in the ground and stop looking for more.
If we want a 50-50 chance of staying below two degrees, we have to leave 2/3 of the known reserves of coal and oil and gas underground; if we want an 80% chance, we have to leave 80% of those reserves  untouched. That's not "environmentalist math" or some radical interpretation--that's from the report of the International Energy Agency last month. 
It means that--without dramatic global action to change our path--the end of the climate story is already written. There is no room for doubt--absent remarkable action, these fossil fuels will burn, and the temperature will climb creating a chain reaction of climate related natural disasters.
Negotiators should cease their face-saving, their endless bracketing and last minute cooking of texts and concentrate entirely on figuring out how to live within the carbon budget scientists set. We can't emit more than 565 more gigatons of carbon before 2050, but at the current pace we'll blow past that level in 15 years. If we want to have a chance to stick to this budget by 2020 we can’t send to the atmosphere more than 200 gigatons.
Rich countries who have poured most of the carbon into the atmosphere (especially the planet's sole superpower) need to take the lead in emission reductions and the emerging economies have also to make commitments to reduce the exploitation of oil, coal and gas. The right to development should be understood as the obligation of the states to guarantee the basic needs of the population to enjoy a fulfilled and happy life, and not as a free ticket for a consumer and extractivist society that doesn’t take into account the limits of the planet and the wellbeing of all humans.
There's no longer time for diplomatic delays. Most of the negotiators in the Eighteenth Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) know that these are the facts. Now is the time to act for the future of humanity and Nature.

Originally posted on 350.org

Doha Day 2: Youth letter to the UNFCCC Executive Secretary

by admin — last modified Nov 28, 2012 10:55 AM
Filed Under:

Young Friends of the Earth Europe: Over the last two days, much is happening in Doha and the youth are a huge part of it. On the second day of COP18, a group of young people from around the world sent an open letter to Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, calling for fossil fuel corporations to be removed from the UNFCCC process due to their intentions being incompatible with a 2 degree world, and their long history of using their significant financial resources to undermine global climate policy.

The letter was signed by a variety of organisations including The Canadian Youth Delegation, Earth in Brackets, Young Friends of the Earth Europe, Push Europe, The UKYCC, PowerShift Belgium, and others. It was also endores by Bill McKibben  from 350.org.


You still have a chance to sign on the letter here!


The letter:

Dear Christiana Figueres, (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

As young people, we write today with both grave concern and powerful hope.

Unfortunately, our concerns are beginning to outweigh our hope more and more each day. We were raised in a world nearly 1 degree warmer than the pre-industrial average; where disruption of the climate system has become increasingly visible in the few years since we were young children.

In this strange new world, we have already witnessed unprecedented Arctic ice melt, rampant wildfire, droughts that have crippled farmers and consumers, flooding, hail storms, and most recently, a super- charged hurricane that has devastated communities from the Caribbean to New York City. Extreme weather is becoming the new normal.

The UNFCCC process which you oversee is designed to protect us from these harsh disruptions and to achieve the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

Taking a hard look at climate politics today, it appears the UNFCCC is failing to meet that mission, therefore failing to live up to its mandate. The math just doesn’t add up.

The member states of the UNFCCC have not decided much, but they have been very clear that global average temperatures must not rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

At present, we are on target to hit this terrifying target by 2030 and to suffer upwards of six degrees of warming by the end of the century. Major international bodies, from the IEA to the World Bank, have warned that even over the medium-term, the costs of allowing emissions to rise at their present rates will come in the form of hundreds of millions of human lives and economic costs capable of driving the world economy into prolonged global depression.

According to the best science we have, there is room for 565 gigatonnes more CO2 in our atmosphere before we lose any chance of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees and preventing the enormous damage associated with such a rise.

All together, the global oil, coal and gas industries are planning to burn over five times that amount, roughly 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon. Indeed, their share prices depend on exploiting these reserves and you are surely aware of the enormous sums they have spent to prevent governments from protecting the habitability of our planet, thus reducing the value of their assets. Their business plan is incompatible with our survival.

Frighteningly, there are also states, parties to the convention, with the same plan. Canada, for example, has signed onto the Copenhagen Accord and committed to allowing no more than 2 degrees of warming. However, in direct conflict with this commitment, Canada has also publicly admitted that its position at the UN is to defend the oil sands industry whose projects alone would increase global emissions by three times the world’s carbon budget. States like this are blocking progress in the name of an industry with the potential to break the planet.

Ms. Figueres, we know that you are a person of conviction with a genuine desire to see the UNFCCC meet its mandate. We believe that you want to see a fair and ambitious global climate accord that keeps us below the 2 degree threshold. We know you’ve done the math. This is your climate legacy, and our generation’s inheritance.

You have the power to fix this process, to move us towards real climate progress, but it means being willing to call out those who stand in the way of a safe and prosperous future. The secretariat needs to acknowledge that there are groups at the UNFCCC whose goals undermine the mission and mandate of the convention. Observer organizations can be penalized, and even removed from the convention if we violate the protocols for participation. Perhaps there should be a similar process for observers and parties whose mandates fundamentally contradict the convention.

Simply put, we have a choice in front of us, we can have a healthy planet and safe climate, or the oil, coal and gas industry can have a healthy pocketbook. We can’t have both, and its time for you, and for the UNFCCC to decide what is more important; the lives and livelihoods of people, or the balance sheets of Exxon, Shell, and Chevron.