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Carbon: schemes, scams & cowboys

Turning forests into fuel for the new ‘bio-economy?’ 

What Really Happens When Forests are Commodified –

Voices From Around The World



I) Not for Sale: the fantasy of carbon offsetting (Indonesia)


This video starts with a simple explanation of this political development of carbon offsets and REDD, from climate change summits in Kyoto, in 1998, to Bali in 2007 and beyond. It then considers REDD in Indonesia in more detail. In 2007 for example, the Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership (KFCP) was launched, in cooperation with the governments of Indonesia and Australia, and under the control of the Australia-Indonesia Forest Carbon Partnership (AIFCP). Another 750,000ha pilot project, Ulu Masen is being developed in Aceh by the local government and Flora and Fauna International (FFI).  Forests play an important role for  local communities, who thus work to ensuring the perpetuation and sustainability of their forest resources. They have mastered the strategy of forest management and stewardship over the centuries, and any new initiative should actively involve them. They should be well informed about REDD but it clear that few people have heard of it. District level officials also complain that they have not been invited to consultations about the implementation of REDD. Testimonies in this video state that it is difficult to regard REDD as a solution to climate change as industrialised and developed countries continue to pollute, failing to solve the main causes of climate change, whilst ptoentially creating conflict and poverty in countries hosting REDD projects. But the Ministry of Forest and Agriculture still keeps on saying REDD is good. 

Produced by Teguh Surya supported by Friends of the Earth International, WALHI-FoE Indonesia, Bingkai Indonesia. 2011.


 II) Exposing REDD: the False Climate Solution


This video explains the basics of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and its links to California’s cap and trade regulations that currently include a ‘placeholder’ to allow sub-national REDD carbon credits to enter into its cap and trade system.

A Governor’s Forests and Climate Task Force is working with several states / provinces – most notably Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil – to potentially supply California with REDD credits. Some NGOs are saying the California REDD project will become a model for implementing REDD internationally. IEN and other groups in California support California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, but REDD credits should not be accepted into California’s carbon trade system.

The film takes note that: REDD credits lack environmental integrity; REDD projects pose high risks to Indigenous Peoples and forest dependent communities; and REDD offsets are risky in terms of fraud, land grabs, evictions and human rights abuses. Watch the video to get the real story of REDD, the deceptive climate ‘solution’ being proposed in California and being implemented within the UN climate negotiations and the World Bank. It sounds good on paper, but the reality is that REDD enforces the global colonisation of Mother Earth; allows polluting industry to expand its toxic emissions creating local toxic hotspots in faraway places; and creates a stolen future for indigneous peoples, local forest dependent communities, communities living next door to a fossil fuel polluting industry and a stolen future for the environment and all life.

Published by Indigenous Environmental Network. 2012.


III) Lives of the Forest


This video presents testimonies from Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia, Nepal, India, Thailand, Japan, Bangladesh and Cambodia. It was filmed in Hungduan, in the Philippines and shows the simple ways of lives of native peoples who have protected their forests for centuries because they are the source of all that they need for their livelihoods and traditional practices. Their governance systems dictate punishments for those who cause harm to the forests, although climate change is currently a bigger and ungovernable threat. Each of the people presenting testimonies describe their own cases and their shared perspectives about the REDD mechanism. They feel Indigenous Peoples are not involved in the decision-making processes and there is no way to ensure it will work for Indigenous Peoples. They ask to forget REDD and listen to their voices: our forests are not for profit, NO REDD!

InsightShare, Gareth Benest & APIYN, Keidy Transfiguracion. 2010.


IV) Red Road Cancun (Rough Cut)


Rough Cut. Highlighting Indigenous voices excluded from the COP16 UN Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Allan Lissner, 2010.


V) REDD Watch: Indigenous Perspective on the REDD Mechanism


Many so-called development projects have had devastating effects on forests, rivers, and the environment in general, and this dynamic has accelerated as governments have sought to create financially profitable responses to climate change. These include a mitigation mechanism known as ‘REDD’ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). This video collects Indigenous People’s perspectives on REDD, in some of the so-called ‘REDD countries’ where the projects are being implemented: the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Indigenous people’s are greatly concerned about the impact that REDD will have on their traditional practices and on their territories, especially those wrongly labelled as being ‘degraded’ by others. Concerns are also expressed about who will actually benefit from these projects, corruption, lack of consultation, the fact that corporations establishing plantations are likely to be prioritised over indigenous peoples, and reports of ‘carbon cowboys’ visiting communities, aiming to ‘help’ them sell their REDD carbon credits. Capitalist countries and corporations are most likely to benefit from REDD while the real causes of climate change remain unaddressed. It is necessary to inform people about this mechanism, to look for viable and sustainable alternatives, and to build policies strong enough to tackle the real problem while ensuring Indigenous People’s rights.

Video Project by Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network & Land is Life. 2011.


VI) The History of REDD: A real solution to deforestation?


A short, accessible, animated examination of REDD. Many people live in or depend on forests but frequently don’t have secure land or access rights. But forests are increasingly under pressure, especially in the Global South, where they are being destroyed to meet demand for food, timber and agrofuels in the Global North. This destruction displaces forest-dependent peoples and contributes to climate change, as described in the video. In addition, issues of land rights and corruption exacerbate the problem. Instead of tackling this problem head on, by dealing with the root causes of deforestation and climate change, the UN and the World Bank propose the selling of carbon credits through the proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism. But this won’t address the main causes of the problems. This video looks at how these schemes fail and considers alternative ‘real solutions’.

Produced by FERN with the support of the Grundtvig Learning Partnership: “Can carbon trade save forests?”. 2012.


VII) A Darker Shade of Green  Un Verde Mas Oscuro: REDD y El Futuro de Los Bosques (Español)



As policies and programmes to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and to enhance forest stocks (REDD+) are promoted around the world by global and national elites, Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities are raising the alarm that these programmes will have serious negative impacts – and will not reduce the cascading threats of the climate crisis. This 28-minute documentary introduces the many concerns about REDD from the perspective of the people who are most impacted, featuring interviews and testimonies from Mexico, Brazil, Panama, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Uganda, India and California. There are many concerns. Who owns the trees, and who stands to benefit? What is really being bought? Will REDD projects restrict indigenous livelihoods? Various interviews with experts and Indigenous Peoples, among others, note that corporate elites pushed for REDD at the UNFCCC COP16 while civil society, Indigenous Peoples included, demonstrated against this programme, which hands forest and forest communities over to the highest bidder. 

The video also examines the negative impacts being felt as a result of the 2010 agreement between Chiapas, Acre and California, allowing companies in the north to continue to pollute whilst paying people in the south to conserve forests. It also considers the implications of forests being considered as carbon sinks and as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, which is ramping up the expansion of monoculture tree plantations, and furthering the development of genetically engineered trees, all of which will further jeopardize Indigenous Peoples’ ways of life.

Produced by Global Justice Ecology Project and Global Forest Coalition. 2011.


Related videos:

i) Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD


VIII) Ugandan villagers evicted to make way for forestry company 

This is a classic example of grabbing of land; 22,000 people were evicted in the Mubende and Kiboga districts in Uganda to make way for UK-based New Forests Company (NFC) to plant trees for carbon credits and to sell timber. Investors included the World Bank and HSBC, and the project was backed by the Forest Stewardship Council. In both districts land had previously been given to the people by the government, and they were not expecting any problems. But the government returned with police and violently evicted them, burning down their houses and killing a boy who was sick at home. People lost their homes and livelihoods and the future of the children looks bleak: they lack education, food and a place to live. The school in Kiboga has been turned into offices for NFC and accommodation for their staff, while the company claims it is a sustainable and socially responsible business.

Report entitled ‘Land and Power: the growing scandal surrounding the new wave of investments in land’ by Oxfam

Video by Guardian UK. Simon Rawles and Noah Payne-Frank. 2011.


Related videos:

i) Oxfam calls on the New Forests Company to investigate Uganda land grabs claims

ii) Uganda land grab claim by UK charity


IX) The REDD Dream: Underlying Causes of Forest Degradation & Community Voices on REDD+ – Uganda (and other Ugandan videos)


The video shows the situation of three forest communities affected by human activities. In the Kalangala islands from Lake Victoria, people’s lands and livelihoods have been lost to the extensive palm oil plantations of Bidco. Land acquisition by the company left pain and agony for the communities as they were never consulted on the project and now they have no place to go. In the Mabira Forest the government is planning to make way for sugar cane plantations. Likewise, the government is planning to remove Semliki forest pigmies who have lived traditionally off the forest territory, to open the way for REDD projects (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) as Uganda is a signatory to the UNFCCC. The organisation NAPE warns that care needs to be taken to strengthen community participation and strengthen governance in the face of REDD projects.

A production of NAPE with support from Global Forest Coalition. 2011.


Related videos:

i) The Mabira Debate

ii) Eco Talk Mabira Forest 

iii) Stop land grabbing! Life, land, and justice in Uganda        


X) REDD: la Codicia por los árboles / REDD: Greed for Trees (In Spanish w/English subtitles)


The REDD Mechanism (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) currently echoes in Chiapas, México and many other parts of the world. It was proposed by the UND a few years ago as a compensation mechanism that would help fight climate change. However, during the Climate Summit in Cancun, 2010 (COP16), this proposal was strongly consolidated pushed by the Mexican government who presented some REDD “early actions” and brought rural communities into the carbon market… In this documentary diferent stakeholders give arguments about REDD, and the existing interests for implementing this mechanism and what it represents to Chiapas. Hereby, we present some comments that the mass media hides.  Does REDD contribute to a real solution to climate change? What is the relation between the Lacandon gap? What makes it such an important subject?

Produced by Otros Mundos AC/Friends of the Earth-México. 2011.

Supported by Friends of the Earth International, Siemenpuu Foundation and Global Justice Ecology Project.


XI) Pirakuma_yawalapiti – Xingu peoples spokesperson (Brazil) – about carbon trading


Indigenous leaders in Xingu Park, Alto Xingu, are being put under pressure to enter into programmes and projects that would ultimately become REDD projects. But they do not have all the information they need and it has not been explained to them that the suggested projects would allow polluters to continue to pollute via carbon credits. A powerful and eloquent explanation of the indigenous perspective on the destruction of forests, carbon trading and greed, this should be a ‘must watch’ for policy makers.

Rebecca Sommer films, 2010.


Related videos:

i) No REDD Tour, Real Climate Solutions – Niwana (this video requires a login)

ii) REDD e Povos Indigenas (In Portuguese)


XII) Carbon Credits – Oxygen for Business: Part 1 / Part 2

       Créditos de Carbono – Oxígeno para Negocio (En Español): Parte 1Parte 2 


Polluters state that they will pay for their pollution, but how? Current options for ‘offsetting’ greenhouse gas emissions include sponsoring carbon dioxide sinks, which has been made possible by the commodification of the biological functions of trees, which it is now possible to buy and sell. A Colombian peasant decided to participate in the Procuenca ‘reforestation’ project in Caldas, Colombia, which promotes carbon sinks in the form of tree plantations, although he was unaware of the consequences or even the real nature of the ‘business’ he was signing up to. The Procuenca project came out of an agreement between Infi-Manizales and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and is funded with public money from the city of Manizales. In reality, however, it is an international business intent on capturing carbon by establishing plantations in endemic Andean moor ecosystems. Furthermore, the project has encouraged people to sow exotic tree species but without providing any additional advice about this; as a result several watercourses have been affected. People are also worried about food security as the businesses involved are only interested in monocultures; they even call it the ‘pro-timber project’ locally. Concerned local community members have started tearing down pine trees, in protest: homogenous plantations bear no resembalnce to diverse forests. Apparently the project will now be taken over by a private investor, but people don’t know what will happen or when.

Produced by CENSAT Agua Viva-FoE Colombia & Global Forest Coalition. 2008.


XII) Global Corruption Report: Climate Change


This video refers to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Report on Climate Change (2011) which looks at the specific corruption risks posed by governments planning to spend unprecedented amounts of money on climate change, through untested channels and often in countries with weak governance. Critical elements enabling corruption include large-scale constructions and contracts, the complexity of carbon markets and carbon offsetting, and conflicts of interest undermining policy decision-making. The video emphasises the need to build accountable institutions, to involve citizens including by bringing local voices into international decision making processes, and to create new ways to fight climate change based on good governance. 2011.


XIII) Climate Controversy in PNG (Carbon Cowboys)


Delegates at UNFCCC COP 15 in Copenhagen drafted rules for REDD with the aim of helping the industrialised world ‘offset’ its greenhouse gas emissions by buying rights to the carbon stored in forests in developing countries. But the sums of money being discussed are vast, and fraudsters are already being attracted to these carbon schemes. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the problem of carbon cowboys soon emerged. This video details the case of the Carbon Planet company in Australia, which soon struck problems with one of its contractors in Papua New Guinea. Kirk Roberts is a powerful ‘carbon cowboy’ with strong connections to the PNG government, who struck multiple REDD-related deals even though the science and economics policies relating to REDD were far from certain, and no deal had been agreed in the UN. When PNG’s Office of Climate Change and Carbon Trade collapsed, all the carbon deals, which it had been involved in setting up, were supposed to be off, but Roberts is still very involved in the trade. It also transpires that some of the areas promised to carbon traders have also been promised to loggers as is the case of the pristine forest in Kamula Doso, where there is an ongoing court case. Lawyers argue that until the case is resolved the PNG Forestry Authority has the rights over the trees and the land owners who have done deals with Kirk Roberts actually have nothing to trade. The Governor of the Eastern highlands province explains his growing alarm that a band of carbon cowboys, mostly from Australia, are signing landowners with deals they don’t even understand, and threatens a big court case.

Broadcasted by World News Australia. 2010.


XIV) Carbon trading fraud: criminals. Funding green technology innovation industry keynote speaker


Dr Patrick Dixon provides a very clear explanation of the ways in which carbon offset projects can be used for fraudulent and even criminal purposes. Large amounts of money are being invested in the name of addressing climate change, yet it can be difficult to verify whether carbon emissions are actually being reduced by any particular project, and the investments may be going to carbon capture projects that would have happened anyway. Governments are also prone to exaggerating their initial carbon emissions, in order to show sharp reductions that can benefit them financially in the carbon marketplace.

Patrick Nixon, 2008.


XV) Australian Carbon Cowboy in Peru deceiving Indigenous Communities

        Vaquero de Carbono Engañando Comunidades Indígenas en Perú (Español)

This video presents the case of ‘carbon cowboy’ David Nilsson and his company Amazon Holdings. Reporter Liam Barlett goes to Perú to investigate how this Australian developer ended up in Perú promising poor people billions of dollars for the carbon in the trees on their lands. He has already convinced a number of tribes to sign power of attorney over to his company for up to 200 years and is claiming 50% of the profits for dealing with their carbon contracts. But the contracts he is peddling would give him almost total control over communities’ natural resources — not only their carbon, but the forests as a whole and virtually everything else. A member of the Yagua tribe who couldn’t read signed one of these contracts with Nilsson, handing him half of all the carbon in their forests. But the deal is an outright scam. An executive summary was obtained, showing that after 25 years, the intention is actually to log the area and replace the trees with palm oil plantations. Furthernore, the supposedly independent lawyer advising the Yagua turns out to be Nilsson’s own lawyer. Towards the end of the video Nilsson returns to Australia looking for investors, but a camera hidden by the producers of the video records Nilsson during a fake ‘business’ meeting, catching him boasting of the profits to be made from the carbon contracts, the logging and the palm oil plantations. The video also details other scams run by Nilsson including in Australia. But another tribe in Perú, the Matses, who own around 450,000 ha have resisted Nilsson’s proposals, for now at least.

Producer: Stephen Rice, 60 Minutes-Australia. 2012.


XVI) The Carbon Hunters Brazil

Reporter Mike Shapiro goes on a journey to forests in Guaraqueçaba, Brazil — one of the most threatened eco-hot spots in the world — while investigating carbon credits. He wants to find out why people are so interested in buying something — carbon — that didn’t exist as a tradable commodity a few years ago. In Brazil, he finds that three major American companies — General Motors, Chevron and American Electric Power — own the carbon in trees in areas where The Nature Conservancy acted as a broker. In principle, saving trees and soaking up carbon sounds like a good idea. But that’s certainly not the case for forest dwellers in areas where these companies own land. They are no longer able to use the resources that form part of their traditional livelihoods. They have also been threatened with guns and harassed by SPVS park rangers who work closely with the ‘green police’ funded by the US corporations. In the Juma reserve, an offset project sponsored by the Marriot hotel and other corporate sponsors, forest dwellers receive US$25 per month, through the Bolsa Floresta programme, but it isn’t enough to feed their families and they are unable to plant crops anymore. Americans need to reduce their own emissions before putting Brazilian forests at risk.

Produced by Andres Cediel & co-produced by Daniela Broitman. 2010.


Related video:

i) The Money Tree: the human costs of carbon credits