Call it a case of fact following fiction.
Moviegoers may remember that the plot of the latest James Bond film, Quantum
of Solace, pivoted on a scheme by a global crime cartel to use a fake
eco-organization as a front for buying up the world’s precious resources and
then re-selling them at exorbitant prices. Just a case of Hollywood
storytelling, you say?
Well, in a similar real life case, Reuters reports that officials at
Interpol, the world’s largest international police agency, are warning that
organized crime syndicates may be eyeing carbon offsets as a way to commit
fraud and smuggle illegally cut forest products.
Government negotiators seeking to create an international agreement to
replace the Kyoto Protocol have proposed a plan known as Reduced Emissions
from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Each year, about 20 percent of
global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation — an amount
roughly equivalent to the emissions of the US or China. Preserving forest
ecosystems will help absorb all the carbon emitted by industry.
Under REDD, heavily forested countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, or Congo
could place a monetary value on the amount of carbon they save by not
cutting down their trees. They could sell those carbon credits to big
polluters looking to offset their emissions.
Environmental organizations have cautioned that turning trees into carbon
credits won’t really reduce industrial emissions, and that it could hinder
the overall effort to address climate change by devaluing the cost of
polluting. “You’d have rich countries basically paying the poorer countries
in the world to reduce emissions for them,” Greenpeace climate campaigner
Paul Wynn told AFP recently.
Friends of the Earth warns in a recent report that “the simple fact that
forests are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity means that they are
more likely to be wrested away from local people.”
Wrested away, for example, by Mafioso strongmen. Peter Younger, an
environmental crimes specialist at Interpol, says that with any valuable
commodity, there comes a chance for fraud.
“If you are going to trade any commodity on the open market, you are
creating a profit and loss situation,” Younger told Reuters. “There will be
fraudulent trading of carbon credits.”
Younger says that the fraud could consist of claiming credits for forests
that do not exist or were taken in land grabs. “Absolutely, organized crime
we will involved,” he says. “It starts with bribery or intimidation of
officials that can impede your business. If there are Indigenous people
involved, there’s threats and violence against those people. There’s forged
According to Interpol’s Younger, organized crime groups are already using
the networks they set up for smuggling children, women, drugs, and firearms
for the illegal trade of forest products and wildlife. There is also
evidence that revenue from wood smuggling has funded armed conflicts.
Dealing with the situation will take more than your typical public interest
group lobbying, letter-writing, and protest tactics. “You say you want to
strike up partnerships to address illegal logging — who with?” Young
wonders. “Consider law enforcement efforts and not just relying on NGOs and
other nice people to do it for you.”