How environmentally conscious are Ugandans

Climate protection as big business

Doubtful climate protection projects can cause more damage than good. An example from the East African Uganda.

The bush in north-western Uganda is a turmoil. The red gravel road to the north cuts through an almost impenetrable thicket of mango, casava and banana trees, interrupted by marshland and grassland, where antelopes, monkeys, buffalo and rabbits run away in fright, tons of birds screech and millions of insects buzz. Along the street, people transport their goods and belongings for miles on their heads, under their arms or on rusty bicycles.

Then, a good 170 kilometers from the capital Kampala, it suddenly becomes almost surreal. The bush landscape disappears. As far as the eye can see pines stand in a row. You almost think you are in Brandenburg: naked trunks that reveal a view deep into the "forest", a little grass curls on the ground. The people have disappeared, as have the screeching birds and monkeys. Here and there a branch cracks in the silence - welcome to the Kikonda Forest.

Voluntary emissions trading

Every citizen who flies, refueled his car or heats his house, can wash his vest white with a few clicks on the net - climate neutrality can be bought with CO2 certificates. Even the United Nations now want to introduce a mandatory emissions trading scheme for industrial plants for everyone and set up the United Nations Climate Credit Store for this purpose. Even companies that are not covered by emissions trading can voluntarily offset their emissions and thus become “CO2-neutral” or sell products labeled as CO2-neutral. Companies, public institutions and private individuals paid 4.5 billion US dollars for this voluntary compensation in 2014 - the “carbon market” is growing every year.
The voluntary market exists alongside mandatory emissions trading. With this, energy companies or industrial companies have to present certificates for every ton of their CO2 emissions. A large part of these papers is given free of charge by the states to the participants in emissions trading. Anyone who exceeds the amount stipulated by law per year has to buy CO2 certificates. Some of these can come from climate protection projects in developing countries that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For the amount saved, there are tradable credits that companies can buy in Europe, for example. The process is called the “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM). The CDM projects in developing countries include energy efficiency measures, the use of renewable energies and reforestation projects. For the latter, a forest plan is first drawn up in which it is calculated how much carbon dioxide is bound by the trees within 60 years. There is a certificate for each ton of CO2, and this is done immediately after the trees have been planted - regardless of whether the forest company lets them grow or "harvests" the wood later. According to the Gold Standard Foundation, only 20 percent of the certificates are withheld in the event that the forest burns down or too much wood is removed. According to the Gold Standard Foundation, the forest projects have to prove that they are additional - that is, the amount of CO2 would get into the atmosphere without this project. The projects are assessed by external auditors. nd

A good six million trees belong to the plantation of the former FDP politician Manfred Vohrer. Here in 2002, with the support of the Federal Development Ministry (BMZ), he began to reforest pines on 12,000 hectares of former bushland. Vohrer's company Global Woods International AG wants to prove that climate protection and business can go hand in hand. His friends affectionately refer to the 74-year-old as a "colorful dog" in the FDP. In contrast to his party colleagues, the former member of the Bundestag always believed that the market and environmental protection go hand in hand. That green, socially acceptable growth is possible should be proven in Uganda. It paid off for Vohrer, but less so for people and the environment.

Moses, David, Geofrey and Lawrence have lived with this ever-growing pine "forest" for over 20 years. The cattle herders do not know what climate protection means and why the "rich German man" is planting trees here. They just know that the forest is dangerous to them, their herds of animals and their existence. Despite their land titles, they have been expropriated and evicted for years. "Our animals are not allowed to graze in the forest, and if they accidentally run into it, the security personnel will scare them away in all directions," says Geofrey, a narrow cowherd who pokes thoughtfully in the grass with his long stick. "Sometimes the animals come out of the forest and are blind." The other herdsmen nod. The number of abortions among animals also increased. Herbicides, which are mainly sprayed on young trees, are to blame.

Herbicides in the forest? Global Woods confirms that this is common in wood plantations. But plant toxins are not the only problem for herdsmen and smallholders. Much more threatening is that the "forest" is constantly expanding. To this end, the shepherds' scrub is being systematically cut down and destroyed. Their catchment area is getting smaller and smaller, their opportunities to plant vegetables are shrinking steadily - a question of survival: tree versus food. Although many of the herdsmen claim they own land titles from the 1940s, their rights are largely ignored by Global Woods and the national forestry agency. The aggressive security personnel ensure order in the forest.

The friends Moses, David, Geofrey and Lawrence do not know Mr. Vohrer personally. And they don't know where Alsace is either. The former politician retired. You only know the security manager of the plantation, who is called "Ruc": "Stand still," he calls out in English, wants to call the police and reports of a "terrorist threat". It is not even clear whether all the land claimed by Global Woods also belongs to the company.

Cattle herder Lawrence leads visitors to his house in spite of "Ruc". On a small, fenced-in plot of land between palm trees and areas "cleared" by the company stands a small grass-covered hut, next to the charred ruins of his former house. An employee of Global Woods simply burned it down two years ago. Lawrence's wife and two children were beaten to hospital maturity by the security man. He's been waiting for redress ever since.

Global Woods states that talks on this are still ongoing. After all, according to forest manager Matthias Baldus, the employee was "dismissed immediately". The young German forester has been working for Global Woods for ten years.

In Germany, Kikonda is presented as an ecological showcase project. When the Karlsruhe Climate Protection Fund, Stadtwerke Hamm or other companies advertise Vohrer's forest project, the reader first thinks: What can be wrong with reforesting forests in Africa and doing something for the climate with it?

Originally, Global Woods didn't just want to earn money with the wood, but above all with the sale of CO2 certificates. Environmentally conscious companies in Germany can use the »Carbon Credits« to create a green image. In the Global Woods case, that worked in part. According to the project documentation, the trees that Vohrer had planted in Uganda save around two million tons of carbon dioxide in 60 years. The plantation owner receives certificates as soon as the trees are planted and can sell them - even if wood is removed later. If the forest burns down in the 60 years, the certificates are long gone. At some point the company wants to sell the wood on the local or even international market. Forest is a business.

So that the farmers also get some of the profit, the company offered the villagers the opportunity to plant trees themselves. A treacherous offer: "People would have to wait 20 years to get money once - if they really get it," explains environmental and human rights activist David Kureeba from Friends of the Earth Uganda. “Until then, the tree will bring us nothing: no fruit, no money, no help. He just stands there and takes up space. «Kureeba has supported the communities in the fight for their land for years. "Global Woods is not an isolated case, the displacement of the local population is a system in our country," explains the activist. Due to further plantation projects in the northwest and oil drilling near the district capital Hoima, which is 25 kilometers away, thousands have had to leave their homes in recent years. "The wood and the land on which it grows are just other resources that they steal - first they took the mineral resources and now they take the renewable raw materials," says Kureeba bitterly. The 43-year-old considers trading in CO2 certificates to be »modern colonialism« in the rich industrialized countries: »The people here have never contributed to climate change, why doesn't Europe save CO2 itself?"

Not only farmers and environmentalists view such projects with skepticism. »Tree plantations are usually very simplified and homogeneous systems. Many planted tree species such as pine or eucalyptus cause sustainable soil changes, «explains forest scientist Pierre Ibisch from the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development. Soil acidification can often be observed. In addition, the pine is not a native tree species in Uganda. According to Ibisch, the number of animals living in a plantation differs from a normal forest "considerably to totally".

The owner in distant Alsace does not want to know anything about such problems. Many members of his family are committed to "sustainable development," says Manfred Vohrer in writing. The project was certified with the "gold standard". When asked, the renowned Gold Standard Foundation explains that they recently became aware of irregularities “by chance” and are now checking. However, the person responsible for the forest at the Foundation is Manfred Vohrer's son - a complete explanation is at least questionable. The foundation co-founded in 2003 by the environmental organization WWF denies a connection between the successful certification of the project and the employment of Moritz Vohrer. TÜV Süd acted as the external expert for this project.

The herdsmen, on the other hand, are on their own. No lawyer defends their rights in court, the government is an investor. But if you ask the shepherds if they would work for Global Woods if they were offered a job, they give a shameful nod. Without their land, they cannot provide for their families or sell vegetables in the market. Every wage is right for them. No matter who pays it.

This report was supported by the Research Network and the Olin Foundation.

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