By: Christoph Kubitza
In the wake of global climate action, large-scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) for renewable energy and carbon offset projects will increase the pressure on land. In addition, deforestation-free value chains that are also intended to reduce carbon emissions will require changes in the conduct of LSLAs. We assessed the scope of these investments and policies and reviewed their livelihood and environmental impacts in the Global South during our session at this year's IOS-Fair Transitions-LANDac International Conference, which took place from 28-30 June.
Business as usual? The role of large-scale land acquisition in carbon offset projects and deforestation-free supply chains
Dr Markus Giger (University of Bern)
“We plan to pay more attention to large-scale land acquisition related to global climate action, going beyond large-scale land acquisition for agricultural purposes, which has been the Land Matrix Initiative’s focus to date.”
Although data suggests that LSLAs for agricultural production have slowed down in the recent years, LSLAs in general could accelerate again in the future in the context of global climate action. The Land Matrix Initiative (LMI) plans to collect data on solar/wind power plants and carbon offset projects with three specific aims. First, since climate action, food security, and land issues cannot be discussed in silos, the initiative aims to contribute to a dialogue between different stakeholders, including affected communities. Second, it will harness lessons learned from addressing the adverse effects of the global land rush, with specific reference to international frameworks. Lastly, it will contribute to better data to evaluate the effects of land-intensive climate mitigation measures on local communities.
The Land Gap: Overreliance on land in national climate pledges
Dr Kate Dooley (University of Melbourne)
“More than half of the total 1.2 billion ha pledged for carbon removal by governments involve reforestation, putting potential pressure on indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ land rights.”
The LandGap estimates that almost 1.2 billion ha of land are required to meet the projected biological carbon removal in national climate pledges and commitments. More than half of the total 1.2 billion ha pledged for carbon removal involves reforestation, putting potential pressure on indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ land rights. The unlikely large land demand is driven by pledges of a few countries, including, for example, India. While the numbers are daunting, the methodology is being updated as well as the data to improve accuracy and keep track of new developments.
Trade-offs between climate mitigation and local development: Case studies of carbon offset projects in Laos
Daniel Geissel (German Institute for Global and Area Studies)
“Carbon offsetting projects through biological capture suffer from similar problems as LSLAs for agriculture. More scrutiny and attention should be applied to the impacts on the ground.”
Carbon offsetting is crucial to reach net-zero emission goals, and biological carbon removal in the Global South will play a key role. While the LandGap report highlights the potential threat, a case study in Laos exemplifies the already emerging impacts on the ground, showing that land conflicts arise even in comparatively well-designed and closely monitored carbon-offset projects. This included strife within communities due to envy for inclusion in the project, and conversely regret of being included. However, the conflict also resulted in the destruction of almost a quarter of the whole area of one project, which puts into question the narrative of carbon offsetting itself. The case study concludes that carbon offsetting projects through biological capture suffer from similar problems as LSLAs for agriculture. It is thus crucial that more scrutiny and attention is applied to the impacts on the ground.
Can international initiatives for sustainable supply chains effectively protect tropical peatlands? Evidence from the Indonesian palm oil sector
Dr Christoph Kubitza (German Institute for Global and Area Studies)
“Zero-deforestation policies from selected companies or import countries can reduce environmental degradation in export countries, but policymakers must take into account the limited scope of these policies.”
This study analysed if environmental impacts of international companies/investments from high-income countries (HIC) differ compared to companies/investments low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), particularly in light of emergent sustainability governance in global agricultural supply chains. To test this hypothesis, the study compared the deforestation of peatlands in Indonesia's palm oil sector between concessions owned by HIC companies with those by LMIC companies. The results show that oil palm concessions in the research region overlap to a considerable extent with peatlands (~250.000 ha) and have contributed to significant peatland degradation. However, the patterns are not the same across investors; concessions connected to HIC show lower peatland deforestation compared to LMIC investments. Nevertheless, HIC investments play only a small role in the region as the palm oil sector is also strongly tied to companies from Indonesia and Malaysia (0.37 m ha vs 3.38 m. ha). This demonstrates that environmental benefits could remain limited to a small part of the sector.