As Democracy Now! broadcasts from COP28 in Dubai, we look at how the United Arab Emirates is using its vast oil money to buy up the rights to land in many African countries in order to sell carbon credits to major polluters, a plan that critics characterize as a new form of colonialism. “After failing to mitigate at the source,” wealthy polluters now “want to, basically, buy, on the cheap, African land,” says Power Shift Africa’s Mohamed Adow about wealthy nations’ failure to deliver on climate finance and turn to a “land grab” on the African continent. “What they’re doing is actually commodifying nature,” says Adow, who describes carbon credits as an “imaginary concept” amounting to “permits to pollute.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We turn now to look at what’s being called the new “scramble for Africa.” The United Arab Emirates, where we are right now, is using its vast oil money to buy up the rights to land in many African countries in order to sell carbon credits to major polluters. Just over a year ago, in 2022, a member of the UAE royal family set up a private investment company called Blue Carbon to facilitate the deals. The company is negotiating to purchase the rights to about a tenth of Liberia’s land mass, a fifth of Zimbabwe’s, and swaths of Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania. The Guardian newspaper reports the deal involves land about the size of the United Kingdom. Blue Carbon would then sell carbon credits linked to forests preserved on this land. Many critics have likened the UAE’s plan to a new form of colonialism.
We’re joined now by Mohamed Adow, the director of the climate and energy think tank Power Shift Africa. In September, his group published a report titled “The Africa Carbon Markets Initiative: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.”
Mohamed, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
MOHAMED ADOW: Thank you so much for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what this Blue Carbon initiative is, buying up a tenth, a fifth of the land of these countries?
MOHAMED ADOW: So, what they’re doing, effectively, after failing to mitigate at the source, is buy what they call carbon credits, but, in fact, those are just permits to pollute. So, rather than actually containing emissions and cutting them at the source so that we can decarbonize and be able to help the world hold climate hitting to below 1.5 degrees, what they’re doing is buying large tracks of land in Africa so that they can have a pipeline of, you know, permits that gives them the right to continue to pollute at the source.
So, if you look at it, you know, the continent of Africa, with its 17% of the global population, accounts for less than 4% of the emissions. But we’re suffering first and worst the impact of climate change. And the rich world have promised Africa and other developing countries climate finance to help grow in a climate-compatible way. They’ve failed to deliver that finance. Now they want to basically buy on the cheap African land, so that they have a pipeline of carbon credits.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens to the people who live on those lands? Let’s say, let’s look at Liberia. They buy up a tenth of the land, the UAE, this private company.
MOHAMED ADOW: So, what they’re effectively doing is displacing Africans off their land so that they can actually be able to attain the right to continue to pollute. So —
AMY GOODMAN: Here, or wherever the company is that’s getting it.
MOHAMED ADOW: So, all these fossil fuel companies and the rich world have promised the world that they will help prevent dangerous interference with our climate system. What that requires is for them to actually cut emissions, massive cuts in emissions, so that we can be able to contain the rising emissions. So, they’re failing to do that. They’ve also failed to provide the climate finance that the developing world requires. Now, to add insult to the injury, they now want to forcefully displace our people off their land, so that they can actually be able to have a secure pipeline of permits to continue to pollute. So, this is —
AMY GOODMAN: Of the permits to pollute.
MOHAMED ADOW: That is what they are. So don’t buy this false idea that they’re buying carbon credits. There’s nothing called carbon credit. What they’re doing is actually commodifying nature and, in the process of commodifying nature, give people crumbs, so that they can actually continue to pollute. And so, the developing countries, who have been promised climate finance, that has not been delivered, are now being asked to again contribute to the climate actions that the world so much requires, but through a false and a dangerous distraction.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Mohamed Adow, presumably, the country has to agree to this. What does the Liberian government gain from this?
MOHAMED ADOW: So, this is a coalition between our political elites and the historic polluters. So, what they do is give crumbs to these countries so that they can be able to actually attain the right over that land in the name of a carbon credit. And what a carbon credit basically is is an imaginary commodity, a one ton of emission that is actually avoided or cut through a project in Africa, so that the companies in the rich world who continue to pollute can then offset their emissions by buying those permits. So it’s actually a dangerous distraction. What we need today in the world is to decarbonize, massive decarbonization. So, rather than actually massively decarbonizing —
AMY GOODMAN: And how do you decarbonize?
MOHAMED ADOW: So, the bottom line is you need to actually phase out fossil fuels. So, the reason UAE are buying these lands is so that they can offset their emissions and continue to sustain this false notion that we can continue to increase our emissions but buy on the cheap African land so that we can continue to sustain this false fossil economy.
AMY GOODMAN: Your organization is called Power Shift Africa. How do you shift the power? And are you alleging that with these different countries — we’ll put up the map; I mean, it’s not just Liberia, it’s Tanzania, it’s Kenya, it’s Zambia, it’s Zimbabwe — that government officials are on the take?
MOHAMED ADOW: Sixty years ago, African countries attained their independence. We were able to kick, you know, colonizers out of our land. What they’re doing now is basically introducing this new form of colonialism, where they basically grab our land, but with our permission, so that they can continue to emit. And Africa is on the frontline, suffering first and worst the impact of climate change. What African people require is for us to decarbonize the global economy. Just like the colonists have structured African societies and economies as a place where they will source cheap raw materials, now Africa has been turned to be the place where they will source cheap permits to continue to pollute.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue this discussion tomorrow with Nnimmo Bassey, another African leader in the fight to preserve the environment, he from Nigeria. Mohamed Adow, I want to thank you so much for being with us, director of the climate and energy think tank Power Shift Africa. We’ll link to the report, “The Africa Carbon Markets Initiative: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.”