‘Blood carbon’: why Indigenous peoples are paying the price for false solutions to the climate crisis

The solutions we seek to provide to the climate crisis must not and cannot be disconnected from social justice and human rights. Those who are most vulnerable to climate change, and who are also the least responsible for it, are equally threatened by the false solutions put forward which claim to address it.

This is particularly the case for Indigenous peoples. They largely depend on the natural environment for their survival, their health and their livelihoods, in ecosystems that are highly exposed to the effects of climate change. Many factors related to climate change – such as oil, gas, mining and deforestation – are also destroying Indigenous lands.

But it is important to note that the ‘solutions’ put forward by Western countries to deal with this crisis (which are often just a distraction) also constitute a danger for their lands and lives. For many Indigenous peoples, these ‘solutions’ represent the main threat Indigenous peoples face, and Survival International has been denouncing this for years.

Protected Areas like National Parks are at the forefront of these false solutions. Despite the terrible human rights violations committed in these areas, and the lack of strong evidence of their effectiveness, large conservation NGOs like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) continue to present Protected Areas as the solution to environmental problems.

Touted as the flagship solution in the fight against biodiversity loss, they are also increasingly presented as carbon sinks, and so helping in the fight against climate change. Included in the concept of ‘nature-based solutions’, they would make it possible to offset greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change by generating carbon credits.

However, many people are unaware that these Protected Areas, particularly in Africa and Asia, are characterised by militarised violence, and are where atrocities are committed against Indigenous peoples.

They are expelled from their land and lose access to everything on which their lives depend, and they face, if they try to return, violence from security forces – extending even to torture, rape and murder.
This fortress conservation model, which has its roots in racism and colonialism, is based on the idea that Indigenous peoples are not capable of managing their own lands. It is still supported today by many Western governments (such as France and Germany) and by large international conservation NGOs (such as WWF and WCS).

The sale of ‘carbon credits’ (or ‘emission rights’) resulting from these spaces of exclusion and violence is disastrous.

First of all, it’s what we’re calling ‘blood carbon’. The carbon credits generated in this context are based on preventing – including through violence – Indigenous peoples from accessing their lands to continue to live, feed themselves, heal themselves, etc; in short, to be able to carry out all the activities that are the basis of their way of life. The profits made from the sale of these credits then go largely to the companies that organise these transactions, and to the organisations that manage these Protected Areas, which risks financing ever more human rights violations.

On top of that, broadly speaking, carbon credits do not work. Most nature-based carbon offset programs are scams and do little, if anything, to prevent carbon emissions, or store additional carbon. A recent study, carried out by journalists and researchers, shows that 90 per cent of carbon credits from tropical forests validated by the certifier Verra are “worthless”.

Finally, these mechanisms distract from the real causes of the climate crisis (the very activities that generate carbon emissions) and allow the most polluting companies to continue to release carbon into the atmosphere while whitewashing their image by purchasing these credits.

Kenya: pastoral way of life sacrificed to promote carbon capture

The example of ‘community conservancies’ in Kenya is telling. These Protected Areas, grouped under the control of the conservation organisation Northern Rangelands Trust, were created in line with the fortress conservation model, although their name does not imply it. Testimonies from Indigenous representatives indicate corruption, intimidation and violence during their creation, as well as forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions committed by the militarised security units deployed by the NRT (supposedly to combat poaching).

But the NRT didn’t stop there. It launched a project in some conservancies to generate carbon credits.

Survival International’s investigation (detailed in a recent report) showed that the project is deeply flawed and highly unlikely to permanently store significant amounts of additional carbon. Following Survival’s investigation and advocacy, Verra has suspended the sale of carbon credits linked to the project and is currently reviewing it.

Worse still, this project was carried out without the consent and at the expense of the communities concerned. These arid territories of northern Kenya are the ancestral lands of pastoralist Indigenous peoples such as the Borana, Samburu and Rendille. The project, based on the false and racist idea that Indigenous peoples do not know how to manage their own lands and therefore are destroying the environment, then claims to prevent ‘overgrazing’, to allow the absorption of more carbon in the soil.

It is based on the destruction of the traditional systems of pastoralism of Indigenous peoples – even though they are sustainable – and aims to replace them with a centralised system. Indigenous people then lose their livelihoods, while the project is able to generate carbon credits that will not solve the climate crisis.

Carbon credits are then sold for millions of euros to companies like Meta or Netflix, which can then display their ‘carbon neutrality’ and their environmental commitments on their websites, while not changing their polluting activities in the slightest.

These practices, which are based on the commodification of nature, destroy the lives of the best guardians of the environment and allow those responsible for climate change to continue to pollute. These are ‘solutions’ in name only.

Respecting the land rights of Indigenous peoples must be at the heart of environmental and climate policies.

Survival is at the forefront of the fight against false solutions to climate change that violate the rights of Indigenous peoples – whether it’s because of blood carbon, militarised Protected Areas or nickel mining for batteries to be used in electric cars, which right now is threatening the survival of an uncontacted tribe in Indonesia.

Without justice, and without addressing the root causes of environmental and climate destruction, these disastrous ‘solutions’ will remain nothing but hot air.

This article has been translated from French.

Find out more:
- A guide to decolonising the language of conservation
- The book Decolonize Conservation: global voices for Indigenous self-determination, land, and a world in common, edited by Ashley Dawson, Fiore Longo, and Survival International.