Disney Carbon Deal Follows Past Emissions Credit Failure

A $2.6 million deal by The Walt Disney Company to preserve nearly 300,000 hectares of eastern Cambodian forest through the purchase of carbon credits will need to overcome past failures to succeed, critics said on Monday.

The carbon trade aims to counter 365,000 tons of emissions by the entertainment giant by preserving the 292,690-hectare Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary through 2019, according to a news release from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which facilitated the swap.

Rosewood loggers, several of whom are dressed in Cambodian military and police uniforms, are seen in 2011 in Oddar Meanchey province.

Government officials and the WCS have hailed the deal as a breakthrough in safeguarding the Mondolkiri province sanctuary’s more than 60 threatened species by providing incentives to local residents to preserve the forest, giving them land titles and increasing policing.

“Almost all the revenue will go to forest protection and community development,” WCS country director Ross Sinclair said in an email. “It will significantly contribute to reducing illegal logging and poaching through supporting and involving local communities.”

Choup Paris, deputy secretary-general of the Environment Ministry’s National Council for Sustainable Development, said the money would go “directly to the community.”

“We will discuss with the people exactly what they need,” he said.

Critics warn, however, that Cambodia’s first carbon trading initiative—known as REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation—failed to stem deforestation in Oddar Meanchey province. The 2007 deal between the government and NGO Pact to preserve 8,000 hectares of forest was created with similar forest protection goals.

However, planners failed to land any investors, and villagers appeared to have abandoned the project amid deforestation by illegal loggers.

Tim Frewer, who has extensively researched the program as a postgraduate student at the University of Sydney, wrote in an email on Monday that many people in Oddar Meanchey have yet to see “any form of monetary benefit and instead have seen their land progressively lost to soldiers and land brokers.”

Many of the villagers Mr. Frewer interviewed never received the program’s promised payments for forest patrols or land titles. Half of those surveyed had lost their land to a company, soldiers or local officials, he said.

“The big risk is that, like Oddar Meanchey, once core funding runs out, communities will be left on their own to deal with the complexities of overlapping claims to forests and land,” Mr. Frewer said.

Loek Sreyneang, a project official at the Cambodia Indigenous People Organization, said she did not trust the government to pass along any money from the Disney deal to local Bunong people who rely on the forest. Yet she held out hope, adding on Monday, “If the money will go to the indigenous organizations, it will be very good because we work directly with the people.”

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