Carbon credits: A rescue rope or a noose for Suriname’s Indigenous Peoples

“The government should not use the sale of carbon credits as a means to bridge the gap in Suriname’s budget deficit. It must be ensured that the revenues are used for sustainable environmental development, especially as the indigenous and Maroon peoples are now suffering greatly from the effects of climate change.” Words by Ruben Ravenberg, Secretary of the “A-marron Kompas foundation”, a Maroon organisation in Suriname.

Ravenberg stresses that it is the Industrial activities that cause severe damage to biodiversity. For example, he mentions the uncontrolled logging and illegal gold mining sector that destroyed the forest coverage in Suriname and the pollution of the natural water sources, on which Indigenous and Maroon Peoples depend for their daily livelihood. Ravenberg’s examples aren’t unsubstantiated, according to a 2023 report by the “World Wildlife Fund (WWF)”, Suriname’s forest cover is declining by 0.06% annually. According to the same report, Suriname has the highest percentage of deforestation due to mining-related activities in the world, at 28.5%.

The Surinamese government is currently working on selling carbon credits. During the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP), this is a key goal for Suriname. Ravenberg has no issue with the government’s plans. However, according to him, the Indigenous and Maroon peoples should be able to reap the benefits of the sale, especially because these communities have had little to no development for the past years compared to the coastal cities.  Ravenberg believes that a portion of the revenue from the sale of carbon credits part of the carbon credits revenue should be geared towards investment projects for the Indigenous and tribal peoples, especially in the fields of education and health care. Fields that have been systematically worsened due to the effects of climate change.

Josien Tokoe, chairman of the Organisation of Indigenous People in Suriname (OIS), goes a step further. She first explains how the dynamics between Indigenous People and the forest work.”It’s an interaction where we protect the forest and it protects us. The forest is our supermarket, it is our pharmacy, in short, it is the most important aspect for our daily livelihood,” explains Tokoe. 

Josien Tokoe, chair of OIS. Source: DNA

During a panel discussion on the second day of the climate conference, Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana, said that the country which trades credits on the voluntary market, has allocated 15% of its revenues for sustainable development projects in the various villages. It involves more than 500 projects in the field of eco-tourism, solar energy and climate adaptation. According to Ali, one of the pillars of Guyana’s “Low Carbon Development Strategy 2030” plan is that Indigenous communities should reap the benefits.

According to Tokoe, the OIS has sent a dozen legislative bills to parliament for consideration. In one of the bills, the organisation asks that 45% of the revenue from the sale of carbon credits go back to the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples who have been protecting the forests for decades. They also ask for the establishment of an advisory board, consisting of experts in the fields of climate finance, biodiversity, and indigenous rights, including indigenous representatives. 

Ravenberg also emphasises that it must be properly regulated by law that a certain part of the income be made available to Indigenous People and Maroons, for sustainable development of the target group.

Indy Johnstone, a member of Oxford University’s Net Zero delegation to the 28th COP, explains that the Paris Agreement does not impose any explicit obligations on countries in terms of benefit sharing. According to her, the current guidelines state that countries should report to the UNFCCC, on their progress in the field of sustainable development projects, including adequate benefit-sharing provisions. 

Marciano Dasai, Minister of Spatial Planning, the Environment (ROM), recognises the importance of a certain part of the revenues from carbon trading being used for the sustainable development of indigenous and tribal peoples. He explains that the Ministry is currently working on a beneficiary-sharing plan. The minister could not yet reveal what percentage will flow back to the Indigenous and Maroon Peoples but did indicate that the target group will be supported in their needs, especially in terms of adaptation to climate change.

Johnstone further elaborates on the operation of Articles 6.2 and 6.4. Of the Paris Agreement.

Article 6.2 regulates the trading of carbon credits between countries. Article 6.4, on the other hand, is more extensive and also offers the possibility of selling to external actors such as companies. According to Johnstone, both articles need additional preconditions to be operationalised. She explains that more progress has been made about article  6.2. Currently, Memorandums of Understanding are signed between certain countries pending the finalisation of technical additions to the text. Article 6.4, on the other hand, is a different story. 

“Because of the external actors such as countries involved, the issue is a lot more complex. I therefore do not expect that an agreement will be reached at this year’s climate conference to finalize 6.4,” she predicts. 

Minister Dasai explains that both countries as well as companies have already shown interest in buying credits from Suriname on the “compliance market”, i.e. under Article 6. However, the minister could not yet reveal which countries and companies are involved, because the process is still in a crucial phase, he says.

Indigenous and Maroon Peoples in Suriname do not yet possess land rights. 

Tokoe, states that this is yet another example where, Indigenous People, the custodians and protectors of the forest, are left out of important decision-making processes, which affect their daily livelihoods.

In this area,  Guyana is one step ahead. Guyana has already granted 14% of its territory as collective property to Indigenous communities.

Article 27 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been ratified by Suriname, states that the government must recognise Indigenous lands, territories and resources, including those that have traditionally been owned or otherwise inhabited.

In Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, however, there is no specific mention of land rights. The preamble text does state that countries must take into account the rights of Indigenous People when taking action to address climate change.

Big Wind Carpenter

Bigwind Carpenter, an Indigenous climate activist from the United States (US), therefore finds the text of the Paris Agreement problematic in its current form. This is why they advocate Article 6 of the agreement should include a phrase where Indigenous people have a reviewing mechanism regarding carbon credit trading.  This is to protect the rights of the group. They explained that for several years, during many climate conferences, there have been calls for the inclusion of such text in the Paris Agreement. However, according to them, the various negotiating blocs have never been able to reach an agreement on this.

Albert Ramdin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Business and International Cooperation (BIBIS) says that the sale of carbon credits is still possible, despite the land rights issue. According to him, this is because the state of Suriname is one and indivisible. 

“All natural resources are not for just one group, but for the whole nation.”

According to Ramdin, it is important to hold on to this fact. He emphasises that it is a sensitive issue, but believes that everyone should realize that natural resources are the property of the entire nation. The minister indicates that in regards to the land rights issue, this does need to be put into place. 


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Stefanie Lauchman

Stefanie Lauchman

Stefanie Lauchman is a passionate women’s rights activist & journalist who was born and raised in Suriname. She is also the communications manager for the Mulokot Foundation which focuses on ensuring the rights of the Wayana Indigenous People. Furthermore, she is the brand ambassador and educator at the Practitioner for Communication, Counseling and Coaching (PCCC), an organization which focuses on growth and personal development of girls and young women. As a journalist, she is specialized in climate matters, Indigenous livelihoods and women’s rights.
With climate change being one of the greatest threats to the human rights of especially vulnerable and underprivileged communities, Stefanie developed a keen interest in climate stories. A bubbly ambivert, she enjoys cooking, reading, and spending quality time with loved ones and has a deep love for music.

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