The Peruvian Amazon could become the global centre of 'carbon piracy' a report warns. Photograph: Ricardo Beliel/Alamy
The Peruvian Amazon is the new global centre of "carbon piracy", as banks, conservationists and entrepreneurs rush to snap up the legal rights to trade carbon, according to a report published today at the UN climate talks in Durban.
More than 35 major projects covering around 7m hectares of Peruvian rainforest have been set up to profit from the global voluntary carbon offset market and a proposed UN forestry scheme, say the report's authors, Peruvian group Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP).
A UN scheme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd) allows countries that can reduce emissions from deforestation to be paid for doing so.
World leaders hope to conclude Redd negotiations at Durban next week, potentially opening up a vast new global carbon market for forest-rich countries.
But in a report that suggests that developing countries are not ready for Redd and communities are being pressured to sign agreements against their interests, indigenous leaders say companies, NGOs and individuals are are abusing illiterate communities and are only consulting people after projects have started.
The rush to sign up communities for carbon offsetting has so far been mainly seen in Papua New Guinea, Africa and Indonesia. But Peruvian indigenous leader say the rush in the Amazon has been like a "new fever", comparable to earlier attempts by international companies to find oil and grow rubber in the Amazon.
"NGOs, carbon consultants and investors are roaming the jungle in search of communities with carbon offsetting potential. In one case this even involved an effort to convince communities to sign away their rights to carbon in a contract with no defined end point," said Alberto Pizango Chota, the head of AIDESEP.
"Several of these deals are being conducted using strict confidentiality clauses and with no independent oversight or legal support for vulnerable communities. Some of these peoples are not yet fully literate in Spanish but are being asked to sign complex legal agreements in English," he said.
"At a local level many projects are shrouded in mystery. Information is guarded secretively by project developers, especially from indigenous organisations," says the report.
Of the 35 known projects, at least 11 are planned in officially recognised indigenous lands, but millions more hectares of tribal land that has not been recognised by governments could be the target of "a potential mass land grab" and conflict, says the report.
"In Loreto province alone there are hundreds of requests for environmental concessions by NGOs and private investors while thousands of hectares of indigenous territory applications remain unresolved."
Several British-based companies are said to be linked to offset deals, says the report. WWF and Cool Earth are seen by the authors as representing the more acceptable face of the rush, but others "involve long-term commercial contracts with communities whose terms are extremely favourable to external commercial interests and NGOs," says the report.
"The companies, NGOs and brokers are breeding, desperate for that magic thing, the signature of the village chief on the piece of paper about carbon credits, something that the community doesn't understand well but in doing so the middle-man hopes to earn huge profits on the back of our forests and our ways of life but providing few benefits for communities," said Chota.
People quoted in the report fear that carbon-offsetting and Redd might even be more dangerous to the communities depending on the forest than oil and gas exploration or logging because it will affect the whole Amazon.
"In the communities almost nobody knows what Redd is and there is a risk that the NGOs and the companies will arrive in the communities to cheat and enslave us. Many communities do not know their rights or the laws and are tricked. This is what happens with loggers," said one community leader .