Tribal carbon

28 April 2015

Hear all about SBN member Ekos, a new, not-for-profit carbon credit supplier supporting native rainforests owned by indigenous peoples, both globally and in New Zealand.

Founder of not-for-profit carbon credit supplier Ekos, Sean Weaver has more than 25 years’ experience in forest conservation finance and is an expert in payment for ecosystem services. Working with indigenous groups around the world, Sean became aware of the problems they face, and the pressure for many to sell up tribal forests to logging companies with suitcases full of money.  

“Indigenous people have an interest in protecting their forests, but they also know they can’t do it for nothing. Often they have social and economic needs and aspirations, and they can’t just hold their breath for ever. So Ekos has got to compete with foreign logging companies. And it’s a real race,” says Sean.

Essentially, Ekos carbon projects are a win-win for landowners, consumers and the planet, says Sean. “In exchange for extinguishing rights to timber revenue, landowners gain the opportunity to sell carbon credits instead of timber.”

He started building the supply chain for his carbon offset projects in 2008, investing time into relationship building and working with partner organisations in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where the Ekos’ carbon credit, rainforest-protection schemes are located.

Ekos has also built on Sean’s solid relationships with Maori landowners in the South Island under its Rarakau project which protects 738 hectares of native forests.  This allows Maori landowning groups, who were given forested lands in return for land that was confiscated during the 19th century, to protect stunning coastal silver beech and podocarp rainforests, while being paid for the lost opportunity cost of logging.

Harold Thomas, chairperson of the Rowallan Alton Māori Incorporation, that administers the Rarakau project, says that continuing to log their native forest was not ideal, but they pay rates on this forest and needed to consider revenue options. The Incorporation decided to work with Ekos and provide New Zealand’s first rainforest carbon offsets. The forest is now protected under a covenant which extends for 50 years; however Harold says it is unlikely the covenant will ever be terminated. “I think that the principle of trying to preserve the land will continue. But we have land management costs that we need to meet. This project gives us an opportunity to protect our rainforest but also generate revenue from the same land.”

Sean emphasises that Ekos is underpinned by strong environmental standards based on the world-leading Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), with Ekos rainforest protection projects certified to the Plan Vivo and ISO14064-2 standards. This includes transparent participatory processes and free and prior informed consent from landowners.

So how does it actually work? First, the annual carbon emissions that the land would emit if logged are calculated based on logging plans. This figure is then used to calculate and certify annual carbon credit production under the international voluntary carbon market. Then businesses, schools, households, frequent fliers and individuals wanting to offset their carbon impact can calculate their carbon footprint using Ekos’ carbon calculator (developed by SBN member Catalyst). You can opt to offset single flights, or submit an itinerary for offsetting under the Ekos ‘Conscious Flier’ package, offset a portion of your emissions with the Ekos ‘Carbon Offset’ certification, or offset more than your total annual emissions through an Ekos ‘Carbon Positive’ certification.

Ekos issues carbon credits annually, with the credits accounting for carbon benefits produced in a particular year at a particular site. Because Ekos is a charity, says Sean, it also has a lower price point than others in the industry. “We’re significantly cheaper than our competitors, and yet we’ve got “top shelf” high quality credits from community-based Fair trade-styled rainforest carbon projects from our own supply chain.” Ekos is also the only New Zealand carbon credit supplier with an entirely rainforest-based supply chain.