Open Letter to German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development regarding the GIZ project „Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation“ (BCBU)

Please click here to read the full letter with references and with the details of the 40 signatory organisations as well as scientists

Open Letter to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dr Gerd Müller, regarding the GIZ project „Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation“ (BCBU)

Copied to:

+ Federal Minister for Environment, Nature and Nuclear Safety, Ms Svenja Schulze

+ Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Mr Peter Altmaier

18th February 2021

Adverse climate impacts, job destruction, alternative facts and a neo-colonial paradigm supported with German development funds? This is not acceptable!

Dear Dr Müller,                                                    

The signatories to this letter – environmental and development organisations, climate justice activists and scientists –  are deeply concerned about the project “Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation” (BCBU) which the German Development Agency (GIZ) is carrying out in Namibia on behalf of your Ministry.

The majority of recent scientific studies show that the increase of woody plant cover in semi-arid savannah landscapes is associated with carbon sequestration.

The BCBU-project, which is being funded with around ten million Euros during its current phase, promotes the industrial-scale removal of woody plants, Namibia’s largest carbon sink, across an area of around 30 million hectares, an area the size of Italy. Furthermore, there are strong indications that the project could be ecologically damaging. For example, a Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment commissioned by GIZ and the Namibian Government warns of significant environmental risks. Finally, negative impacts on employment as well as an exacerbation of social inequality can be expected. The project could thus become a classic case of a development causing social and ecological harm.

The apparent aims of the BCBU project are the intensification of cattle ranching and the development of a ‘big biomass business’. Since 2019-20, a bushwood export strategy has been promoted with those two goals. Bushwood is to be burned as fuel in converted coal plants, such as in the Tiefstack plant located in Hamburg. Due to a legal carbon accounting ‘trick’, energy from burning bushwood would be lawfully classified as CO2-neutral.

The large-scale export of bushwood to Europe would be designed in such a way that German power and heat plant operators, manufacturers of agricultural and forestry machinery, and venture capitalists would profit from the scheme, whereas all of the risks arising from the project would be carried by Namibian actors. German companies could open up new markets, [7] whereas within Namibia, the economic benefits from the production of woodchips and/or pellets from bushwood would be minimal. Development cooperation with Namibia based on the production of desired raw materials and potential profit margins for ‘green’ capital fits into the negative historical tradition of neo-colonialism.

Principles of development cooperation such as ownership or accountability are not being followed.

After it became apparent that the GIZ representatives responsible in Namibia were not properly engaging with criticism, more than 20 organisations and individuals signed a joint statement warning about the extremely problematic developments linked to this project.

Subsequently, in November 2020, Hamburger Energietisch (HET) sent a letter to Mrs Tanja Gönner, Chair of the Board of GIZ, asking for a response and for changes to the project. The brief response issued by GIZ did not address the problems identified and displayed an unacceptable and institutional lack of awareness of what the problems were, as well as a lack of seriousness when addressing fact-based critique. With regards to the substantiated criticism of a crucial study about climate impacts by UNIQUE, commissioned by GIZ, the response to the letter said “GIZ cannot find any flaws”, even though the author of the UNIQUE study had admitted flaws in the study.

The recent publication of another feasibility study by the Institute for Applied Material Flow Management, based at the IfaS institute at the University of Trier, adds to the problems with the direction of this development project. That report lists very few scientific references and contains false information (e.g., claiming that legislation is in place to end lignite burning as early as 2022). Moreover, it contains a completely unacceptable statement in relation to Germany’s postcolonial responsibilities, claiming that Biomass Industry Parks offer a chance to “heal the damages related to historical events” (p.28).

Glorifying a project driven by economic interests as a form of compensation whitewashes the genocide and conveys an ahistorical understanding of the principles of justice.

The signatories of this letter vehemently reject the GIZ project “Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation” (BCBU) in its current form because…

  • it does not meet scientific standards;
  • its realisation would have an adverse impact on the climate;
  • it involves claims which whitewash Germany’s historic responsibilities;
  • it would deepen the continued unequal (neo)colonial relationship between Germany and Namibia;
  • it carries a high risk of economic, social and ecological harm within Namibia.

The export of bushwood would contribute nothing to climate change mitigation, nor would it contribute to reparations for Germany’s colonial crimes. Instead, it would deepen climate injustice.

GIZ is acting in your name in Namibia. We therefore call on you to:

  • arrange for an in-depth investigation of the GIZ BCBU project in relation to the aims agreed with BMZ, which are climate change mitigation, improved living conditions and employment opportunities for rural communities as well as better protection for natural resources and biodiversity. In this context, it will be particularly important to establish to what extent there were contraventions of standards for good practice, such as scientific scrutiny, a strategy for minimising project risks, and the no-harm principle that applies to German development cooperation;
  • to address the fact that the project’s structure replicates the (neo)colonial relationship between Germany and Namibia and to explore how the problematic understanding of history expressed as part of the BCBU project could have come about;
  • to recognise that, as confirmed by credible scientific studies, the use of biomass imported from the global South for energy generation risks exacerbating the global climate and biodiversity crises, and thus cannot contribute to a sustainable energy transition in Europe.[12] German development finance must not contribute to measures which worsen the climate and biodiversity crises;
  • to immediately withdraw the highly misleading studies commissioned from UNIQUE (Seebauer, 2020) and IfaS (Professor Peter Heck, 2020).

Further details of our critique can be found below. We would be very happy to discuss our critique of the project with you.

We hope that you will respond to our critique and to the demands contained in this letter by 4th March 2021so that we can take your perspective into account when planning further work on this issue.

With concern,