MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — In villages scattered across the African continent, residents living in once heavily forested areas are beginning to find their land in high demand.
In Kenya’s Gazi Bay, arguably the continent’s most famous mangrove restoration project, thousands of trees have been planted through nearly a decade of concerted efforts to offset the carbon dioxide emitted by distant governments and businesses seeking to improve their climate credentials. The initiative was one of Africa’s first steps towards the carbon market, where greenhouse gas emission credits can be bought or sold.
Since then, dozens of similar programs have sprung up across the continent as African governments now seek to tap into this booming global industry. The continent is home to huge swaths of carbon-absorbing land, with forests covering an estimated 674 million hectares, or 22.7% of Africa, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Cuvette-Centrale peatlands at the bottom of the Congo Basin alone are capable of retaining up to 30 billion tonnes of carbon, or three years of global emissions.
Riparian mangrove forests, which are more efficient at sucking carbon from the air than their terrestrial counterparts, have swelled in places like Gazi. Community-based voluntary initiatives in Kenya, Mozambique and Côte d’Ivoire that are restoring thousands of hectares of forest are supported by major international carbon credit organizations such as Blue Forest and the World Resources Institute.
“The carbon market is changing everything,” said Vahid Fotuhi, founder of the Blue Forest initiative, at the African Climate Week conference in Gabon in early September. “Suddenly, trees are worth more alive than dead. By tapping into carbon markets, communities…can access carbon offset finance that helps them conserve their forests while improving their livelihoods. That’s of win-win.”
Although many of these carbon credit schemes are based in Africa, where emissions are much lower and the consequences of climate change greater than in many other parts of the world, the continent remains largely excluded from the carbon market.
Between 2002 and 2020, only 14% of all carbon credits issued came from Africa. In 2021, Gabon became the first African country to receive Central African Forest Initiative payments for reducing carbon emissions through forest protection, totaling $17 million so far. day.
Carbon markets can be voluntary or established by international policies, known as regulatory compliance. In voluntary systems, which are more advanced in Africa, companies wishing to generate carbon credits must engage independent third-party verifiers to confirm that the carbon emissions would have been released without the credit.
“Carbon offsets offer Africa the opportunity to harness the value of its natural assets,” said Jean-Paul Adam, head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s climate division.
But he added: “The relatively low cost of carbon and the limited capacity of African financial markets, however, remained barriers to this becoming a meaningful financing opportunity.”
A tradable carbon credit represents one ton of greenhouse gases, with prices typically hovering between $10 and $100 per ton of carbon dioxide, according to the United Nations development agency. The price of a ton of carbon is around $10 or less in Africa, but in Europe the carbon price is set at $80-90 per ton, with the United States pricing carbon at $140.
Africa is seeking to push for better and standardized carbon prices at the upcoming United Nations Conference of the Parties, known as COP27, scheduled for Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in November.
“It comes down to accounting,” Fotuhi said. “African governments need to diligently account for their natural carbon stocks as well as their greenhouse gas emissions” to enable them to get the most out of carbon offset programs, he said.
He added that if nations had more “clarity” around their targets for reducing their carbon emissions, they could have “a more dominant role in global carbon markets”. Countries must submit their emissions reduction plans to the UN under so-called Nationally Determined Contributions, which are non-binding and part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Most African governments are presenting plans to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, as many are already feeling the effects of climate change through drought, extreme heat and cyclones. The African Development Bank estimates that tackling climate change will require between $3.5 and $4 trillion by 2030 for countries to adapt and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
“Even if Africa sucks carbon from the atmosphere, which is a huge global benefit, we cannot afford to be part of the problem,” said Agnes Kalibata, chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
She added that increased climate finance for Africa through carbon credits would greatly help the continent to adapt, especially in the case of food and agricultural systems threatened by climate change.
Kalibata added that carbon markets can and should be “fairer”, especially to farmers “who are the stewards and managers of most of the world’s carbon stocks”.
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