MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) – In villages across the African continent, residents living in once forested regions are starting to find their much sought-after land.
In Kenya’s Gazi Bay, arguably the continent’s most famous mangrove restoration project, thousands of trees have been planted thanks to nearly a decade of concerted efforts to offset the carbon dioxide released by distant governments and companies seeking to improve own climate credentials. The initiative was one of Africa’s first steps into the carbon market, where it is possible to buy or sell credits to emit greenhouse gases.
Since then, dozens of similar schemes have sprung up across the continent, with African governments now seeking to take advantage of this expanding global industry. The continent is home to huge expanses of carbon-absorbing land, with forests covering approximately 674 million hectares, or 22.7 percent of Africa, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Cuvette-Centrale peatlands deep in the Congo Basin alone are capable of holding up to 30 billion tons of carbon, or three years of global emissions.
Mangrove forests along the water, which are more effective at sucking carbon from the air than their terrestrial counterparts, have grown in places like Gazi. Community-led volunteer initiatives in Kenya, Mozambique and Cote d’Ivoire that restore thousands of hectares of forest are supported by large 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 Africa 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 funding that helps them preserve their forests while improving livelihoods. It’s a win for all”.
Although many of these carbon credit schemes are based in Africa, where emissions are much lower and the consequences of climate change far 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 payments from the Central African Forest Initiative for reducing carbon emissions through forest protection, totaling $ 17 million so far.
Carbon markets can be voluntary or established by international policies, known as regulatory compliance. In the voluntary schemes, which are more advanced in Africa, companies wishing to generate carbon credits have to hire independent third-party verifiers to confirm that carbon emissions would have been released were it not for the credit.
“Carbon offsets offer Africa the opportunity to harness the value of its natural resources,” said Jean-Paul Adam, head of the climate division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
But he added: “The relatively low cost of carbon and limited capacity in African financial markets, however, remained obstacles for this to become a meaningful financing opportunity.”
A tradable carbon credit represents a ton of greenhouse gases, with prices typically ranging between $ 10 and $ 100 per ton of carbon dioxide, according to the United Nations development agency. The price for a ton of carbon is around $ 10 or less in Africa, but in Europe the price of carbon is set between $ 80 and $ 90 per ton, with the price of carbon in the United States at $ 140.
Africa is trying to push for better, standardized carbon prices at the upcoming UN conference of the parties, known as COP27, scheduled to take place in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in November.
“It comes down to accounting,” Fotuhi said. “African governments must diligently account for their nature-based carbon stocks and their greenhouse gas emissions” to enable them to make the best use of carbon offsetting schemes, she said.
He added that if nations had more “clarity” about their goals to reduce their carbon emissions they would be able to have “a more dominant role in global carbon markets.” Countries must submit their emission reduction plans to the United Nations in what are known as nationally determined contributions, which are non-binding and are part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Most African governments are outlining 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 though Africa is sucking carbon from the atmosphere, which is a huge global advantage, we cannot afford to be part of the problem,” said Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
He added that more climate finance for Africa through carbon credits would greatly help the continent adapt, particularly in the case of food and agricultural systems that are at risk from climate change.
Kalibata added that carbon markets can and should be “fairer”, particularly to farmers “who are the custodians and managers of most of the world’s carbon stocks”.
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