With abundant forests, Africa seeks to grow its carbon market

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — In villages spread across the African continent, locals living in once-densely forested regions 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 thanks to nearly a decade of concerted efforts to offset the carbon dioxide released by faraway governments and companies seeking to improve their credentials. climatic. The initiative was one of Africa’s first steps into the carbon market, where credits to emit greenhouse gases can be bought or sold.

Since then, dozens of similar schemes have sprung up across the continent, with African governments now looking to capitalize on this exploding global industry. The continent is home to vast tracts 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 deep in the Congo Basin are the only ones capable of sequestering up to 30 billion tons of carbon, or three years’ worth of global emissions.

Waterside mangrove forests, which are more effective at absorbing carbon from the air than their land-based counterparts, have swelled in places like Gazi. Community-led voluntary initiatives in Kenya, Mozambique and Côte 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 funds that help them conserve their forests while improving their livelihoods. It’s a win-win.”

Although many of these carbon credit schemes are based in Africa, where emissions are much lower and the consequences of climate change much 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 to reduce carbon emissions through forest protection, totaling $17 million so far.

Carbon markets can be voluntary or established by international policies, which is known as regulatory compliance. In voluntary schemes, which are most advanced in Africa, companies that want to generate carbon credits must hire independent third-party verifiers to confirm that carbon emissions would have been released were it not for the credit.

“Carbon offsets provide an opportunity for Africa to harness the value of its natural assets,” said Jean-Paul Adam, head of the climate division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

But he added: “However, the relatively low cost of carbon and limited capacity in African financial markets have remained barriers to this becoming a significant financing opportunity.”

A tradable carbon credit represents a ton of greenhouse gas, with prices typically fluctuating between $10 and $100 per ton of carbon dioxide, according to the United Nations development agency. The price of a ton of carbon is about $10 or less in Africa, but in Europe the price of carbon is pegged at $80-90 per ton, while in the US the price of carbon is $140.

Africa is seeking to push for better and standardized carbon prices during the upcoming United Nations conference of the parties, known as COP27, scheduled for Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in November.

“It all comes down to accounting,” Fotuhi said. “African governments must diligently account for their nature-based carbon stocks as well as their greenhouse gas emissions” to enable them to make the best use of carbon offset schemes, he said.

He added that if nations have more “clarity” around their goals to reduce their carbon emissions, they could have “a more dominant role in global carbon markets.” Countries must submit their emission reduction plans to the UN in what are known as Nationally Determined Contributions, which are non-binding and part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Most African governments are outlining plans to reduce their reliance 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 addressing 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 out of the atmosphere, which is a huge global benefit, we can’t 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 go a long way in helping the continent adapt, particularly in the case of food and agricultural systems that are at risk due to climate change.

Kalibata added that carbon markets can and should be “fairer”, particularly towards farmers “who are the custodians and managers of most of the world’s carbon stocks.”

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Associated Press climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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