Pay Africa for carbon offsets to save the planet and support livelihoods, leaders say

Saturday November 06 2021
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda. Africa’s savannahs, mangroves and swamps, coral reefs and marine reserves are the carbon sinks of the world. FILE PHOTO | AFP


Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta wants businesses and corporations in the global North to take advantage of the unique ecological opportunity offered by Africa as a natural carbon sink and compensate the continent.

Mr Kenyatta explained to investors at a side event at the ongoing COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, that the process can transform conservation finance in Africa by compensating the continent for storing carbon and tackling climate change.

He noted that the global net zero emissions demand can unlock value for Africa’s people by offering businesses an opportunity to appeal to consumers keen on making more environmentally conscious purchases.

Across the world, consumers are increasingly demanding that companies and countries go carbon neutral. But for some corporations, their business models or processes involve exploitation or destruction of nature. For such, the “compensation instead of reduction” principle allows them to legally exceed a limit — for example, for the emission of greenhouse gases — while keeping their footprint low by ensuring an additional reduction of emissions elsewhere, in this case here in Africa.

Carbon credits

The Kenyan president highlighted this as one of the main ways through which climate finance can flow to the global South.


He told the event attended by representatives from Gabon, Uganda and Rwanda, as well as specialist investors and philanthropists that “if these companies and countries are to move towards becoming carbon neutral, they need viable, high quality carbon credits to offset their residual emissions.”

“Our savannahs, mangroves and swamps, our coral reefs and our marine reserves are the carbon sinks of the world,” he noted.

“Yet that great public benefit that the African ecosystem provides to the world has not yet been fully acknowledged. And it is neither sufficiently protected and we have certainly not been compensated for it. It is for this reason that many of these natural ecosystems have been degraded often by our own local communities, who have few economic alternatives.”

The Kenyan leader called for concerted effort to create an enabling environment for investment in the restoration and protection of Africa’s natural carbon capture machines while ensuring investments are made in a way that generates the highest possible return for local communities and royalties for governments.

Africa accounts for 18 percent of the world’s population but less than four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. With about 60 percent of its land still unploughed and undeveloped, a huge swathe of the continent absorbs carbon naturally.

David Antionoli, CEO of Verra, which manages many of the most respected carbon credit certification standards, noted that this was a great opportunity for Africa to take advantage of its natural resources base to leverage the growing emerging market.

“[This] will lead us hopefully to bigger better [carbon] prices, but will result in ultimately delivering real development impacts that are long standing,” he said at the event organised by Space for Giants.

Growing opportunity

Veteran investment banker Peter Bacchus, chairman of Bacchus Capital and a member of the Giants Club, termed the opportunity to price carbon through offsets as “transformational for conservation”.

“It starts the journey of beginning to recognise heritage landscapes more specifically for the benefits they provide both to the environment but also for the economic activity that they support through sequestration, which is essentially the sea change that we’re seeing through the development of carbon markets.”

Space for Giants is a conservation organisation that protects wildlife landscapes and is currently working in 10 countries in Africa.

President Kenyatta said the organisation, alongside the Giants Club, would work with African governments to build an enabling environment that attracts private investment into their carbon sinks.

The Giants Club unites sitting or former heads of state of the four countries that hold half of Africa’s remaining elephants: Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, and Uganda. Its initial goal is to protect half of Africa’s elephants, and it is already looking beyond that to long-term threats.

Russian-British businessman Lord Evgeny Lebedev, who co-hosted the event with President Kenyatta, called for prompt action to preserve Africa’s iconic landscapes that sequester vast stores of carbon.

“We must not repeat the Amazon's deforestation catastrophe,” he said.

Gabon’s Minister for Environment Lee White noted that there would be no 1.5 degrees target without an intact Congo Basin.

“There are six years of global emissions locked up in the trees and the soils of the Congo Basin. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) tells us we only have eight years to deal with this problem. So if we lose the Congo Basin we lose 1.5 degrees, we lose 2 degrees, we lose 3 degrees, we’re heading to a fourth degree as well. So the question is how do we make these forests valuable enough to people... because if the forests are not valuable, the forest will not survive,” Mr White said

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni expressed concern over the destruction of the forests in the Ruwenzori Mountains in western Uganda and in Mount Elgon in the country’s east where landslides and floods have been occurring frequently in the recent past due to land degradation.

He, however, defended his country’s ongoing oil projects, especially the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, which has recently attracted blistering criticism from environmental activists, saying that oil producers don’t have to worry because, “if safe technologies are used to process and dispose of these, they have minimal emissions. What, then, is the problem?”

Appropriate pricing

Rwandan leaders cited challenges around finance mobilisation as derailing efforts to tackle climate change by African economies.

“In Rwanda we have seen first-hand the impact of climate change. Floods, droughts and landslides have damaged livelihoods and property, and tragically cost too many lives,” said Rwanda’s Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente, who attended the COP26.

President Kagame, addressing the G20 Summit held in Rome ahead of the COP26 conference, said a new plan to deliver on climate finance pledges and revised national determined contributions are all that is needed to help the continent achieve the green recovery action plan.

Beatrice Atim, Uganda’s environment minister, emphasised the need to redress the imbalance between those responsible for causing the climate crisis and those who will bear its greatest consequences.

“Let us put the resources collectively where it matters, and it matters in Africa,” she said. “It is Africa that can save the world from the effects of climate change.”

But Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, warned that Africa will need watertight frameworks to manage offset policies.

“Critically important is the issue of accounting and transparent reporting of Africa’s homegrown carbon offset systems,” he said.

Wanjira Mathai, vice-president and regional director for Africa at the World Resources Institute, stressed the need for new finance to be available at different scales.

“It’s the communities that are there doing the restoration [of nature] every single day. How do you have these intermediaries deliver finance to community groups in effective ways, and really get the resources to them?”

blamed irresponsibility, greed and ignorance for wrong agricultural practices, encroaching on wetlands and deforestation.

Of major concern to President Museveni is Bacchus Capital and Space for Giants launched a new initiative -- Green 14.

Rwandan leaders cited challenges around finance mobilisation as derailing efforts to tackle climate change by African economies even as they reel under pandemic-induced liquidity shortfalls.

President Kagame, addressing the G20 Summit held in Rome ahead of the COP26 conference, said a new plan to deliver on climate finance pledges and revised national determined contributions are all that is needed to help the continent achieve ambitions under the green recovery action plan.

Rwanda’s Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente, who attended the COP26, held talks with rich nations’ officials on its sidelines.

“In Rwanda we have seen first-hand the impact of climate change. Floods, droughts and landslides have damaged livelihoods and property, and tragically cost too many lives,” he said.

Rwanda particularly banks on international support to cut emissions by 38 percent in the next decade and become a zero carbon economy by 2050.

“I hope that the urgency of the climate emergency will guide the discussion at COP26,” he said.

Mr Museveni told delegates that Ugandans leaving in areas that are sensitive to climate change “must leave and get alternative livelihood”, but was quick to stress the need for resources to achieve this.

“Resources need to be mobilised for this purpose so as to ensure a soft landing for the transgressors, many of them out of ignorance or wrong government actions. With enough resources, this is doable. Let the world help where they can,” he said.

“Having addressed the not so small sins by our irresponsible, greedy, ignorant or rebellious actors, I now come to the mega sins of the mega-emitters of Co2. These are the USA (13 percent), China (30 percent), India (6.8 percent), etc.”

Space for Giants founder and CEO Max Graham echoed the sentiments,

“To rewire this (global warming) madness so that we can rewire the economies that have paid the cost of goods that we actually need, specifically, in today’s case, the restoration and protection of Africa’s carbon sinks,” said Dr, of.

“If the narrative for transformation of people is about prosperity, which really does have a unique opportunity to transform lives, then we have to figure out the financing in smaller envelopes,” she said.

“While they can help tackle climate change and protect nature, Carbon offset projects, are ultimately development projects,” said “What I think is really critical that we should make sure doesn’t get lost in the noise is that these projects can help drive finance to where it’s needed the most,” he said

President Kenyatta added: “Restoring and protecting these carbon sinks can help create hundreds of thousands of critical green jobs, drive enterprise away from destructive forms of land use, help us tackle poverty, combat illegal wildlife trade, and also prevent future pandemics, while at the same time ensuring that the diversity of life -- on which all depend -- continues to endure.”

“We need to understand the strategic importance of social-economic transformation of the economy and society,” Museveni said. “The Ugandan society must change from a pre-capitalist, subsistence based society to a middle, skilled working class society.”

Museveni outlined the steps his government is taking to create this ideal society, including, among others, universal education, full monetisation of the economy, industrialisation, digitisation and electrification.

With agriculture being a major part of the climate change problem and about 80 per cent of Ugandans currently employed in the sector, the President said his government is putting more emphasis on industrialisation in order to compel the population to shift from agriculture to services and industry.

“Too many people in agriculture, especially primitive agriculture, cannot allow the conservation of forests, wetlands, etc. You cannot say that the society remains in primitive agriculture but, somehow, you will ensure environmental conservation. If you conserve under-development, you should forget about conserving the environment,” he said.