With forests abounding, Africa appears to be developing its carbon market

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

Since then, dozens of similar programs have sprouted up across the continent, with African governments now scrambling to capitalize on this exploding global industry. The continent is home to vast tracts of carbon-sucking land, with forests covering about 674 million hectares, or 22.7 percent of Africa, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The Cuvette-Centrale Peatlands deep in the Congo Basin alone are capable of sequestering up to 30 billion tons of carbon, or three years of global emissions.

Coastal mangrove forests, which are more efficient at absorbing carbon from the air than their land counterparts, have proliferated in places like Gazi. Community voluntary initiatives in Kenya, Mozambique and Ivory Coast 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 changes everything,” Vahid Fotuhi, founder of the Blue Forest initiative, told the Africa Climate Week conference in Gabon in early September. “Suddenly, trees are worth more alive than dead. By leveraging carbon markets, communities … can access carbon offset financing that helps them maintain their forests while improving livelihoods. It’s a win-win.”

Although many of these carbon credit programs 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 locked out of the carbon market.

Between 2002 and 2020, just 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 determined by international policies known as regulatory compliance. In voluntary systems, which are more advanced in Africa, companies wishing to generate carbon credits must hire independent third-party verifiers to confirm that carbon emissions would have been released in the absence of the credit.

“Carbon offsets provide an opportunity for Africa to leverage the value of its natural assets,” said Jean-Paul Adam, climate chief of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

However, he added: “Relatively low coal costs and limited capacity in African financial markets, however, remained barriers to making this a significant financing opportunity.”

A tradable carbon credit represents one 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 coal is around $10 or less in Africa, but in Europe coal pricing is pegged at $80 to $90 per ton, with the US coal price at $140.

Africa is trying 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 boils down to bookkeeping,” Fotuhi said. “African governments must diligently account for nature-based carbon stocks as well as greenhouse gas emissions” to enable them to make the best use of carbon offset schemes, he said.

He added that if nations had more “clarity” around their targets for reducing carbon emissions, they would be able to have a “more dominant role in global carbon markets”. Countries must submit their plans to reduce emissions to the UN 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 droughts, extreme heat and cyclones. The African Development Bank estimates that addressing climate change will require between $3.5 trillion and $4 trillion by 2030 for countries to adapt and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

“Although Africa is absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, which is a huge global benefit, 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 go a long way in helping the continent adapt, particularly in the case of food and agriculture systems at risk from climate change.

Kalibata added that carbon markets can and should be “fairer” especially to farmers “who are the custodians and managers of most of the world’s carbon reserves.”

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The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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