Conservationists are demanding communities be put at the centre of carbon credits markets to stop the middleman from benefiting at the expense of the custodians of forests.
This is despite that some African activists are pushing back against carbon credits arguing that it is a false solution to climate change and a permit to polluting countries to continue emitting fossil fuels.
Andrea Athanas, vice president for enterprise and investment at the African Wildlife Foundation, said carbon markets should be maintained as part of climate change solutions.
“This is because if we don’t put a value on something then we don’t value it. It becomes an externality to economic decision-making. So carbon markets have to be part of the solution,” she told Newsday on the sidelines of the ongoing Cop28 at Expo City in Dubai.
“We have gone wrong in terms of some of the structures surrounding the market. There are a lot of cowboys there benefiting from the way the carbon credits are being allocated, commoditized, distributed and treated. That has to stop.”
Athanas said there was a need to put in a new system to ensure that the funds reach the communities that sell carbon credits.
“We need to take out of the middlemen from systems. Find ways of monitoring and having performance measured. It has to be performance-based because you cannot have bad carbon. So, we need to clean up some of the systems,” she said.
Carbon trading is when polluting companies buy carbon credits from communities with vast forests as compensation for greenhouse gas emissions.
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Most of the carbon markets in place around the world are voluntary.
Zimbabwe has one of the biggest carbon credit projects in the world known as Kariba REDD + covering 785,000 hectares in Kariba rural, Hurunwge, Binga, Gokwe and Mbire districts.
The project was jointly owned by a Zimbabwean entrepreneur, Stephen Wentzel with Carbon Green Africa and Swiss carbon credits trading company, South Pole which recently pulled out.
The South Pole generated about 100 million euros by selling offsets to companies like Gucci and Volkswagen.
However, communities in these areas have not been benefiting from this carbon credit project.
Gilles Etoga, a senior policy and conservation coordinator at World Wildlife Fund Cameroon, said the carbon credits process takes long to the detriment of the local communities.
“We need to keep in mind that we have local communities that need to be at centre of conservation and resource management. As Africans, it is better to focus our lives on adaptation. It is the solution to benefit the community and the ecosystem,” he said.
“We can look at how to provide water for the benefit of the communities and also for the wildlife. This is an adaption solution. Carbon credits are a long way to become a reality.”
Carbon credit markets are dominating COP28 here in Dubai.
Investors from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi Kenya in September pledged to buy $50 million of carbon credits from the Africa Carbon Markets.
In September, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that he had signed a carbon credit deal worth $1.5 billion with a UAE firm Blue Carbon Investments.
The deal will see Blue Carbon Investments, owned by Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the UAE royal family, getting conservation rights to over 7.5 million hectares of land.
This is about a fifth of Zimbabwe’s total land mass.
Athanas said carbon markets only need proper regulation for them to be effective as a climate change solution.
“We have seen that there is something wrong with the rules of this market that are leading to uncertainties for the player. We need to correct those measures but we can not abandon the idea of pricing carbon markets,” she said.
*This story was produced with support from MESHA and IDRC Eastern and Southern Africa office.