COP26: Global ‘net zero’ demand to transform conservation finance in Africa

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta unveils carbon credit opportunity that links private capital, public policy, and technical expertise

Mike Pflanz
Friday 05 November 2021 08:47
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<p>Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking at COP26 </p>

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking at COP26

Global consumer and citizen demand for companies and countries to go carbon neutral can transform conservation finance in Africa by compensating the continent for storing carbon and tackling climate change, Kenya’s president said at a COP-26 side-event organised by Space for Giants.

President Kenyatta told the high-level event, attended by representatives of the presidents of Gabon, Uganda, and Rwanda, as well as specialist investors and philanthropists, that Africa accounts for 18% of the world’s population but less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our savannahs, mangroves and swamps, our coral reefs and our marine reserves, are the carbon sinks of the world. They are the basis of the very oxygen that we breathe every day,” President Kenyatta said.

“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.”

Investors, consumers, and shareholders were beginning to demand their companies start a process of decarbonizing their activities, and moving towards a much more carbon neutral world, President Kenyatta said.

“If these companies and countries were to move towards becoming carbon neutral, they need viable, high quality carbon credits to offset their residual emissions. We must together create an enabling environment to enable the conscientious to invest in restoring and protecting the great natural carbon capture machines that were gifted to us by God and nature.

“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, can help us tackle poverty, combat illegal wild wildlife trade, and also prevent future pandemics, and ensure that the diversity of life on which all depend continues to endure.”

The Giants Club and Space for Giants would work with the Government of Kenya and other Giants Club governments to support them as they build an enabling environment to attract private investment into their carbon sinks, President Kenyatta said.

“This I believe will provide a clear pathway for private sector investors to invest in the restoration and protection of our carbon sinks, ensure that investments are made in a way that generates the highest possible return to communities who live in and around carbon sinks, and generate royalties for our treasuries,” he said.

Dr. Max Graham, founder and CEO of Space for Giants, chaired and moderated the event. He compared the $100bn that rich countries promised to developing ones to help tackle the climate crisis with the hundreds of billions more consumers spent on indulgences like pets, ice cream, beer, and coffee. “If we collectively spend hundreds of billions of dollars on items that are not essential for our survival, it seems completely inexplicable that we are not paying for the price of something we need for our children’s future,” Dr Graham said.

Carbon offsets presented the opportunity, he added, “to rewire this 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”.

Lord Evgeny Lebedev, who co-hosted the event with President Kenyatta, recognised that Africa’s carbon sinks were not yet being fast degraded or lost, as was the case in other key landscapes across the planet. “We must not repeat the Amazon’s deforestation catastrophe,” Lord Lebedev said. “We must preserve iconic landscapes helping to sequester vast stores of carbon.”

Lee White, Gabon’s Minister for Forests, Oceans, Environment, and Climate Change, highlighted the importance of Africa’s carbon sinks, and the risk to the entire planet of failing to protect them. “There’s no 1.5 degree world without an intact Congo Basin,” he said. “There are six years of global emissions locked up in the trees and the soils of the Congo Basin. The IPCC 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.”

Redressing the imbalance between those responsible for causing the climate crisis and those who will bear its greatest consequences was vital, for COP-26’s goals to be realised equitably, said Beatrice Atim, Uganda’s environment minister. “Please 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.”

Peter Bacchus, a veteran investment banker, chairman of Bacchus Capital, and a member of the Giants Club, judged the opportunity to price carbon through offsets to be “transformational for conservation”. He said: “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.”

A new initiative called the Green 14 - named after the carbon family group on the Periodic Table - was launched by Bacchus Capital with Space for Giants. “It is designed to be a fund that will focus on providing the basis for long term conservation of heritage landscapes in Africa, and bring together some of the highest quality global capital providers together with the incredible expertise that sits within space for giants,” Mr Bacchus said.

Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, which provided the venue for the event at their Africa Pavilion at COP-26, warned that frameworks Africa develops to manage offset policies must be watertight, to ensure sustained benefit. “Critically important is the issue of accounting and transparent reporting of Africa’s homegrown carbon offset systems,” he said. “I cannot emphasise enough the importance of analytical and policy work to help determine the appropriate pricing of carbon.”

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. “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. “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?”

Carbon offset projects, while they helped tackle climate change and protect nature “ultimately development projects”, said David Antionoli, CEO of Verra, which manages many of the most respected carbon credit certification standards.

“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 “Here’s an opportunity for Africa to take advantage of its natural resources base to really leverage this growing emerging market, which will lead us hopefully to bigger better [carbon] prices, but will result in ultimately delivering real development impacts that are long standing.”

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