Kenya carbon offset crusaders smiling all the way to the bank

Forest sanctuary gives wildlife a refuge, provides jobs for locals, and earns international eco-funding

Tuesday 21 May 2019 09:00
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By Evelyn Makena for People Daily in Kenya

“Are you going to package our clean air in bottles and go sell it in polluted countries?” This is one of the questions Jamie Hendriksen, Director of Regional Operations of the US-based conservation consultancy, Wildlife Works, is regularly confronted with when educating Kenyans about the concept of carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for carbon dioxide emissions arising from industrial or human activities by funding and participating in projects that contribute to the reduction of the gas in the atmosphere.

Roughly four kilometres from the town of Maungu on Kenya’s main cross-country highway, the Kasigau Corridor emerges between the two famous national parks, Tsavo East and Tsavo West.

Coarse grasslands and acacia bushes form a continuous landscape across the 500,000 acres of land that spans across 14 cattle ranches.

The corridor is home to more than 50 species of mammals, more than 300 species of birds and several endangered animals.

It is also home to Kenya’s largest project under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative, REDD+. The + is for conservation and sustainable forest management. This global United Nations initiative aims to counter and regulate the effects of climate change through protecting forests.

Twenty-one years ago, this area of Kenya was stripped of most vegetation, making it inhabitable for wildlife, with rampant poaching and massive deforestation contributing to a downward spiral.

Communities in the area, where rains are suppressed and water is scarce, turned from subsistence farming to charcoal burning and bushmeat hunting to supplement their livelihoods.

“As communities cleared vegetation in search of fertile portions of land to cultivate, it resulted in mosaic deforestation, destruction of patches of the forest. Massive grazing left the fields denuded. The dry conditions, which leave the place water-scarce for half of the year, made it difficult to sustain cattle ranches,” says Cara Braund, Conservation Business Manager, Wildlife Works.

Spiralling destructive human activities threatened to disrupt natural wildlife migration patterns in the area where elephants seasonally traverse between the two large parks in search of water and pasture.

This situation became the focus of Wildlife Works when it began its operations here in 1998. It sought a solution to the dominant problem in conservation: protecting wildlife while providing communities with a sustainable livelihood outside the forest.

The founder Mike Korchinsky’s strategy was to invest in job creation for locals as an alternative for forgone revenues from clearing the forest and killing wildlife.

This resulted in the formation of the Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary, which covers 80,000 acres of the forest. By collaborating with the community and neighbouring cattle ranches, Wildlife Works expanded its conservation area to 500,000 acres of forest, where the REDD+ project is based.

“Carbon offset credits are produced in a number of activities that lead to reduction of greenhouse gases emissions such as preserving forests, installing clean energy systems, implementing low carbon emissions agricultural practices and tree planting. One offset credit is equivalent to one metric tonne of carbon dioxide emissions or the same amount of another greenhouse gas,” explains Hendriksen.

To earn carbon credits, projects that avoid deforestation have to prove that carbon would have been released to the atmosphere if the forest in question had been destroyed.

Since forests are vast carbon sinks, their destruction means large amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere, a gas that contributes to global warming.

Converting forests into other land uses contributes to 10 percent of global carbon emissions. To earn carbon credits, one needs to prepare a project design document that contains specifics such as the area where the project covers, objective and its duration.

To determine the carbon content in a project area, samplers measure the gas levels in trees and soil as per the UN REDD+ specifications.

Sale of carbon offsets takes place only after the measurements have been validated and verified by independent auditing bodies.

In 2011, Kasigau Corridor became the first project across the world to win validation for REDD credits under Voluntary Carbon Standard, which tests and determines the authenticity of carbon credits.

The project was also awarded Gold status by the Community and Biodiversity Standard for its social benefits to the community. Kasigau generated 1.45 million Voluntary Carbon Units and is expected to reduce over six million tonnes of carbon over its 30-year cycle.

Various individuals and companies, especially those that contribute to global warming through their operations, can buy such carbon offsets. Buying the offsets means that they fund projects that reduce greenhouse emissions.

South Africa’s Nedbank Group is Kasiagu’s first carbon offset client. It went ahead to achieve the status of the first carbon neutral bank in Africa.

To be carbon neutral, one needs to buy offsets equal to their greenhouse emissions. Other clients of Kasigau include Barclays Bank, French postal service, La Poste, Delta Airlines, World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and French luxury group, Kering, which owns brands such as Gucci.

Hendriksen says the largest markets for offsets are in Europe, but lately demand has increased locally, with brands such as Kenya Airways and East Africa Rallies following suit.

A third of the income from the Kasigau project is divided among the ranch owners while the community receives 50 per cent of the profits.

“Money meant for the community is channelled into a trust. Local carbon committees then decide projects to invest in based on the needs of the community,” adds Braund.

As is the case with many commodities, increase in demand for carbon credits has also led to increase in prices. “From selling one credit at £1.60 to £2.40 when the project started, Kasigau now earns up to £13 for the same. When buyers get the credits in bulk, we give them a leeway to negotiate better prices,” says Hendriksen.

This article is reproduced here as part of the Giants Club African Conservation Journalism Fellowships, a programme of the charity Space for Giants (embed link https://spacegorgiants.org) and supported by the owner of ESI Media, which includes independent.co.uk. It aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa, and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here.

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