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Farmers raring to harvest money from trees

By | Dec 9th 2009 | 4 min read
By | December 9th 2009

By Dann Okoth

As the UN climate change conference progresses in Copenhagen, Denmark, Kenya is among African countries with their attention firmly focused on the global negotiations.

One of the mouth-watering prospects at the meeting is that Kenya stands to earn billions of shillings per year from developed nations by simply planting trees.

The developed nations, which are the biggest greenhouse gas emitters will, under the carbon trading clause in the negotiations, be required to pay billions of dollars a year in compensation to developing nations for global warming mitigation (for growing trees on their behalf). The exercise is known as carbon trading.

Through carbon trading, Kenya could claim a significant portion of the $126 billion carbon market through planting of trees and conserving of the environment.

Earning money

As Kenya’s Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai puts it, "in today’s world, conserving the environment is not all about self-preservation but also about earning money from countries that contribute significantly to climate change".

Estimates show, by exploiting opportunities in the carbon market through planting of trees, Kenya alone could earn Sh30 billion annually while the continent could rake in about Sh200 billion. The Sh30 billion is equivalent to the money the Government is borrowing from donors to preserve and conserve Mau Forest. Although the country’s forest cover has largely been depleted from more than 10 per cent in the 1960s to about 1.7 per cent today, preserving the remaining cover could amount to a green goldmine.

Already, farmers in some parts of the country are earning from carbon trading contracts.

"Besides the prospects of earning money from growing trees, Kenya needs forests to conserve its water supply and provide for other needs of society," Dr Louis Verchot, Principal Scientist—Climate Change at the Nairobi branch of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CGIAR) told The Standard on the phone from Copenhagen yesterday.

"It is a win, win situation for Kenya because conservation of the environment also leads to sustainable development," he added.

But what exactly is carbon trading? The concept came about in response to the Kyoto Protocol, signed in Japanese town of Kyoto, by some 180 countries in December 1997.

Kyoto protocol

The Kyoto Protocol calls for 38 industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions between the years 2008 to 2012 to levels that are 5.2 per cent lower than those of 1990.

Carbon is an element stored in fossil fuels such as coal and oil. When these fuels are burned, carbon dioxide is released and acts as what is termed "greenhouse gas".

The idea behind carbon trading is quite similar to the trading of securities or commodities in a marketplace. Carbon would be given an economic value, allowing people, companies or nations to trade in it. If a nation bought carbon, it would be buying the rights to burn it, and a nation selling carbon would be giving up its rights to burn it. The value of the carbon would be based on the ability of the country owning the carbon to store it or to prevent it from being released into the atmosphere—The better you are at storing it, the more you can charge for it.

A market would be created to facilitate the buying and selling of the rights to emit greenhouse gases. The industrialised nations for which reducing emissions is a daunting task could buy the emission rights from another nation whose industries do not produce as much of these gases. The market for carbon is possible because the goal of the Kyoto Protocol is to reduce emissions as a collective effort by all countries.

Already, Kenya is one of the fourteen developing countries picked to benefit from an innovative programme to combat tropical deforestation and forest degradation. It has signed her first carbon deal to reduce emissions into the atmosphere.

The deal, which was recently signed by the San Francisco-based Wildlife Works Carbon and Kenya Forest Service (KFS), will compel the partners to protect the 80,000-acre Rukinga forest reserve in South-eastern Kenya.

The project will be funded by sales of carbon credits in the voluntary carbon market and the credits will be certified under the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS).

Kenya becomes one of 14 countries to receive funds in the first round of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), a scheme aimed at kick-starting the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects in developing nations.

Request submitted

The selection follows an earlier request submitted by 39 tropical countries for support towards developing a framework for participating in an innovative climate change mitigation effort – REDD.

This project will create a wildlife corridor that links two of Kenya’s largest protected areas -Tsavo East and Tsavo West, which had previously been under threat from overgrazing, poaching and deforestation.

Globally deforestation accounts for nearly one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions — more than the entire world’s cars, trucks, ships, and airplanes combined.

The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is financed through the World Bank and is meant to support developing countries prepare readiness plans for implementation of the REDD process after the end of the Kyoto Protocol.

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