It is time for Kenya and Africa to stop selling carbon credits for a song

Carbon credit or CO2 trading market. [iStockPhoto]

In April, Kenya experienced what could be the worst flooding ever recorded in the country. The flooding came not long after a three-year drought spell, one of the worst that the country has experienced.

Floods and droughts are becoming rather frequent and at the same time, one cycle becoming worse than the previous, leaving a trail of destruction that could take years to repair and, in some instances, irreparable such as when lives are lost. 

The effects of climate change are thus undeniable. The other reality is that Kenya and Africa, which have contributed very little to the environmental damage that is the cause of all this, are witnessing the worst changes in weather patterns.

While this should be a wake-up call for Kenya and the rest of the continent, especially when it comes to holding the largest polluters to account and making them to pay for it, we appear to be dropping the ball and instead giving our carbon offsetting assets for a token.

This is seen in different formats including the vast tracts of land that Kenya and other countries have leased to private firms that promise to undertake reforestation that can then earn them carbon credits.

The deals that governments and these companies have entered into are neither disclosed to the public nor taken through any rigorous processes such as public participation, a constitutional requirement in Kenya, before they are handed over to private hands.

It is no secret that these private sector firms bring the best professional negotiators to the table to haggle with government officials.

It is highly likely that, aside from the negotiators, these companies have other professionals who have run multiple simulations of different future outcomes in terms of where the carbon credit prices and generally the market is headed in the coming years and decades.

They are out to get the best possible deal for their firms and to do this, some of them are short-changing Kenya and the other countries.

What might be leased out today for what might appear to be market lease prices could generate billions of dollars’ worth of carbon credits that might not benefit the government and communities who own the assets.

Already, the global carbon credits market is skewed against the African continent. Reports indicate that while Africa produces more credits than the global average from categories that command high prices, anecdotal evidence indicates that, for the same project type, African carbon credits may command lower prices than the global average.

Research shows that African carbon markets still comprise only about 16 per cent of the global credits market and face challenges that can hinder future growth potential.

It is time that Kenya and the region realised the value of the vast carbon-offsetting assets and made the world’s polluters pay well for the job that these assets are doing in saving the planet.