Scramble for African forests looming for carbon credits


The global carbon market mechanism has yet to take shape, but trading brokers have already begun positioning themselves. The UAE startup "Blue Carbon" is quietly developing forest carbon credits worldwide. Through collaborations with 5 African countries, the land area involved is nearly equivalent to the size of United Kingdom. And due to inadequate regulations and information disclosure, Blue Carbon has faced criticism for its lack of transparency and rules, giving rise to concerns about "carbon colonialism" and "greenwashing."

Established in October 2022, Blue Carbon has experienced rapid growth within a short span of one year. The company has already signed forest protection agreements with countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia. These agreements aim to prevent deforestation, facilitate reforestation on barren lands, and acquire forest carbon credits that Blue Carbon can sell to countries seeking to reduce their carbon footprint.

Mucheni conservancy in Zimbabwe, part of the Kariba carbon offsets project. (Photo:  Mucheni Community Conservancy)

According to the recently exposed draft agreement, Blue Carbon is currently in talks with Liberia in West Africa for a collaboration that would cover approximately 1/10 of the country's total land area. The agreement specifies that Blue Carbon will not buy any land but instead secure the right to sell carbon credits for a period of 30 years. The company is entitled to 70% of the revenue generated from the sale of these carbon credits, and it is exempt from taxes for the first 10 years. Liberia, in turn, receives the remaining 30%, along with an additional 10% royalty over the value of each credit.

“The methods of exploitation might be new but the consequences are not so different to the last 200 years of land grabs in Liberia,” says David Young, an independent expert in forest governance in the country. A commonly used protocol by Plan Vivo, a nonprofit based in Britain, says communities should get at least 60 percent of the revenue from carbon credit sales.

Blue Carbon is also in negotiations for collaboration with Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania. Notably, the land area granted by Zimbabwe is as much as 1/5 of the entire country, raising concerns about carbon colonialism. This term refers to the apprehension that external organizations gain control over African land to offset carbon emissions from wealthy and highly polluting nations. However, the assistance provided to local communities in return appears to be limited.

Young said that “the promises to the communities are vague and unpredictable and it’s like logging or mining or palm oil all over again.” 

“The whole point was to use carbon trades, credits and markets to ease the energy transition both by reducing carbon emissions and by ensuring financial flows to poorer countries,” said Rachel Kyte, a veteran climate diplomat and interviewed by Financial Times. “But that process has to have integrity and transparency, and right now it doesn’t.”

The founder and chairman of Blue Carbon, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook al-Maktoum, is a member of the Dubai royal family, raising concerns among experts. There are worries that Blue Carbon might be a "greenwashing" tool for UAE, the major oil-producing country. There are also concerns that Blue Carbon might sell carbon credits to other oil-producing nations, potentially delaying the phase-out of high-carbon fossil fuels.

CNN analysis suggests that the willingness of many developing countries to collaborate with Blue Carbon is not surprising. For instance, Zimbabwe stands to gain financing of 1.5 billion USD through the collaboration, even before carbon credit revenues are realized. This substantial amount is larger than the combined budgets for education and childcare in Zimbabwe, highlighting the financial incentives for developing nations to engage in such partnerships.

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