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Dubai firm seals carbon credit deal with Zimbabwe ahead of COP28

Ahead of hosting the world’s biggest climate summit, COP28, it looks like Dubai’s royals are attempting to clean up the UAE’s oil-rich image. But is setting up carbon credit schemes across Africa the way to go?

Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, a leading member of the royal family of Dubai, is on a mission to help major companies and national governments reduce their carbon footprint.

If you thought this meant halting new fossil fuel projects in the UAE and investing in global green energy projects, bless your sweet soul. Instead, the Sheikh has begun securing huge forest management deals for his carbon credit business, Blue Carbon.

The Dubai-based company was launched last year and – like many other similar initiatives – allows major businesses and governments to purchase ‘carbon credits’ to help them ‘offset’ their annual emissions in order to get closer to reaching their sustainability targets.

It works like this: for every carbon credit purchased by a company or government, a sum of money is put towards projects that reduce or remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The buyer can then use these credits to subtract a determined amount of carbon from their annual emission reports and claim to be more eco-friendly.

But carbon credits are controversial, viewed by critics as ‘tradable instruments’ that enable high-emitting companies and governments to compensate for carbon emissions without actually having to reduce them.

In its latest deal, Blue Carbon has been granted permission to implement carbon credit projects and environmentally conscious initiatives across 7.5 million hectares of land in Zimbabwe.

The company has been awarded exclusive development rights to this vast area of land by Zimbabwe’s government and plans to use it for projects related to carbon offsetting, particularly in the areas of afforestation and agriculture.

Ahead of hosting the world’s biggest climate summit, COP28, this might seem like a great PR move. But anybody who has delved a little deeper into carbon credits will know that this strategy may not be a silver bullet.

The problem with carbon credits

It turns out that most carbon offsetting schemes aren’t as successful as they claim to be.

Recent investigative studies have shown that the majority of deforestation projects offering carbon credits have not generated any additional benefit for the climate – meaning they should not have been approved in the first place – while other projects grossly overestimate how many credits they can offer potential buyers.

While this is certainly worth considering when poking holes in Blue Carbon’s mission specifically, critics have other social, ethical, and environmental concerns.

The first involves forest communities living in Africa, who will inevitably lose control and autonomy over the forests they inhabit now that a Dubai-based company has rights to manage their land.

The second is the likelihood that little revenue from the buying and selling of carbon credits will funnel down to governments in Africa or the forest communities themselves.

Finally, one of the most general concerns is that carbon credit schemes have huge potential to undermine action on climate change. By buying up carbon credits, major organisations – in particular, fossil fuel companies – can continue to operate business as usual without striving to reduce their annual emission contributions.

It is in everyone’s interest to be wary of an industry where the margins for error and exaggeration so hugely vague, especially when the sector is anticipated to grow exponentially in the coming decades.

Demand for Carbon Credits Could Increase +15X by 2030 and 100X by 2050

The Race for Africa, repackaged

On top of its new deal with Zimbabwe, Blue Carbon has already secured deals to manage forests in Zambia, Tanzania, and Libera, with the intention of turning the preserved nature into carbon credits they can sell to the global market.

This makes Blue Carbon officially responsible for managing 60 million acres of forest in Africa, as well as calculating and selling carbon credits generated from this management.

Having already secured the rights to forestlands equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom, Blue Carbon shows no signs of stopping. It has approached a fifth nation, Angola, with the same intention.

‘There is a scramble for Africa’s forest carbon,’ said Saskia Ozinga co-founder of Fern, a European environmental justice NGO.

‘These deals risk defrauding the countries, the forest communities, and the climate, and appear to be negotiated by African governments who don’t understand carbon markets or are personally benefitting from the deals.’

She is right, too. Blue Carbon is a privately owned company with no previous history of forest management or carbon trading. Yet it is racing to snap up all the forestland in Africa it can, in order to capitalise on it.

The company will have to answer many questions – many of which could be raised at COP28 – regarding its plans to manage forests in Africa from the UAE, how it will calculate its respective and accurate amount of carbon credits, and how it will ensure that communities living in these regions are fairly compensated.