Gabon has become the first African country to be paid for reducing carbon emissions by protecting its rainforest in a move that could advance the continent’s sustainable development. Wanjohi Kabukuru reports
At long last, the world’s rich countries have finally kept their word and Gabon has become the first African country to be paid for reducing carbon emissions by protecting its rainforest. The country received some $17m through the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) as remuneration for lowering carbon emissions through intensive forest protection.
Long before Covid-19 devastated global economies, climate change had given rise to an emerging global conversation, built around greener, climate-smart economic recovery pathways. The pandemic has simply accelerated climate action as a core part of resilient economic recovery.
Judging by the events that took place in New York in mid-July at the UN High Level Political Forum, where climate action was a major theme, Africa has become a key participant in that conversation.
Gabon’s carbon credits and Africa’s strong position at the UN forum had been fine-tuned several months earlier, at the seventh Africa Regional Forum for Sustainable Development (ARFSD), held virtually and in Brazzaville, Congo. Africa’s biodiversity endowments, including the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in the central Congo basin, the world’s largest tropical peatlands, estimated to store the equivalent of three years’ worth of the world’s total fossil fuel carbon emissions, were a major point of discussion.
The outcomes of the continental forum, organised by UNECA and the AU, culminated in the Brazzaville Declaration, ready for implementation by regional governments. It is such outcomes that Africa presented in New York, at the UN High Level Political Forum.
The Brazzaville Declaration outlines the continent’s Afro-green financing agenda in its invitation to development partners to mobilise finance for the Blue Congo Basin Fund.
The Fund, which was set up in November 2016, is a novel financial mechanism advanced by the 16 Central African basin nations to facilitate a sustainable water-based economy, enhance carbon capture and reduce deforestation.
During the Brazzaville development forum, the ECA launched its Building Forward for an African Green Recovery report, which makes a strong case for Africa to tap into carbon markets.
“Carbon trading deals are already being done in Africa, with some success. The lack of global monitoring, the relatively low cost of carbon and limited capacity in African financial markets, however, have remained barriers to this becoming a meaningful financing opportunity for Africa.”
This forms the backdrop which brings into perspective the Gabonese carbon windfall and Africa’s position at the UN forum as part of the global climate resilience and economic recovery narrative.
Interestingly, the same month the carbon payments to Gabon were being unveiled, two other significant commitments related to climate finance for Africa were announced.
The first occurred in mid-June when the G7, meeting in Cornwall, England, announced that it would invest $80bn in Africa’s private sector to support the sustainable economic recovery of the continent. The second announcement came at the end of June, when the World Bank announced its 2nd Climate Change Action Plan (2021-2025). Its first action plan delivered some $83bn over five years, including a record of $21.4bn in 2020.
According to David Malpass, the WB president, the plan involves a commitment that 35% of total World Bank Group financing will have climate co-benefits over the next five years, and that 50% of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s climate financing will support adaptation and resilience.
It is in this context that Gabon’s carbon windfall is now being touted as an example of harnessing climate finance and at the same time achieving sustainable development, by shifting from carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and embracing nature-based solutions that are led by communities.
It is also being seen as a boon by proponents of the integration of carbon credits in economic planning for Africa.
Gabon is not the only country harnessing nature. Seychelles had pioneered the nature-based solution as a financial instrument in 2018 with its Blue Economy debt-for-nature swap, a world-first sovereign Blue bond.
Both Gabon and Seychelles are championing Africa’s transition and the implementation of climate action through nature-based solutions. They have also encouraged the adoption of newer and more sustainable financing models for the conservation of fragile ecosystems and species at risk. These include Climate Swaps and Blue Bonds, Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) and Conservation Trust Funds (CTFs).
The financial injection by the World Bank and the G7 comes after a decade-old criticism from the developing countries, which have been calling on the developed world to fulfill their $100bn climate financing pledge, made in Copenhagen in 2009.
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