Reaping health, economic benefits from greening the environment

chyulu hills, carbon trading, carbon markets

A community member at the Chyulu Hills project. 

Photo credit: POOL

What you need to know:

  • Some of the benefits of the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project are sustainable livelihoods, improved access to clean water, and enhanced biodiversity conservation.
  •  Through its nine parties, the project, for example, dedicates revenue to communal tasks like constructing more schools, offering bursaries and hiring tutors.
  •  The project's success has also led to the development of health facilities and infrastructure. These benefits motivate the community to practise sustainability further, knowing their actions combat climate change while restoring nature.

In the arid regions of Eastern Kenya, pastoralists like Ibrahim Koinet have relied on their livestock to survive for generations.

But with the effects of climate change, the challenges of keeping their animals alive have become increasingly a burden.

Unpredictable rainfall patterns and rising temperatures have made the pastures scarce and unreliable, forcing pastoralists like Ibrahim to trek hundreds of kilometres to feed their livestock. 

"Persistent droughts make it very difficult for us to continue our traditional way of life," Ibrahim explains. "Pastures have become scarce, rivers are drying up, and we must walk long distances to find resources." 

We meet Ibrahim at Duka Moja along the Emali Loitoktok road on our way to Chyulu Hills. Like other pastoralists, he is moving herds further from his home in search of grazing land. 

This is the reality for many communities in Kenya devastated by the impacts of climate change. But all is not lost.

Proposed Amendment Bill

To supplement the global efforts in reducing carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to global warming, the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry has sponsored a Bill that seeks to regulate carbon trading in the country.

The Climate Change Act (Amendment) Bill 2023 is aiming at strengthening the Climate Change Act 2016 by introducing, for the first time, carbon market guidelines.

There are several projects in Kenya raking in millions of shillings from selling carbon credits. But the carbon market has remained unregulated for years due to lack of relevant law.

What are carbon markets? 

Carbon trading simply means the buying and selling of carbon credits. Carbon credits permit a company or organisation to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases. Heavy emitters of greenhouse gases buy credits from carbon-negative partners such as farmers planting trees.

Carbon markets incentivise individuals, companies, and countries to reduce greenhouse gases and promote sustainable practices by assigning a financial value to each ton of saved gas. These financial instruments, called carbon credits, are earned by entities that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or invest in sustainable projects that help reduce emissions or remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

carbon trading, carbon markets

A view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from Chyulu Hills.

Photo credit: POOL

For example, Company X in Germany emits a lot of CO2. To offset its emissions, it purchases carbon credits from organisation Y in Kwale, which is protecting tens of acres of mangroves, by paying it for the efforts of their hard work to safeguard this carbon sink. 

Mostly, proponents of carbon credits pay back to the community through sponsoring building classrooms, health centres, providing clean water, among other projects.

The Chyulu Hills REDD+ Project

The Chyulu Hills Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project is among the thriving carbon markets in Kenya.

REDD+ is climate change mitigation solution developed by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with focus on halting forest loss and degradation, and sustainable forest management, conservation and restoration in efforts to keep the global warming below 2°C in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

This solution was adopted in 2013 at the nineteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) in Warsaw.

 The Chyulu Hills REDD+ project spans over 1.2 million acres of forest in the Chyulu Hills region.

It is overseen by nine Trustee partners constituting the Chyulu Hills Conservation Trust. These include the Kenya Forest Service , Kenya Wildlife Service and three local NGOs: Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT), Big Life Foundation and The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The project also has four Maasai community ranches: Kuku A, Kuku B, Rombo, and Mbirikani.

Since its launch in 2011, the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project has successfully reduced carbon emissions by protecting the Chyulu forests from deforestation threats such as clearance for settlement, timber harvesting and charcoal production.

The lush and green environment within the conservation area tells a success story as it starkly contrasts the dry and sparsely vegetated surroundings we drove past on our way to the carbon project, over 150 kilometres from Nairobi. Forest preservation has also led to a resurgence of biodiversity.

How does Chyulu Hills REDD+ project work?

A REDD+ project is developed under internationally recognised standards, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCBS), administered by the Verra — world’s leading carbon credit certifier.

Every few years, the project undergoes a verification process. 

Verification involves detailed measurement of sample tree plots combined with remote sensing and modelling. This ensures the deforestation rate stays below the baseline identified during the project development process. It also calculates the emissions removed or reduced in metric tonnes.

The project prepares reports to be reviewed by independent third-party auditors who certify that the estimated emissions reductions are correct.

 The emission reductions can then be placed on a registry administered by the Washington-based nonprofit organisation, Verra. One tonne (1,000 kg) of verified emissions equals one tradeable credit on the registry.

Companies can then buy the credits and offset the emissions reductions against their carbon footprint.

Revenue from carbon credit sales is reinvested in the local communities in the region.

 For example, through the project's community engagement initiatives, the Chyulu Hills Conservation Trust benefits the Maasai, the Kamba, and other communities on both the Western and Eastern sides.

Some of these benefits include sustainable livelihoods, improved access to clean water, and enhanced biodiversity conservation.

By getting involved, local communities also boost their capacity and resilience to the impacts of climate change.

A successful REDD+ project improves a community's livelihood by involving its members in decisions revolving around the utilisation of profits from carbon sales. Through its nine parties, the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project, for example, dedicates revenue to communal tasks like constructing more schools, offering bursaries and hiring tutors.

 The project's success has also led to the development of health facilities and infrastructure. These benefits motivate the community to practise sustainability further, knowing their actions combat climate change while restoring nature.

REDD+'s impact on the community

According to Mr Samson Parashina, chairman of Chyulu Hills Conservation (CHC) and a Maasai leader, the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project has brought tremendous benefits to the community including job creation. Through forest preservation, it generates 30 per cent of the water used by the Mombasa population, serving approximately seven million people. 

Mr Parashina explains that the project began between 2011 and 2013 but took seven years of validation and verification.

 During that time, CHC focused on educating the community about carbon markets in a language they could understand by engaging community leaders, religious leaders, local government representatives and locals.

"After a long process of educating the community on the need to conserve the environment, we were validated and verified under both VCS and CCBS," Mr Parashina recalls.

 "We have been lucky in selling. We sold nearly two million tonnes of carbon credits between 2017 and 2022 totalling about Sh1.6 billion. In November 2022, a further three million credits were verified for the period 2017 to 2020, which could potentially generate over Sh4.1 billion," he explains.

Despite the challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, the project has steadily grown since its inception and now has a significant portfolio of corporate buyers.

Mr Parashina, who also serves as MWCT's chairman, notes that the project has run smoothly through collaboration with community ranches and government bodies, even before the government's proposal to include carbon market policies. And with Kenya's commitment to international standards, Mr Parashina is confident that the project will continue to flourish, benefiting the community and the environment. "Through the engagement of the communities in the governance of the Trust, we ensure that our practices nest into the national policy, which sequentially abides with the international commitments," he concludes.

MWCT Community Livelihood Coordinator Charity Lanoi echoes Mr Parashina's sentiments on the project's benefits. She says it has significantly improved the community's livelihoods by providing reliable sources of income and supporting sustainable agricultural practices. 

"All through the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chyulu Hills REDD+ project provided employment as tourism failed, generating more than 3 million USD (Sh415 billion) in 2020 alone. The trees we had conserved created a revenue channel that supported jobs. Unlike other businesses that sent their staff home, the project managed to pay its employees," notes Charity.

She adds that the project significantly contributes to environmental conservation efforts, including protecting forests and wildlife habitats. "As we speak, community members understand the need to practise sustainable methods to preserve nature since they have already reaped benefits," she concludes.

What do experts say?

Carbon trading is a relatively unknown term in the country. While some communities are already onboard and enjoying benefits, there is skepticism around the whole idea. Healthy Nation sought experts' views.

Lawyer Stella Ojango believes that carbon trading should directly benefit communities involved in conservation of forests and tree planting.

 She notes that planting trees and halting deforestation have positive environmental impacts. She emphasises that trees capture water and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

"Our semi-arid areas have gradually turned arid and formerly arable land is now semi-arid. This calls for continuous reforestation or we will suffer more devastating effects. If we can earn while at it, the more benefits there are for Kenyans."

Stella acknowledges the need for transparency and grassroots involvement in carbon trading. She highlights a lacuna in regulations in Kenya's carbon trading market, which makes determining the quantity and frequency of carbon credit sales difficult.

"If I have 12,000 acres of land covered in forest, how much carbon credits can I sell and how often should I sell them? Absence of governing laws allows for potentially selling the same credits repeatedly to different entities.”

The environmental law practitioner believes that implementing proper structures, as suggested by the proposed amendment bill, can help Kenya generate more credits for the global market. She also suggests involving entities like the National Environment Management Authority in marketing carbon credits locally and worldwide.

According to Joab Okanda, Pan Africa senior advocacy advisor at Christian Aid, carbon trading is one of the false solutions to climate change. He believes that rather than permitting entities to continue emitting carbon, governments should take measures to halt the use of fossil fuels.

Joab states: “Encouraging people to offset goes against the net zero goals, which require a country to reduce emissions by almost zero and absorb its existing atmospheric GHGs.”

Furthermore, Joab expresses concern regarding the proposed Bill’s approach to community benefits. He highlights that land use restrictions significantly impact communities’ lives and livelihoods, particularly pastoralists. Joab poses:”For example, why should a community receive only 25 per cent of the social benefits if the land being traded on is theirs, and what happens to the remaining 75 per cent?”

Climate activist Mohamed Adow does not think carbon trading is a sustainable way to develop economies and communities, terming them "a false solution and dangerous distraction for Africa" in its push to have historical polluters in developed countries cut their emissions.

The founder of climate think tank PowerShift Africa argues that carbon markets have failed Africa before and are likely to continue to fail because they "distract Africa from its real interests and priorities." He notes: "Essentially, they enable wealthy countries, transnational corporations and elites to continue with their polluting behaviour while shifting the burden of climate action to poor countries."

But it is the consistently low carbon prices owing to countries' lack of binding targets that Mohamed faults the most, terming it a flight of fancy the African Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI) established by 13 African countries at COP 27 in Egypt last year. "The assumption that voluntary markets will deliver a carbon price of $10 per tonne is difficult to reconcile with history. It is even more difficult to reconcile it with the reality of weak climate pledges that developed countries have made and failed to meet over the years."

He adds that African countries should instead focus on real climate solutions that support the continent's development agenda in an inclusive, sustainable, and responsible environment. "The history of carbon markets and the fundamental flaws associated with commodifying carbon, farming and forestry shows that Africa should not go down this path, particularly in the context of global financial markets," he warns.

That there are four major carbon credit certifiers namely Verra, which earlier this year was dogged with claims of approving tens of millions of worthless offsets that are used by major companies for climate and biodiversity commitments, Gold Standard, Climate Action Reserve, and American Carbon Registry, makes it difficult to effectively track price, volumes, and transaction data for market participants. This leaves entities transacting in the credits to determine their prices, which could lead to poor compensation for communities.

In conclusion

Kenya's push for carbon market regulations through the Climate Change Act Amendment Bill 2023 offers a new aspect in the fight against climate change, both environmentally and economically. When implemented well, this could steer the country to honouring its Nationally Determined Contributions to lower GHG emissions by 30 per cent in the next seven years. Through regulation and proper registration, the Chyulu Hills Project and others like the Kasigau Corridor REDD+, Olkaria Geothermal Carbon Project and the Northern Kenya Rangeland Carbon Projects can benefit communities and help Kenya achieve its goals in the fight against climate change.

How proposed law protects locals against exploitation

Communities hosting carbon credit projects will remain with 25 per cent of the earnings, if a new Bill sails through.

The Climate Change (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which is currently at the public participation stage, also forces the project proponents to have binding agreement with the community before embarking on the project.  The agreement will be deposited with the National Carbon Registry that will be created when the Bill becomes law.

“Carbon trading projects shall be required to undergo an environmental and social impact assessment in accordance with the Environmental Management and Coordination Act,” says the Bill.

“Every project undertaken pursuant to this Act shall be implemented through a community development agreement, which shall outline the relationships and obligations of the proponents of the project with impacted communities.”

According to the Bill, the national government and the respective county government where the project is situated shall oversee and monitor the negotiation of the community development agreements with project proponents and the stakeholders.

A community development agreement will contain a list of stakeholders of the project including project proponents, the impacted communities, the national government and the county government where the project is being undertaken.

These provisions could cure the unrests and pull and push that have been witnessed in the past between project owners and members of the community.

The most resent disagreement involved local and international organisations against Northern Kenya Rangelands Carbon Project, an initiative of Northern Rangeland Trust, in Isiolo County.

Survival International, an indigenous people’s rights organisation, accused NRT of interfering with community land rights, traditional grazing systems, lack of adequate public participation and a faulty carbon verification process.

The organisation also blamed NRT for ‘displacement’ of Borana herders from Chari in Biliqo Bulesa Conservancy through controlled rotational grazing. But NRT management has denied the allegations insisting that it has been spending substantial amount of its earnings from the sale of carbon credits to fund development projects such as education, rangeland management, water provision and drought relief.
The National Carbon Registry will contain records of carbon credit projects and programmes implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Kenya. The registry will be in the custody of the Climate Change Directorate.

“The Directorate shall be the government’s lead agency on national climate change plans and actions to deliver operational coordination and shall report to the Cabinet Secretary,” the Bill proposes.

Additional reporting by Leonard Onyango