GBM Blog

Can carbon forest projects deliver for communities and forests in Africa?

December 5, 2011 - 09:00AM
Published by Francesca de Gasparis

Last week the Green Belt Movement (GBM) and GBM’s technical partners Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) hosted panel discussion on the impact climate finance projects from a grassroots perspective.

We started with a minute’s silence for our founder Wangari Maathai who sadly passed away in September this year. It was a poignant moment – Wangari had planned to speak out at COP17 about the challenges of implementing forest carbon projects. Wangari founded GBM over thirty years ago with a prescience of what we now face, and how environmental degradation was already making the lives of rural women in Kenya a struggle.

Wangari became the first environmentalist and first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004; she was a fearless campaigner for women’s rights and the environment. Wangari used to say how humble she felt because we need the trees, but they do not need us. My colleague, Mercy Karunditu, spoke about the work that Wangari started with grassroots women when she founded GBM in 1977. Mercy explained: “conservation and protection of Kenyan water towers is doable with the grassroots communities if only they are guided, advised and allowed to own the process. This way they are able to link improved livelihoods with environmental conservation.” Mercy works with communities to reforest the Aberdares and Mt Kenya mountains– some of the most critical water catchment areas in Kenya – producing water and hydropower for most of the population. However the restoration sites are under heavy pressure from overgrazing, charcoal burning and other unsustainable forest practices. Since 2006 GBM has been trialling climate finance projects- under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and others.

The reality of delivering a project with communities planting indigenous trees are highlighted in our Community Forest Climate Initiatives reported launched at the event. Community participation and biodiversity are some areas of concern when implementing a forest carbon project- from our perspective these are fundamental to a project that would address climate change. Current technical requirements mean it is unlikely community groups, without support from NGOs with technical capacity, would be able to start up a climate finance project. Furthermore, from GBM’s experience, until governments put in place strong forest governance, carbon projects and REDD projects will be unlikely to succeed. Therefore these projects will remain in the hands of private companies and consultants, rather than being vested in rural communities who live in and/or rely on these forests for their livelihoods.

GBM’s Prof Karanja said: “If we continue with carbon offsetting – where polluters are able to offset their emissions through buying credits- Africa, Asia and South America will become hewers of wood and drawers of water. We need clear identifiable indicators of reduction of emissions from the major polluters before they can enter the carbon buying market in the south.”

We started the event with Constance Okollet of Climate Wise Women who spoke of the extreme drought and floods that hit villages in her home area since 2007 – the Tororo district of Eastern Uganda. Constance spoke of how women and their families lost everything in floods and then starved as a severe drought followed. She explained how they first thought that God was angry with them- what else could cause such devastation, later they understood that this was climate change. The stark realities of how vulnerable villagers are to extreme weather events makes uncomfortable listening. This is what we need to keep at the forefront in our minds as we urge governments to commit at COP17 to robust, scientifically sound and time-specific global action.

See this blog in its original context on the Practical Action blog.