A carbon credit is a certificate that provides a guarantee that one metric tonne of carbon dioxide has either been extracted from the atmosphere or has been prevented from escaping into the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas implicated in causing global warming. This gas is presently increasing in concentration in the atmosphere due to the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and oil as well as degradation of forests. In order to reduce the risk of further global warming the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere needs to be managed. Carbon credits contribute to this management because for every carbon credit generated, there is one tonne less of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The value of carbon credits depends on two main factors: firstly, the demand versus supply of carbon credits and secondly, the strength of the guarantee that one tonne of carbon dioxide has been removed from or prevented from escaping into the atmosphere. The demand and supply of carbon credits are in turn a function of inter alia government regulation, public opinion on the risk of global warming and the steps required to mitigate the risk, and the number of projects generating carbon credits. The strength of the guarantee is related to the checks and balances in place within a particular carbon credit trading system.
There are a wide range of exchanges and private electronic markets that have been established to trade in carbon credits.
Carbon sequestration is the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This can be achieved by growing plants (which use carbon dioxide to produce biomass) in degraded ecosystems or through chemical means such as occurs in carbon dioxide scrubbers that control emissions from some modern coal-fired power stations.
Considerable ecological and social benefit can be generated through carbon sequestration projects if appropriate plants are used in the project. For example, carbon sequestration can be achieved by restoring degraded thicket or forest landscapes. Biodiversity returns, water infiltrates into soils rather than eroding them, plant productivity increases, animal production increases and jobs are created during the restoration process.
Plants that are dominant in the intact ecosystem, that propagate from cuttings and that grow fast in the degraded landscape are ideal for carbon sequestration projects. Cuttings are preferable to seedlings for carbon sequestration because it negates the need for a nursery and consequently reduces the costs of plant production.
Spekboom is special because it is a dominant plant in many intact thicket types, it propagates from cuttings and grows relatively fast in degraded thicket landscapes. Spekboom cuttings, unlike cuttings of most other thicket species have a high rate of survival in the dry, hot soils of degraded thicket. It can consequently sequester carbon in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces where other plants cannot. Spekboom is also unusual in being able to grow rapidly in both wet and dry conditions. It can switch gear from a ‘normal’ growth method when soils are wet to a ‘cactus-like’ growth method when soils are dry.
- The land owner makes a legal commitment to maintain the carbon stocks sequestered on his or her property.
- A project design document is developed.
- Investment is raised to implement the project.
- Carbon stocks in the degraded landscape are quantified.
- The project is validated by an independent auditor.
- The project is implemented i.e. the plants are established in degraded landscapes.
- The carbon stocks sequestered by the project are quantified.
- The carbon stocks are verified by an independent auditor.
- Carbon credits are issued.
- Ecological knowledge is of paramount importance for ensuring that the project is implemented in the appropriate landscape (in terms of soil type, topographic position, vegetation type, aspect etc.).
- Carbon accounting expertise is required for quantifying carbon in soils and plants.
- Financial expertise is required for raising the appropriate investment and trading the carbon credits.
As will be seen from the questions and answers above there are a number of aspects to a carbon sequestration project and clearly many of these require particular skills and experience. AfriCarbon has 20 years of scientific as well as practical experience with spekboom and using spekboom cuttings to restore degraded landscapes.
Economies of Scale
Financial viability studies have indicated that it is extremely difficult to create a viable restoration project on a small scale. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The planting costs per hectare are likely to be far more economical when done on a large scale basis.
- The initial project management and ongoing monitoring will similarly also be more cost effective with a larger project.
- Carbon accounting is an integral and extremely important part of the whole process. This is a costly exercise which can be prohibitively expensive for a small project but with a larger project will have significant economies of scale.
- The sale of carbon credits on a small scale is likely to be problematic particularly regarding obtaining full value. AfriCarbon has the expertise and network and will have the size to maximize the sale potential.
Despite the hardiness of spekboom, its growth can be adversely impacted by poor agricultural conditions, inappropriate soils and the external environment (e.g. frost). It is also a plant that is sought after by domestic animals and game.
As a consequence, expert knowledge is required to avert the risk of spekboom cutting mortality, and to ensure that the cuttings are only planted in environments that are suitable for spekboom-rich thicket establishment.
Flexible financial structure
AfriCarbon has designed a series of financial structures that can cater for the requirements of any farmer who wishes to pursue carbon sequestration by working together in a larger group with other farmers and investors. The structures available will be discussed on a one-on-one basis with each farmer and investor who shows serious interest in entering into a business relationship with AfriCarbon.