News / Africa

World Bank Works to Promote Environmentally-Sensitive Development Projects

Reuben Kyama

Development experts are urging African policymakers to increase the number of projects that reduce carbon emissions, which in turn cause pollution and climate change. The World Bank is working with African countries to help attract such so-called green investments in renewable energy, forestry and other areas.

A manager of the institution’s BioCarbon Fund, Ellysar Baroudy, says the Bank is taking part in a series of projects around the region aimed at helping impoverished communities enjoy environmental and financial benefits from carbon finance.

Funding the projects are some of the world’s biggest polluters, including industrialized countries like the United States, China and the European Union.

In Niger, a project producing Arabic gum, helps absorb carbon dioxide. In Madagascar, Baroudy says a reforestation effort links two national parks: “It’s got 122 tree species, done to try to mimic nature and extend the range of park because of the value of tourism in Madagascar.”

The U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol was designed to fight global warming. Industrialized nations are expected to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels with most reductions coming domestically. Under the protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), companies and other investors in developed countries can earn carbon credits, or Certified Emission Reductions (CDRs), whose value is linked to the price of carbon dioxide.

Western companies can invest up to 15 percent of their CDRS in projects that reduce carbon emissions in Africa and the developing world.

UN official John Kilani says “The credits are based on real measurable and additional reductions that would not have occurred in the absence of the project [so, they contribute to mitigation efforts].”

The United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says Africa has more than 120 carbon market projects up and running -- or in the pipeline -- in areas ranging from wind power to forestry. But compared with the rest of the world, the continent is still lagging, and its potential for clean and green energy is still largely untapped.

There are several reasons why.

Senior Communications Officer of the World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unit, Isabel Hagbrink, says they include a lack of financing and involvement by the private sector, and a failure by some African governments to back the projects or to take the lead. Many investors are more likely to invest in carbon reduction projects in regions with high rates of greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, Africa’s are relatively low. Some African countries also lack technical support with many trained staff leaving for better paying jobs in industrialized countries.

John Kilani is with the secretariat of the UNFCCC. He says the groundwork has been laid for Africa to boost its participation in the carbon market which is growing as an important commodities market worldwide: “Africa has not fared very well so far…but we are optimistic that the situation hopefully will change in a few months ahead.”

The World Bank report, called “State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2009,” says in the past two years a number of countries have entered the CDM pipeline, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Development experts note that there are currently about 120 projects now in Africa, with most of them in the larger countries like South Africa. According to the UN Environmental Program, efforts planned in Kenya and Uganda have jumped from about two in each country in 2007, to nearly 15.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) says they include a number of initiatives to improve the economy and the environment. For example, they can develop fuel for electricity generation with methane gas from landfills or hydropower from rivers and dams. Also popular are efforts to regenerate forests, absorb carbon dioxide from the air and also replenish nutrients in the soil. They help prevent flooding. In one example in Kenya, the Bank is working with the Green Belt Movement, founded by Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai. Its goal is to plant trees using a community-based approach by a local group called Women for a Better Environment.

The UN agency says there could well be over 240 such projects in Africa within the next two years.

But Baroudy warns that it will be difficult for African countries to enjoy the full potential of carbon finance without a concerted effort to promote land use and forestry projects. They must also work to overcome the challenges that remain -- such as project finance and capacity building.

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