Delegates at a conference in Nairobi say that Africa has not done enough to meet its full potential in global carbon trading. The carbon market, created in part through the Kyoto Protocol, is thought to be currently worth more than $100 billion annually and is expected to expand greatly in the next decades.
Under a structure known as the Clean Development Mechanism, industrialized nations who have signed the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement have the option of investing in carbon reduction projects across the world to help offset their own carbon emissions.
These projects, which are supposed to also contribute to sustainable development in the host countries, are the source each year of billions of dollars in investment from richer countries into emerging economies.
Some projections indicate that the carbon trade market could reach into the trillions of dollars this decade, depending on the direction of future global climate agreements.
But speakers at the All-Africa Carbon Forum at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, are saying that African countries have not taken full advantage of this potential source of outside investment.
Only two percent of the nearly 5,000 CDM projects that have been registered worldwide are found in Africa.
Achim Stainer, head of the United Nations Environmental Program, which is based in the Kenyan capital, told delegates representing over 30 African countries that the continent needs to scale up its efforts to tap into the potentially-lucrative carbon trade. "We have to analyze how Africa can play a more active role in the global carbon market and in CDM because there is real money in there probably by 2012. The estimates range that we will have through CDM investments in the range of $40 - 50 billion, this is not peanuts and this is just the beginning of the global carbon market," he said
Stainer said that one of the hurdles Africa faces in more fully entering the carbon market is that the scale of its projects are often too small. He suggested that this could be partially addressed through more strongly integrating regional economies.
The U.N. official said that if Africa makes the necessary strides towards promoting its CDM potential, investors will likely respond positively.
African leaders are also urging the continent's policymakers to begin preparing for the expected climate shifts. Scientists and researchers have warned sub-Saharan Africa that its agricultural production and economic output could be devastated if the region does not begin adjusting to the changing times.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki prodded his peers to make climate policy a priority. "As we seek the support of developed countries, African countries need to continue developing national strategies to combat climate change. We ought to bear in mind that addressing the impacts of climate change is about our countries and survival of our people," he said.
The Kenyan president also criticized the recent global climate summit in Copenhagen as a failure.