The first African Carbon Forum is bringing together environmentally minded business people and investors in Dakar, hoping Africa will play a large role in helping to mitigate climate change. For VOA, Brent Latham has more from the conference.

Business people have come to Dakar from across Africa and around the world to attend the first Africa Carbon Forum. They represent governments, investors, and projects that help the environment while making good business sense.  Here, potential environmental entrepreneurs have the chance to network with those who know how to make their projects profitable.

Carbon emissions have been identified as a major factor in climate change. The Kyoto Protocol, the environmental pact aimed at reducing climate change, set up a mechanism by which projects that help reduce carbon emissions by using cleaner, renewable inputs, are compensated financially with so-called carbon credits.  

Heavy polluting countries, tasked by Kyoto with reducing their carbon emissions, have the option of buying the carbon credits from the clean projects, in essence purchasing the avoided pollution rather than reducing emissions themselves.  

Evan Ard is from the London-based Evolution Markets company. Ard says that process, referred to as the clean development mechanism or CDM, has quickly grown into a $70 billion market. He says Africa has been slow to benefit, but the potential on the continent is great.

"It is huge," said Ard. "Our clients, we have specific demands to buy African credits. A lot of these folks have wanted to diversify their portfolio geographically so Africa is the perfect place for them."

African businesses and governments are beginning to see the advantage of investing in carbon saving projects. Several governments have sent teams to the forum.  

Rachel Boti has come from the Ivory Coast. "I represent the ANDE, the National Development Coalition of Cote d'Ivoire, and our job is to coordinate the projects, the CDM projects of Cote d'Ivoire," she said. "And we came to the forum to meet all the partners of the CDM. We have about twenty projects in our portfolio."

Boti says she represents both public and private projects, including initiatives in waste management, electricity production, and biomass conservation.  

At the conference, she hopes to meet up with investors who will be interested in funding the projects.

Business people and governments are not the only ones with a stake in the project here. The forum is being attended by several large development organizations, including the World Bank and several United Nations programs.  

The United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, is playing a role in helping African countries and businesses gain better access to carbon markets, with a view towards development, says program manager Robert Kelly.

"When people talk about carbon trading and carbon finance, they tend to think immediately of the environmental benefits in the form of climate change mitigation," he said. "The reason why the United Nations Development Program is involved is because, for us, the carbon market represents a very potent, very fast growing source of finance to tap into to drive the sustainable development agenda of African countries.  

Kelly says projects financed partially through carbon credits are intrinsically good for the environment, but also provide a slew of other advantages for developing countries.

"By establishing carbon projects in Africa and selling the carbon credits on the international market, project developers can clearly make hard currency revenue, but there are all sorts of other benefits for the country as a whole, the host country, in the form of clean technology transfer, rehabilitation of degraded land, biodiversity in the context of forestry, clean reliable energy in the form of renewable energy projects," he said. "There is a whole host of development aspects that UNDP is trying to promote, and using the carbon market as a tool to do that promotion."

For the time being, though, the amount of carbon savings-based projects in Africa still lags well behind other parts of the world.  

With its vast forest reserves and other natural resources, experts say Africa could be a key player in the global fight against climate change. Conference organizers say they hope the Africa Carbon Forum is a step towards making that fight a profitable one for the continent.