Dar es Salaam. The debate over the necessity and implications of the much-touted carbon credits trading drew the attention of many participants during this year’s International Transparency and Accountability Conference (ITAC) in Arusha, which focused on strengthening accountability for climate action.
During the second day of the two-day conference, organised jointly by a local think tank on public accountability WAJIBU and the government, on September 29, 2023, conference participants delved into discussing opportunities that carbon trading can offer Tanzania and other African countries.
Experts define carbon trading as a trading system in which companies or individuals can compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits from entities that remove or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While some describe the arrangement as an effective way of addressing the climate crisis that is wreaking havoc on millions of people worldwide, others have criticised it, labelling it as a new form of neo-colonialism of the African continent and its people.
In Tanzania, authorities have been in favour of the arrangement, releasing its Carbon Credits Regulations and its subsequent guidelines in 2022. Among other things, the regulations introduced the National Carbon Assessment Technical Committee. They also identify key actors in the carbon markets.
During the discussion at the ITAC, Prof Eliakimu Zahabu, the Director of the National Carbon Monitoring Centre, a government body charged with overseeing carbon emissions in the country, dismissed the claims that carbon markets constitute a new form of neo-colonialism, hailing the arrangement for its potential to help ordinary people.
“There are people who say through these carbon trading projects we are being recolonised,” Prof Zahabu said, responding to a question by Tony Afred, The Chanzo’s editor, who took part in the conference. “But it all depends on how you regulate it.”
“The message should be clear because people think this carbon project involves the sale of the land to outsiders; no one is buying land for the carbon project,” the expert clarified. “You cannot buy land just for developing a carbon project with the current regulations that we have [in Tanzania].”
He explained that the regulations insist on collaborations between the owner of the land and an investor, noting that with that condition, there is no way the land can be sold, pointing out that that is so even in government-run carbon markets.
The Tanzania Forest Services (TFS), managing over 15 million hectares of forest land nationwide, has received ten applications from proponents who want to sell off credits from Tanzania forests, an official revealed during the conference.
The partnership targets eight million hectares of forest in the first phase, including 56,000 hectares of mangroves for carbon markets. During the conference, it was also revealed that in a few days, Tanzania will sign its first bilateral trade agreement on carbon trading.
Right to development
However, some actors have expressed doubt over the schemes, with many citing their integrity and the future of the residents in the project areas. Others are also worried that the projects risk robbing Tanzanians’ right to development.
For example, in their 2023 report titled Green Colonialism 2.0: Tree Plantations and Carbon Offsets in Africa, a US-based environmental think-tank Oakland Institute warns that thanks to carbon markets projects implemented in Africa, communities have become the targets of “carbon cowboys.”
“These unscrupulous actors frequently coerce local groups into signing opaque and exploitative deals, seizing their carbon and land rights for periods that can last over 100 years,” notes the group in its report.
Dr Kanizio Manyika, who works at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) National Focal Point in Tanzania, however, allayed Tanzanians’ fears during the ITAC, which drew participants from across Africa.
“We have the right to development, and this is enshrined within the context of the UN process,” the expert noted. “Whatever we are doing is to enable development and not otherwise.”
Azaria Kilimba, Operational Manager of Carbon Tanzania, which runs several carbon trading projects in Tanzania, said projects that violate people’s rights can hardly make a return due to a rigorous verification process in selling credits.
“On the issue of eviction, whenever you think of such conduct that violates human rights, whenever you go to verification, the process actually removes a kind of project of such nature,” Mr Kilimba noted.
This assurance notwithstanding, many people follow the trend of carbon credits marketing in Tanzania with some notable concerns.
These concerns are informed of several difficulties that communities across the country are reported to face thanks to authorities’ attempts to protect conservation areas, which cover about 307,800 square kilometres of land, representing 32.5 per cent of Tanzania’s total land.
Even in areas that were not known for having many tensions around conservation, issues are now emerging, as demonstrated by an ongoing conflict between the people of Mtepera village in Lindi and conservation authorities, which has seen the latter destroying people’s homes and farms in the name of expanding a national park.
Similar clashes have occurred in other parts of the country, including the May 2023 incident where two fishermen went missing, and two people died in Mto wa Mbu, Arusha, which resulted from parks’ authority arresting fishermen for allegedly fishing in a conserved area.