Get serious about carbon offset by measuring it well to save the Earth


Josphat Mwamba explains the impact of Mikoko Pamoja, a community project started in 2014 that uses the sale of carbon credits to fund mangrove conservation on the Kenyan coast. FILE PHOTO | NMG

In the opening months of this year, the carbon offset project touted as Kenya’s finest and most successful was suspended, with carbon offset certifier Verra ending the issuing of carbon credits from the project.

The roadblock was one of accounting and validation, capturing a trend that is playing out across the globe. For the carbon offset market has spent a decade, and even nearly two decades, in that difficult quadrant of the strategy tool, the Boston Matrix, as a problem child.

Many organisations, and many certifiers too, leapt into this new opportunity to gather funds from airlines, and latterly every type of client - with Netflix, Meta and the bank NatWest among the buyers of Kenya’s now suspended credits.

The big idea was to fund the growth of new trees that would absorb carbon, offsetting the carbon generated, for instance, by Meta’s massive computer storage and server farms, known as data centres, that consume much of the world’s electricity.

The revenue delivery behind such an elegant triple win — for the corporates, the planet, and the new tree growers — was compelling.

But without universal standards or any necessary means of establishing or proving the volume of carbon absorbed, this created a back-of-the-envelope underpinning for carbon sales.

Sums filled documents saying things like, previously 1,000 cattle grazed this land eating xkg of plants, but now they don’t, so we are adding 1,000 times xkg of plants absorbing xxx of carbon.

The same sums graced carbon offsets from selling cooking stoves — before the families who have bought our stove were cutting down and burning ‘this much’ wood and using ‘this much’ charcoal to cook and now they are not, improving carbon absorption by the ‘this much’ a year they were previously consuming.

It’s likely that only industries on the frontline of our colossal, global carbon generation were willing to pay out such sketchy sums.

But those times are gone, and that really matters for all the massive opportunities that exist in our region for genuine and credible carbon offsetting.

Elsewhere, projects are underway now counting and verifying plants, their size and their carbon offset.

In Sierra Leone, for example, DFID is funding a Crown Agent’s project tagging trees and periodically affirming their ongoing existence with drones and satellite imagery.

Thus, the clarion call for carbon offset in 2023 is that our planet has moved into turmoil and may even be dying.

At this point, we need to get very serious indeed about carbon offset, measure it properly, show it, account for it, truly absorb it, and for that earn leading global revenues.