Over the past decade the Kariba REDD+ Project gained notoriety as the second largest carbon credits project in the world, but recently issues of credibility have plagued the project and with it brought sharp focus on the carbon credits market and the regulation thereof. In essence carbon credits are the difference between offsets from greenhouse gas emissions against measurable, verifiable emission reductions from independently certified climate projects. In theory the carbon markets allow companies and governments alike to continue emitting greenhouse gases against a corresponding carbon credit generated by investment into a project that is designed to avoid, reduce or remove the impact of such emissions. The Kariba REDD+ project, one of a few verified and certified climate project, is a forestry project covering 785,000 hectares (1.94 million acres) of land focusing on preservation and conservation activities and as at March 2023 global companies had bought over 23 million carbon credits, worth over US $100 million, making the said project the second largest in the world. The Kariba REDD+ is a voluntary market, however the advent of SI 150 of 2023 which introduced the Carbon Credit Trading (General) Regulation, seeks to regulate the control and management of carbon credits projects within Zimbabwe. This article will therefore review the regulatory framework and its suitability of the said regulations in light of the problems and credibility of the Kariba REDD+ project.
The start of the year saw an adverse report on the correctness of baseline figures of the conversation projects and whether the carbon finance i.e. investments into the project, where reaching the project community in and around Kariba. The issues that have affected Kariba REDD+ coincided with an unclear policy framework despite voluntary carbon credit projects like Kariba REDD+ having been implemented for over a decade. It is posited that the regulations were reactive having realized the voluntary market had created a US $ 2 billion market. This is premised on the fact that notwithstanding the regulations under SI 150 of 2023 controlling and managing the carbon credits market as set out in the objectives, there is no legislation founding such regulations. It is this authors considered view that there is need for legislation on climate change and thereby give the carbon credit regulations proper basis in the law. Put simply the cart cannot come before the horse. The countries climate change objectives require legislative impetus to prescribe climate and environmental undertakings by the State and lay out positive actions incumbent upon stakeholders, local and foreign alike, towards the realization of the policy objectives on climate change. This author suggests that the net gain from the carbon credits market in Zimbabwe can only be realized by a holistic legislative effort charting the countries objectives vis-à-vis climate change, the creates symbiotic relationships with other pieces of legislation such as the Environmental Management Act. It must be noted though that regulation of the voluntary carbon credits projects is essential, lest the concerns and or criticisms that have plagued the Kariba REDD+ to be true and the benefits of the project have been overstated in terms of the impact on environmental conservation and that impact of carbon financing were not realized downstream, within the project community. The historical policy vacuum vis-à-vis veracity of collected data form the project and realization of carbon financing in the project community, has seemingly been addressed by sections 9 and 12 of the Regulations.
The tenor of section 9 of the Regulations place an obligation on project proponents to authenticate emission reductions within a specified time and obtain a Carbon Credit Certificate from a Carbon Credit Issuing Body, and thereafter write to the designated operating authority for listing on the Zimbabwe carbon credits register. The carbon registry and subsequent register are creations of section 15 of the regulations. The authenticated emissions reductions, together with the register are a much needed tool to foster and promote transparency and credibility of carbon credits projects in Zimbabwe. Despite the designated national authority, founded under section 5 of the Regulations, is vested with the formulating carbon credits standardized baselines and methodologies for Zimbabwe however the same Regulations make no further reference to carbon credits standardized baselines and methodologies to be utilized from the effective date nor do the Regulation provide for interim standardized baselines and methodologies to be adopted. Such position leaves projects like the Kariba REDD+ in state of flux which does not propagate confidence in the carbon credits market.
Section 12 of the Regulations seeks to address the concern emanating from Kariba REDD+ that carbon finances have not flowed downstream to benefit the project community. The section states that the community is entitled to a quarter of the 70% share which accrues to the investor, the funds of which must be invested into the community in consultation with the local authority. Moreover, a project proponent is required to carry out feasibility studies which include adequate and meaningful consultations with the affected and interested parties before the project is implemented. Under Schedule 1 of the Regulations, a Stakeholder and Public Participation Plan based on the prior informed consent by each individual participant or household representative, shall be mandatory in all projects involving the local community. This provision is consistent with the right to free prior and informed consent enshrined under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya, FPIC is one of safeguards to the right to self-determination over lands and resources. It follows that the Carbon Credits Regulations are progressive and will provide a vehicle for meaningful community participation in carbon credit projects in Zimbabwe.
Overall the Carbon Credits (General) Regulations 2023 was a long overdue policy intervention to regulate the conduct of the Kariba REDD+ and any other carbon credit projects in the country. The credibility issues plagued by the project could have been cured by section 9 and 12 of the regulations. However, the regulations are merely the tip of the iceberg as the regulations alone will not combat climate change or contribute to the country's objectives on climate change. To this end it is imperative the legislature crafts climate change laws to aid the regulations under discussion.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.