Friday, July 6, 2012

The Carbon Trade Comes to Malawi: What it means for the layman

It’s unprecedented: Malawi is now officially trading in carbon - an arrangement in which big polluters in the developed world are said to be reducing their emissions by funding projects that benefit poor nations who despite polluting less, bear the blunt of the developed countries’ pollution.

The Malawigovernment has just given an approval letter to CarbonSoft Corporation a London based carbon credit aggregator to start distributing solar lamps in Malawi’s rural and unelectrified households.

  “This [distribution of lamps] will enable them to stop burning kerosene, a highly potent greenhouse gas, for light, preventing CO2 emissions. CarbonSoft estimates that over the course of the six-year project, approximately forty-nine thousand tonnes of CO2 will be saved in this way, generating one carbon credit per tonne,” said CarbonSoft in a release published on

The solar light program is at the leading edge of a worldwide movement to reduce the burning of kerosene, key to the objectives of the Rio +20 conference on Sustainable Development, and the International Year of Sustainable Energy For All in 2012.

Shamiso Najira, Chief Environmental Officer and Focal Point for Clean Development Mechanism of the Environmental Affairs Department in the ministry environment and climate change said the approval was only given upon the Malawi government liking the project concept of CarbonSoft.

She said the role of the government will be to promote the project and said it would cover the whole country, a move which effectively means that CarbonSoft is aiming at eliminating Kerosene lamps in Malawi.

CarbonSoft is a carbon credits aggregator, it funds such projects and sells what ‘carbon credits’ a form of currency. The Collins English Dictionary defines a carbon credit as “a certificate showing that a government or company has paid to have a certain amount of carbon dioxide removed from the environment.” What this means however is that that company or government that has bought the credits maintains their pollution and uses the carbon credits to justify it.

Some people argue that the whole carbon trading  idea only allows rich nations to pollute more and not decrease their emissions because they  hide under the veil of buying carbon credits which are moneys given to a broker who is reducing carbon emissions elsewhere.

One critic of carbon trading writing in Time Magazine took a swipe at the practice saying: “In other words, the rich reduce their carbon output by not one ounce. But drawing on the hundreds of millions of net worth in the Kodak Theatre, they pull out lunch money to buy ecological indulgences.

“The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has been a failure under any metric you look at,” said Oscar Reyes, Associate Fellow, of the Institute for Policy Studies speaking at a press conference arranged by the forestry policy NGO FERN at the UN climate talks in Bonn
Said Reyes: “Its credit price is lower than a snake’s belly and its environmental integrity is about the same – there’s little proof it has produced real, actual, additional emission reductions...”

Will Farmers Like Ngwira really benefit from carbon trading

Shamiso Najira when asked if the project is enough to address the climate change effects was non-committal and said it depends on the ones understanding of the issue.

“It’s up to us as a country, if it contributes to our sustainable development it is fine,” said Najira

Even the civil society is not sure of the carbon trade, William Chadza, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) said the issue has two faces.

On one hand it is a welcome as it will lead to increased access to sustainable energy; address the challenges of our narrow Energy Policy; provides opportunities for financial gains from carbon markets; and increases Malawi's efforts towards climate change mitigation.

Conversely, there is growing evidence suggesting that most of the carbon trading related interventions have the west as the major beneficiary as these interventions will only lead to perpetuating greenhouse gas emissions.

“As more of these carbon trading related interventions get underway, the more levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the west remain the same. It is like providing permits to pollute. It promotes business as usual approach. In addition, recent figures on prices of carbon per tonne seem unattractive to warrant significant livelihood changes which the proponents seem to be portraying.” Said Chadza

Chadza said there is need to do a good cost-benefit analysis on the issue; meanwhile the rich nations will keep emitting carbon and using their huge profits to buy carbon credits.

It is the likes of Stanley Ngwira a teacher at Thunduti Secondary School at Uliwa in Karonga that will keep suffering.

Early this year rains took a break for almost three weeks when Ngwira’s maize needed it most, the result was almost no yield at all, Ngwira is putting his hopes on the salary he gets from his job as a teacher and even then, his year looks bleak and there are far more people like Ngwira many who do not have a salary.

For Ngwira, the solar lamp he is likely to receive from CarbonSoft will just be used at night but the gruesome effects of erratic weather likely to be the result of climate change may haunt him for a long time.

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