Pioneering ‘ethical carbon offsets’ in South Africa
Imagine the idea of conserving energy, fighting climate change, AND reducing poverty. While many in the U.S. fight for the right to drive gas guzzlers and spend thousands of dollars on energy each month, there are billions of people who would prefer not to. Rather than setting emissions caps that harm the poor, finding cleaner development paths that improve the quality of their lives is one of the great hopes for the eventual post-Copenhagen UN climate treaty.
In South Africa, The Promoting Access to Carbon Equity (PACE) Centre has taken a bottoms up approach to put this idea in action. There mission is to support energy efficiency retrofitting for low income households. By providing alternative and cleaner energy supplies, they help residents reduce grid-electricity consumption, avoiding an unreliable, expensive dirty energy supply, decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases, and improving the quality of life for residents.
When the UN established the Carbon Development Mechanism (CDM) as part of the Kyoto protocol, the purpose was to use carbon credits (also know as carbon offsets) to allow industrialized countries to meet their commitments by supporting emission reductions projects in developing countries. The idea was to stimulate sustainable development and emission reductions, while giving industrialized countries some flexibility in how they meet their targets. But most of the projects have focused on large industrial and power generation facilities, primarily in China. As one of the founders of PACE told me, “we started PACE because the CDM market was failing in its goal of poverty alleviation, and also failing to provide credible and effective carbon credits.”
One of the most memorable scenes in the recent movie Invictus (a fabulous and inspirational look by Clint Eastwood at Nelson Mandela, the 1995 rugby world cup, and South Africa) is of a busload of rugby players traveling to a poor apartheid created township. One of the rugby players comments “Man, I’m glad I don’t live here.” A lot has changed in South Africa in the last 15 years, but poverty is still a significant issue in many areas of the country.
With the support of the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (UKFCO), a pilot project was started to see how “small scale” carbon development projects might help tackle this problem. This pilot led to the formation of the non profit Pace Centre. One of their first conclusions was that working in partnership with the local communities would identify the most practical ideas for reducing emissions. In doing so, they discovered that some fairly simple ideas can have a major impact. In Welbedacht, in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, solar water heaters, compact fluorescent lighting, and cooking options using solar cookers or gelfuel have all been embraced by residents, while reducing emissions.The traceable multi-benefit carbon offsets that are generated by the project (and fund it!) are also appealing to those who either don’t trust or have ambivalent feelings about carbon offsetting.
Opponents of climate action and climate legislation portray it as an economy and job killer, and opponents of carbon offset mechanisms portray them as a Wall Street bonanza. Three cheers for PACE for focusing on poverty reduction, while proving that –at least in some cases — these concerns are both unfounded.
You can learn more and support the Welbedacht project via offsets at ClimatePath.
Photo copyright : PACE Centre