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


Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat7 years ago


Micky B.
Micky B8 years ago

Being South African myself,, I know the poverty spoken of. And althought I'm all for curbing global warming & pollution, I think we must first address the issue of poverty in our country,
Firstly, 60% of our South Africans live in informal settlement (squatter camps), with no running water, electricity, sanitation or refuse removal. These people then have to create their own rubbish dumps & sanitation "systems" which pollute the ground water - the water quality in SA is very low due to a huge amount of E.coli in it. Most people buy filtered water of have on installed. For heat & cooking, these people use either parrafin stoves or open fires, which are both big polluters. The fires also leads to deforestation as poor people also sell them on the road side as an income - it's very common here.
Secondly, this country has a lot of other social issues that needs to be address, the biggest of which (besides poverty) is crime & government mismanagement of public funds.
In my opinion the government can begin with legislation, stating that all new homes build from a certain date, should be equipped with solar geysers instead of regular ones.
Remember, we're not the US, we don't have solar power other that geysers as yet, Also there is no funding for more renewable energy sources, mainly due to misuse of public money by the government on luxury living.

Micky B.
Micky B8 years ago

Being a South African, I see this poverty stricken areas & their people every day. We already have the problem of poverty, corrupt police & government officials & crime, added to that the issue of pollution. More than 60% of South Africans live in squatter camps (informal settlements, houses made of cardboard, zinc, etc.) where there is no electricity, running water, sanitation & refuse removal. This means that these people not only live without hot water, but have to create their own rubbish dumps. This leads to pollution that obviously lands in the groundwater.
Not having electricity means that they use either parafin stoves or open fires which are both big polluters. It also leads to trees being used as firewood. The poor even sell the wood to "middle class" people at the road sides - it's a common sight here.
We must first address the poverty issue in SA before we can tackle issues like global warming. A good start will be for the government to make a law whereby all new homes are to be fitted with solarg geysers instead of regular ones & homes must be isolated to curb heating & cooling costs. This must then included RDP housing, supplied by the government.

Ellinor S.
Ellinor S8 years ago

great story

Leanne B.
Leanne B8 years ago

Thank you good stuff!

Erin R.
Erin R8 years ago

nice picture :-)

Katherine A.
Katherine A8 years ago

:D This sort of stuff gives me hope.

Linda M.
Linda M8 years ago

thanks for the post

Angel Sch
Past Member 8 years ago

i've noted, thanks :).

connor h.
connor h8 years ago

planting trees is always a winner