GLASGOW — Campaigners from wealthy Western countries are attacking climate solutions like carbon markets that poorer countries see as economically vital, Rwanda’s environment minister told POLITICO.
Friday is “youth and public empowerment day” at COP26 and activist Greta Thunberg was set to address a march in Glasgow.
But in response to Thunberg and green groups’ critiques of trading carbon credits — one of the most divisive topics at the COP26 climate talks — Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya said: “They’re just complaining just for complaining.”
Also on Friday morning, negotiating documents released by the U.K. hosts of the COP26 conference revealed countries remained divided over issues of double-counting and the use of old credits to sell or count toward climate goals.
Mujawamariya said she was expecting countries to agree on the rules for the buying and selling of carbon credits across international borders. Carbon credits, also called allowances, are permits to emit greenhouse gases that emitters have to buy, usually from governments. Offsets are when a country or company does something which removes carbon from the atmosphere — like plant trees — and that can be sold to an emitter to reduce their carbon footprint.
Rwanda is relying on the sale of such offsets to finance its green transition and protect people from the impacts of climate change, said Mujawamariya.
But NGOs and activists have raised concerns that such credits are unmanageable and a distraction from cutting emissions, as well as something that can drive land conflicts thanks to tensions between using it for farming or forests. There are concerns that offsets can allow companies like airlines to continue polluting, while some of the schemes may not lock up as much carbon as advertised.
“Offsetting is often a dangerous climate lie,” Thunberg tweeted this week, about a voluntary offsetting scheme being set up by former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.
“For COP26 to be a success, we need an initiative to scale down carbon markets, instead of scaling them up,” Teresa Anderson, climate policy coordinator at ActionAid, told a meeting at COP26 on Wednesday. “Carbon offsets mean climate sabotage. They aren’t just a tool to greenwash climate inaction and delay the transformation we need; they’re also going to drive devastating land grabs in the global South.”
Those concerns don’t get much traction with Mujawamariya.
“Do they propose another solution?” she asked. “The leaves of the trees will fix the carbon, that’s scientific.”
At COP26, governments are discussing the rules for a global market that many developing countries see as a way to spur low-carbon development.
There are efforts to water down the rules, especially from Brazil, which wants to use millions of tons of credits from an earlier iteration of the system under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Other countries say that would flood the market with credits that don’t actually lead to any carbon savings, which could undermine the integrity of the system.
Green groups fear a proliferation of offsetting projects will make it too easy to claim that net-zero pledges are being met, without real-world emissions being lowered.
But Mujawamariya said it’s difficult to secure investments for projects like clean cooking, which aims to end the use of traditional fuels like wood and shift people to liquid petroleum gas and biogas, and is one of Rwanda’s biggest carbon and health concerns. She said storing carbon on behalf of other countries or companies is a major economic opportunity for Rwanda, which is 30 percent forest and increased its cover by around 35,000 hectares between 2009 and 2019, according to a government survey.
“If we are talking about being climate-change resilient, it will not come from the heavens; we have to work for it. We have to invest,” she said. “We cannot say we have [the] excuse of just sitting and waiting for the Samaritan to come and save us.”
Mujawamariya also pushed back on what she described as Western efforts to dictate the type of projects that should get climate funding. She said some partners approach Rwanda with the attitude: “I want to help you to do what I want,” but she said in those situations, “I would not accept, because I know the needs of my people better than anybody else.”
The U.S., U.K. and EU have all launched overseas investment schemes that are intended as a counter to China’s Belt and Road initiative. Chinese companies invested $300 million last year in Rwanda, largely in real estate, construction and mining.
“Whoever will come to fulfill our need is welcome,” Mujawamariya said.
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