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Land in various African countries is being bought at a rapid pace by Dubai’s royal family through a company called “Blue Carbon.” The land bought so far, roughly the size of the UK, is being set aside and protected for generating carbon credits. The Guardian recently published an article detailing these recent purchases which states:

“So far, the deals cover a fifth of Zimbabwe, 10% of Liberia, 10% of Zambia and 8% of Tanzania, amounting to a total area the size of the UK. In October, Blue Carbon signed its latest deal for ‘millions’ of hectares of forest in Kenya. The company said it was also working on an agreement with Pakistan. More deals are expected in the coming months. The carbon assets associated with the deals could be bought up by major polluters and used towards their own targets under the Paris agreement.”

Despite the large investment, questions linger about the efficacy and ethics of the projects. For one, it is unclear that the forests being purchased are in danger of deforestation to begin with, a problem with additionality we’ve seen in other projects. Additionally, the project raises human rights questions for the indigenous population. There are questions about whether the people occupying these lands were given sufficient information about the deal to properly consent to it. If the forests are stripped from the local population without adequate consent, that would be cause for concern. The deal also allows Blue Carbon exclusive rights to sell credits generated by the land for 30 years and furnishes Blue Carbon with 70% of the sales proceeds – leading to questions about whether adequate compensation is provided to the local community.

Emissions offsetting have always been a thorny topic in sustainability. Thus far, no solution has emerged that satisfactorily addresses all issues such as additionality, leakage and local community treatment/compensation. However, the lack of a reliable standard has not stopped companies and countries from using offsetting to meet their net-zero goals. If the Blue Carbon gamble doesn’t pay off and high quality credits do not emerge, the project investors, developers and credit buyers may find themselves in a messier situation than they bargained for. It is important that all parties involved in projects like this conduct adequate and independent due diligence.

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The Editor

Zachary Barlow is a licensed attorney. He earned his JD from the University of Mississippi and has a bachelor’s in Public Policy Leadership. He practiced law at a mid-size firm and handled a wide variety of cases. During this time he assisted in overseeing compliance of a public entity and litigated contract disputes, gaining experience both in and outside of the courtroom. Zachary currently assists the editorial team by providing research and creating content on a spectrum of ESG… View Profile