UAE corporation acquires land in Africa for contentious carbon offset projects

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A drone photo of forest in the Mucheni conservancy in Binga, Zimbabwe -- part of the Kariba carbon offsets project.

In late September, the environment minister of Zimbabwe gave a foreign company control of almost 20% of the country’s land. Blue Carbon was a small and new company, only less than a year old. But the person in charge was not new to business. He was a royal from Dubai with a family that had been in power for a long time and had a lot of money from oil.

The company Blue Carbon from Dubai has bought a lot of forest land in Africa to protect it from being cut down. This will stop a lot of carbon dioxide from going into the air and heating up the planet.

Blue Carbon can take the savings from the conservation and sell them to companies and governments as carbon credits. These credits can help them make up for the pollution they create from burning fossil fuels that harm the planet.

Several forest conservation agreements were announced in the months leading up to the annual United Nations‘ climate summit. The summit will be held in December in the United Arab Emirates and will include deals with Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Liberia, and Tanzania. But many experts and environmental activists CNN talked to say that these deals are just another way for the oil-producing country to keep extracting fossil fuels while making it seem like they care about the environment.

Meanwhile, the UAE wants to use all its oil in 50 years, even though scientists say we should stop using fossil fuels long before that.

A person who speaks for the company didn’t tell CNN if they would sell the credits to the UAE. But because the chairman of Blue Carbon, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, is related to Dubai’s royal ruler, who is also the UAE’s prime minister, most analysts think the credits will be sold to the UAE to help with their big carbon footprint. They could also be sold to other countries and companies that need oil in the Gulf and other places. CNN has asked the UAE government for a comment.

Blue Carbon did not tell CNN the size of all its projects, the amount of money it has given for funding, or how many credits it wants to make. The agreements are just starting and not finished yet.

The company said it will share its deals at the COP28 summit in Dubai as a plan for carbon trading. Every year, leaders and negotiators from almost 200 countries come together at the climate summit to make decisions about using less fossil fuels. The UAE will use its COP28 presidency to try to make sure that carbon removal from both forests and oil and gas is a big part of solving the climate crisis. This means taking carbon from the air when oil and gas are burned and storing it underground.

People who care about the environment don’t like carbon removal because they think it allows companies to keep making and burning fossil fuels and make a lot of money. Scientists also have doubts about whether it actually works.

The UAE stands to lose a lot of money. Oil and gas make up about 30% of its economy and 13% of the things it sells to other countries, according to the US Department of Commerce. Over 80 countries want to stop using fossil fuels. Wind and solar power are now just as cheap as oil and gas in many places, so eventually, they will replace them.

If fossil fuel companies and lobbyists can convince the world at COP28 not to trust wind and solar too much, and to keep using oil and gas, then it might happen.

The UAE is getting a lot of criticism because Sultan Al Jaber, who runs the big oil and gas company ADNOC, is leading the negotiations. Over 100 US Congress and European Parliament members want Al Jaber to be replaced as COP28 president in May.

Al Jaber says that he doesn’t think it’s a problem to have many different jobs at once. He has talked about this in several interviews. ADNOC told CNN in an email that they think he is the best person to lead the talks because of his experience leading Masdar and the oil and gas company.

Al Jaber believes that companies that use fossil fuels should be involved in discussions about the environment to make sure that the transition to green energy really happens.

The argument makes sense to some people, but climate advocates don’t believe it. They say the fossil fuel industry has had plenty of time to lead on the issue, but they haven’t. Some companies that produce fuels from ancient plant and animal remains were the first to realize that their products are causing changes in the Earth’s climate. About forty years ago, they kept making money from coal, oil, and gas.

Jamie Henn, who started Fossil Free Media, said that ADNOC is using the UN climate talks to make themselves look good even though they are one of the biggest oil companies. “The UAE wanted to host this meeting to show that their oil and gas industry can help with the climate problem. ”

In 2020, the UAE contributed about 0. 53% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Even though it has a small population of around 10 million people, it ranks as the sixth-largest carbon polluter per person. Even though the UAE has fewer people, it was the seventh-largest oil producer in the world in 2022.

Henn thought it was ridiculous that fossil fuel companies were controlling the negotiations.

“It feels like the tobacco control talks are being controlled by Philip Morris. ” “We have to have that at COP. ”

The COP, which happens in a new city every year, has never had this many obvious conflicts of interest before. Al Jaber is leading efforts to address climate change and reduce the use of fossil fuels. Blue Carbon is closely connected to the royal family and leaders of the UAE, making it hard to tell if they are truly supporting carbon offsets or just want to keep producing fossil fuels.

The rules for buying and selling carbon credits will be decided in Dubai at COP28.

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When CNN asked Blue Carbon if they were planning to do more carbon offset deals in Africa, a company spokesperson said they would announce some new initiatives at COP28. A source familiar with the COP28 agenda said the company will use the deals to promote carbon credits as an important part of addressing climate change.

Many countries have agreed to work with Blue Carbon, which is not surprising. The company that owns it, Global Carbon Investments, has agreed to give Zimbabwe $1. 5 billion in advance for carbon credits. This is more money than the country spends on education and childcare, which are its biggest national expenses when added together.

Forest-rich countries can make money from carbon credit schemes because they don’t get enough financial help from rich countries to deal with the climate crisis.

Destroying forests or allowing them to deteriorate contributes to at least 12% of the world’s emissions that cause the planet to become warmer. They are valuable for the environment because they can take in carbon dioxide from the air.

However, many people have criticized the idea of trading carbon credits for not cutting down forests. Some of the largest companies that certify carbon credits have been found to use methods that make their projects seem more effective at fighting climate change than they really are.

In the beginning of November, Renat Heuberger, the boss of a company called South Pole, quit his job. His company was supposed to trade carbon credits. But people found out that they had lied about how much the credits helped the environment in a forest project in Zimbabwe.

South Pole said that the news reports about over-issuing carbon credits are not true. They think the reports are exaggerated and misleading. They are denying the allegations made by the media.

A South Pole spokesperson told CNN in an email that Heuberger left because the company needed a new leader for quality assurance and careful controls.

“Supporting efforts to protect forests is a good idea. ” “But the problem is that protecting forests is not a simple solution,” Julia Jones, a scientist who works to protect nature at Bangor University in Wales, explained.

She said we need to save forests and reduce emissions a lot all over the world. “Trying to balance one with the other, without spending a lot to reduce emissions, is a problem. ”

Land ownership is another problem. In some situations, native people and landowners have been forced out of their land to make room for big projects. They see their homes, which were once considered not very valuable, being used by companies and countries to make a lot of money, even if it harms the environment.

The Forest Peoples Programme, a group that is not part of the government, says that more and more people are being forced to leave their homes in Kenya because the government is giving away land for carbon credits.

“Companies want to make a lot of money from Africa’s forests, and it seems like they are trying to take control of them. ” Justin Kenrick, who works for the Forest Peoples Programme, said this in an email to CNN. “In Kenya, they are still trying to conserve nature, but they are doing it in a way that doesn’t work. They are forcing the people who know how to take care of the forests out of their homes. ”

No matter what happens at COP28, ADNOC, the oil and gas company owned by the UAE government, could benefit a lot. This is especially true if they can show the world that they are focused on producing the most energy. The phrase “Minimum Emissions” is a good way to help the environment, especially as the Earth gets hotter and scientists urge for quick reductions in using fossil fuels.

A person from ADNOC did not say how many people from the company would go to COP28 when asked by CNN. They also said that the idea that the company would gain from the conference is wrong and has no basis.

ADNOC plans to increase its oil production by 41% and its gas production by one-third by 2030, compared to this year. This information comes from an analysis by Global Witness, a non-profit that focuses on environmental and human rights issues. Global Witness said that its greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by 40%.

Other oil companies like Shell and BP have different plans compared to the production increase. Shell’s production is expected to stay the same, while BP plans to reduce their production by 25% by 2030. By 2030, ADNOC plans to produce more than both companies.

ADNOC is becoming a big global oil company. It’s buying oil and gas fields in other countries and partnering with BP to explore for gas in the eastern Mediterranean. The company is also investing in renewable energy and chemical projects, according to what they told CNN.

ADNOC wants to reduce the amount of CO2 it produces when it grows. They said they aim to capture 10 million metric tons of CO2 a year by 2030. But Global Witness says this number is much too big.

ADNOC can currently produce 800,000 metric tons per year. It wants to make 3 megatons more each year once it finishes building two new facilities. Even if ADNOC’s facilities start working, it would take them over 340 years to catch all the carbon they’re expected to emit between 2023 and 2030. This includes the carbon from their operations and the carbon released from using their oil and gas.

ADNOC did not talk about the calculation in its reply to CNN. They only mentioned their goal to reach net zero by 2045 and that they will spend $15 billion to achieve this.

“Before this year, most people probably didn’t know about ADNOC. ” Patrick Galey, a senior investigator at Global Witness, told CNN that the more we learn about this company, the more we realize that it is very different from other companies. Its CEO is supposed to work on reducing emissions at COP28, but the company seems to be going in a different direction.

“ADNOC wants to make a lot of oil for many years and also wants to expand their production of oil and gas. ”

The UAE company will grow after 2030 based on how much negotiators support carbon capture at COP28, and if it can find new customers overseas. COP28 might change ADNOC into a big global oil company.

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