Gnarled and leafless, it nonetheless has great value: it stores carbon, and the team wants to know exactly how much is locked away across this semi-arid, half-a-million-acre (200,000-hectare) woodland in southern Kenya.
“We want to make absolutely sure we account for every single tree,” said Geoffrey Mwangi, lead scientist at US-based company Wildlife Works, as the “carbon samplers” took the dimensions of another thorny specimen.
The data translates into carbon credits, and millions of dollars have been made selling these to corporate giants such as Netflix and Shell looking to offset their greenhouse gas emissions and burnish their green credentials.
As climate change accelerates and pressure mounts on companies and countries to lift their game, demand for carbon credits has exploded — even as their reputation has taken a battering.
Cash-strapped African nations want a much bigger share of a $2-billion market that is forecast to grow five-fold by 2030.
Africa only produces 11 percent of the world’s offsets yet boasts the planet’s second-largest rainforest and tracts of carbon-absorbing ecosystems like mangroves and peatlands.
Kenyan President William Ruto, who is hosting a climate summit in Nairobi this week, said Africa’s carbon sinks were an “unparalleled economic goldmine”.
Ruto’s appointee to lead the summit, Joseph Nganga, said carbon markets acted “not as an excuse for emissions but as a means to ensure accountability” as rich polluting nations bore the cost.
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Countries are moving to regulate the sector. Earlier this year, Zimbabwe announced it would appropriate half of all the revenue generated from carbon credits on its land, sending jitters through markets.
Kenya is finalising its own legislation. Mohamed said the government did not want to “chase away investors” but ensure transparency and a fair share for communities.