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Green gold in Africa: Companies and states on the quest for carbon credits

Since 2022, a significant wave of investments by private and semi-public actors has turned African forests into sources of carbon credits.

These pragmatic and innovative approaches hold considerable interest for the nations involved. While criticized by some advocates of a more idealistic ecological approach, the importance and pragmatism of these initiatives should not be underestimated.

Since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, African forests have become a coveted space for companies and states, keen on transitioning towards ecological sustainability. This emerging interest stems from the implementation of carbon credits under these agreements.

The device relies on market mechanisms to combat climate change by assigning monetary value to carbon emissions, aiming to incentivize businesses and governments to reduce their emissions. Essentially, a country or company that reduces its emissions beyond expectations can sell credits to a deficit country, enabling the latter to decrease its own emissions.


Through this incentivizing mechanism, companies and states invest in African forests to support the continent’s transition towards ecological sustainability. Africa offers nearly infinite possibilities due to the vastness of its forests, the second-largest tropical forest area globally.

The combination of these factors explains the eagerness of influential actors towards reforestation projects. The case of the French oil giant TotalEnergies in the Republic of the Congo is emblematic in this regard, with the afforestation of 40,000 hectares in the Batéké Plateaus launched in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Italian company ENI has been supporting the Luangwa Community Forest reforestation project in Zambia since 2019. Both majors regularly face criticism from the NGO Greenpeace for their activities in the DRC, accused of operating in supposedly protected national parks without regard for the environment.

Amidst extensive forest investment movements across the continent, one state stands out: the United Arab Emirates. Determined to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, they have made Africa a centerpiece of their environmental strategy, primarily through a company closely tied to power: Blue Carbon.

Established in 2022 and led by Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, a member of the country’s royal family, Blue Carbon specializes in converting African green spaces to obtain carbon credits. Through this strategy, the company manages parcels totalling 24 million hectares, nearly the size of the United Kingdom.

Liberia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Kenya are targeted by these massive investments, focusing on promoting sustainable forest management practices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in collaboration with governments.

Blue Carbon’s activity should be viewed as a reflection of a broader rapprochement between the UAE and Africa on governance and sustainable development issues. In March 2022, the UAE and Tanzania signed 36 protocols covering various areas, including climate change.

As for Kenya, the country has strengthened its ties with the UAE since President Ruto’s election. The Gulf country is portrayed by Ruto as a model to follow due to its “long-standing achievements in sustainable development and climate action.”

In 2022, Kenya reduced its oil imports from the UAE. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has evolved into more proactive cooperation focused on “greening” the economy.

On September 5, 2023, when President Ruto hosted the first African summit dedicated to climate change issues, the UAE was invited and pledged to invest over $4.5 billion in green energy.


However, many observers, including NGOs, are skeptical of Blue Carbon’s actions in African forests. The main criticism levelled at the company is related to its use of carbon credits.

Critics argue that the strategy provides an escape route for the most polluting countries, allowing them to absolve themselves of responsibility by simply buying carbon credits instead of reducing emissions.

Blue Carbon responds with economic language, positioning itself as an intermediary between surplus and deficit countries. It argues that its strategy creates a win-win situation: generating carbon credits by investing in sustainable development through low-carbon projects beyond its borders and selling the credits obtained to surplus countries.


Such arguments fuel the debate on ways to combat climate change. Rather than dwelling on futile criticisms by denouncing “greenwashing,” carbon credits should be considered as one among many ways to green the economy. It is not about policies of goodwill but about a pragmatic project that complements a global strategy on a planetary scale.

The writer is a geopolitical expert

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