Bogolo Joy Kenewendo is UN Climate Change High-Level Champions’ Special Advisor, Africa Director, and former Cabinet Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry of Botswana

With an abundance of land, natural capital and a growing, young population, Africa is undoubtedly the nature-positive economic superpower of the world. The protection of Africa’s nature could drive development across the entire continent. A nature-positive economy is regenerative and brings widespread economic opportunity including youth employment while protecting biodiversity. With access to the global voluntary carbon market; valuing and commercializing nature assets could unlock new financing opportunities for development for the Africa. This market, operating with integrity, equity and transparency, could help Africa deliver on three fronts: nature, climate and development.

Nature: the perils and possibilities 

From savannahs to deserts, Africa is home to numerous unique and rich habitats. Given this range of ecosystems, it is perhaps unsurprising that the continentis home to at least 25% of our planet’s biodiversity. As well as endemic species of mammals, birds and plants, many countries boast vast and ancient tropical forests. Many local people and communities live in these forests and depend upon them for their subsistence and everyday livelihoods. However, the benefits of these ecosystems extend far beyond the countries within which they exist. For instance, the forests of the Congo Basin are frequently referred to as the ‘lungs of Africa’as it is the world’s largest carbon sink. Crossing six countries, this forest absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere than the Amazon.  

The natural world, particularly in Africa, holds huge possibilities for driving climate change mitigation and resilience. However, the potential of these natural resources is currently being eroded by a seemingly insatiable global appetite for food, fibre and timber. Indeed, nearly fourmillion hectares of natural forest is destroyed across Africa each year, some of this is due agricultural expansion.However well as pushing many species to the brink of extinction, deforestation at this scale also has consequences for food security. 

Wholesale deforestation or tree clearing can cause soil degradation. Tree roots transport water to the earth and decomposing leaves return essential nutrients the ground. Therefore, without trees, soil becomes drier and less productive for crops. Coupled with rising temperatures, there is a real risk of dusty, depleted topsoil blowing away and further reducing the capacity of the land for the people who depend on it. This is one factor behind the current food insecurity crisis faced by many people across Africa. There is a critical to need to adopt high-yield, adaptive nature-positive agricultural practises whilst not expanding agricultural land further. 

So if we work with nature rather than against it, by reversing deforestation and restoring degraded land then prospects for food security, livelihoods and economies will improve. A study last year found that if regenerative agriculture is practised on just 50% of African farmland, it would equate to USD 17 billion in savings to farmers and companies each year, as well as reduction in soil erosion, improvements in water filtration rates and nitrogen content.

Funding climate justice

Africa’s forests not only benefit the continent but offer a vital climate service to the planet which we need to conserve and harness at all costs given the climate emergency upon us. We need to see the nature services from this continent generate significant finance to drive local development. 

Implementing such a transformation requires a climate justice approach. Climate justice recognises that without the promotion of human rights and the protection of nature, sustainable development is not possible. Many young climate activists are leading the campaign for climate justice across Africa. Now we need investors and governments to act with the same levels of commitment and enthusiasm shown by these courageous youth leaders. 


Climate justice requires the urgent acceleration of finance at scale. This could be found from public funds, especially from climate funds which only currently account for $1 billion (3%) of climate finance flows to Africa, and multilateral development banks (MDBs) who could use public finance to de-risk nature investments. Additionally, agricultural subsidies in the west and on this continent could be repurposed to fund this transition. 

One avenue left relatively untapped is the voluntary carbon market. Two thirds of Africa’s carbon credits come from only five countries. This market holds huge potential to unlock private capital to fund projects that simultaneously protect nature and bring economic benefits to local people and communities. Africa could increase its engagement with the voluntary carbon market to ensure a good price, and greater access to finance. 

This potential has been acknowledged by numerous key stakeholders across Africa which has led to the establishment of the Africa Carbon Market Initiative (ACMI), formed by SE for All, UNECA and Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet with the UN Climate Change High Level Champions as a supporting partner. This was launched this week at COP27 as a means of enabling more money to flow to nature-based projects and power Africa’s development, we’resupporting the ACMI. The initiative will be fundamental in the shaping of Africa’s engagement in the voluntary carbon market and in the protection of its precious natural ecosystems going forward.

Mobilising carbon and nature-based payments  

The voluntary carbon market, especially the demand for nature-based carbon credits, is growing rapidly, and if Africa doesn’t mobilise soon there is a risk that we fail to shape our engagement with the market to ensure transparency, integrity and benefits which are retained on the continent.    

Carbon markets, with clear operating principles, could help power nature positive development. The entry point for buyers must be clearly defined to drive high integrity demand from the outset. And there should be payment for biodiversity – over and above payment for carbon. Certain innovative conservation organisations are already piloting biodiversity payments, proving that valuing nature in this way is possible. 

Above all, it is vitally important that there are continual, widespread consultations with governments, buyers, regional carbon market shaping initiatives as well as local communities to shape the way ahead for the voluntary carbon market in Africa and understand where finance can make the greatest impact. The best nature-based projects not only generate high quality carbon credits, but also bring lasting benefits for these local communities, the custodians of biodiversity. This is the context for the formation of the African Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI), which has the aim of scaling supply and demand for carbon credit projects in Africa. The 2030 technical potential of Africa-sourced carbon credits is estimated at up to 2,370 MtCO2e based on existing, nascent, and innovative methodologies in sectors such as forestry, agriculture, blue carbon, renewable energy, household devices, livestock, engineered removals, decommissioning of fossil fuels and more. 


For the sake of all our futures, nature must be valued appropriately, it must be included in the valuation of the economy and factored into GDP calculations. Carbonfinance and other forms of payment (e.g. biodiversity credits) generated from natural climate solutions can simultaneously restore and conserve nature while also providing significant funding to national development efforts across Africa. Now is the time for the world to recognise and reward Africa for its natural capital assets.