BCP (also known as BioCarbon Partners) manages the largest REDD+ Project in Africa by size, with over one million hectares of forest protected as part of the Luangwa Community Forests Project (LCFP) in Zambia. After topping two of the categories in this year's Voluntary Carbon Rankings, Environmental Finance spoke to BCP's CEO, Dr Hassan Sachedina, about what makes a successful carbon offset project
Environmental Finance: Why did you decide to launch BCP?
Hassan Sachedina: I'm a career conservationist. BCP was set up to address two key problems: the first was how to fund conservation separate to aid or tourism, and the second was how to incentivise people to protect ecosystems at scale. I saw an opportunity to focus on just one forest type: African dryland forests. Our goal is to focus on the overlap of these forests with the last great areas on earth for certain types of wildlife. Being born in Kenya, it was important to me to establish a fully African company as Africa is often underrepresented in the global carbon markets and receives less than 3% of global climate finance.
EF: What makes a successful carbon offset project?
HS: For us, it's the co-benefits. Emissions reductions are obviously important, but transformational environmental and social impacts are what we strive for. Through our community and Government partnerships, we calculate that the project benefits 217,000 people (36,000 households). If we're not meaningfully creating value for people at a household level, what incentive do they have to keep that forest intact and to tolerate an increase in wildlife?
As a company, we hold our carbon offsets and ourselves to the highest possible standards. Beyond annual Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) audits, we obtain a Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) triple gold certification for our projects. BCP is also a certified B Corporation where we score in the top 0.5% out of around 4,000 global companies. This recognises our social and environmental impacts and how we care for our staff. We are relentless about impact monitoring in order to make sure we are continually improving.
EF: How do you also ensure positive biodiversity impacts in the LCFP project?
HS: As a mission-driven conservation company, our purpose is to make the conservation of wildlife habitat valuable to people. By creating valuable partnerships with communities and Government to build resource protection capacity, we are starting to see increases of wildlife in some areas. We have also begun investing in wildlife translocations to accelerate wildlife restoration in the Luangwa Valley. Our vision is for the whole Luangwa Valley, one of the last great wildlife landscapes left on the planet, to be at carrying capacity populations in the next decade.
EF: How do you approach impact reporting and data collection?
HS: Our goal is for Africa to be known for high-quality carbon projects. This requires having impact monitoring as part of our DNA. In order to improve, you need to seek under-performance and face bad news. We have invested in an in depth digital impact monitoring system. We measure KPIs, management indicators, household income and hundreds of other metrics.
EF: What trends are you seeing in the demand for voluntary carbon offsets?
HS: There has been a huge surge in the past two years. We started the LCFP in 2014 and we didn't know if we were going to sell a single credit. Even though there wasn't much of a market to speak of, deep down we knew this must work, or else humanity would fail in the climate change fight. The supply/demand curve is now rapidly shifting. The Covid-19 pandemic, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and the lead up to COP26 have contributed to this shift. The pandemic, in particular, has shown that our relationship with the natural world is fragile.
EF: What are your thoughts on the aims and recommendations of the Taskforce for Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets?
HS: There is always room for methodological evolution as technology improves, however, I think the market is getting distracted by credibility concerns. Over the last decade, the voluntary carbon standards have continued to evolve. It's concerning to hear people say REDD+ projects lack credibility when we are seeing household incomes and wildlife increase, and emissions and deforestation decrease with our project.
A possible catalytic role for the Taskforce is to drive higher prices for nature-based solutions. Price is a fundamental driver of future conservation and livelihood transformation for REDD+ projects working in areas with high poverty.
EF: What impact would that have on early-stage projects or projects that struggle to secure financing?
HS: At a higher price, it will incentive more communities and stakeholders to adapt land use to store and remove more carbon. It will drive the supply of projects and greatly reduce market and financing risks for nature-based carbon projects.
EF: What else are you hoping to achieve at BCP going forward?
HS: By 2030, our goal is to have signed co-management agreements across 30 million acres and to benefit three million people in the landscapes we operate in. We currently work across around three million acres, so this is a 10-fold expansion in nine years. These goals are ambitious but the scale of the problem is so huge we have to be.