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About SCB and the Baviaanskloof Carbon Offset Project

by Paul Beier

At SCB's 2006 annual meeting, the Board of Governors, responding to the overwhelming consensus of meeting attendees, decided to offset the carbon impact of our 2007 meeting. Funds for the offset were generated by a voluntary surcharge of $20 (registrants from high income countries) or $5 (registrants from developing countries). More than 98 percent of registrants at the 2007 meeting added the surcharge to their registration fees. We invested this money in restoration of thicket vegetation on the Baviaanskloof MegaReserve in Eastern Cape, the third largest natural area in South Africa. The project will store carbon, benefit biological diversity, and (by employing local people to restore native vegetation) alleviate poverty in the project area, with long term sustainability through ecotourism. Most carbon will be stored in a native succulent evergreen plant that has been demonstrated to store carbon efficiently in a low rainfall system, with high resistance to loss from wildfire and decomposition.

SCB plans to invest in sequestering carbon by restoring about 20-70 ha of degraded Subtropical Thicket vegetation in the 234,000-ha Baviaanskloof Megareserve in the Republic of South Africa. The land is owned and managed by the Eastern Cape Parks Board, and the restoration work will be implemented by South Africa’s Working for Woodlands program – a poverty reduction program that puts people to work doing useful things. SCB investment will occur over 3 years (2007-2009), and carbon sequestration would occur over a period of at least 30 years. I visited the area during 5-9 July 2007 as part of SCB’s due diligence to minimize the risk that the project might fail to deliver on any or all of the 3 goals SCB wishes to promote, namely carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and poverty alleviation. As a result of my visit, I conclude that:

  1. This project has found the “sweet spot” that can provide a win-win-win solution with respect to all three goals. As someone who usually gags on the phrase “win-win,” I do not make such a claim lightly. Although there may be a handful of equally meritorious and scientifically rigorous projects on the planet, SCB was fortunate to have discovered this project for our initial investment.
  2. There is strong scientific evidence that the carbon storage benefits will be at least as large as what we are paying for. Eastern Cape Parks Board or the Working for Water Program will retain the rights to sell any excess carbon credits and biodiversity credits that may in the future be documented as accruing from the project. Although SCB could attempt to negotiate a contract that gives SCB a share of such profits, SCB wants to reward these programs for their innovation and care. In particular, several government bureaucrats had to stick their neck out to invest a lot of public resources with no immediate payback, wagering that the program would reduce poverty and receive payment for ecosystem services in the long term. SCB wants to encourage other entities to take similar risks.
  3. The project proponents are genuinely committed to meeting all three goals. The governments of South Africa and Eastern Cape province have invested about 7 million rand (USD $1 million) in nursery facilities, worker training, and scientific investigations to ensure the success of the project and guarantee that it meets the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol (2004-2007). I had expected to find arm-waving with respect to at least one of the goals, but I come away convinced that the project managers are embarking on an ambitious and well-considered program to provide meaningful, long-term poverty reduction, biodiversity protection, and ecosystem services (carbon storage and water provisioning).
  4. The normal processes of vegetative succession will not produce similar levels of carbon storage or conservation of a globally significant biome. Although some carbon certainly would be sequestered on these sites without active restoration, unassisted succession would not restore native vegetation, would store much fewer tons of carbon, and would be enormously more susceptible to fire.
  5. SCB would be the first outside purchaser of carbon in this project, producing mutually-beneficial bragging rights. Our contract will encourage the project proponents to use SCB’s good name to attract additional investors, with the provision that SCB be given appropriate credit in written descriptions of the project and that SCB be allowed to similarly publicize the virtues of our effort.

During my visit, I selected a particular area as the SCB restoration site. I selected this site because it is in a high-priority area for restoration, lies in a spectacularly scenic area, and lies within view of the main road through the Megareserve, such that a signboard along the road could allow SCB members and other park visitors to see the location of our investment (below).

SCB Newsletter Articles about Carbon Offset

SCB Newsletter v14n3 (see pg. 17)

SCB Newsletter v13n3