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Carbon credits a tough sell

People work at a charcoal facility in Phnom Penh earlier this year to produce low-emission charcoal that uses less forestry products
People work at a charcoal facility in Phnom Penh earlier this year to produce low-emission charcoal that uses less forestry products. Eli Meixler

Carbon credits a tough sell

Despite one success story emerging in the trade of Cambodia-generated carbon credits, immediate prospects for the environmental trading scheme in Kingdom remain few.

Representatives from France-based NGO the Group for the Environment, Renewable Energy and Solidarity (GERES) presented the results of a 10-year stovetop installation program, which ran from 2003 to 2013.

“We were the first one to register a cooking-stove project to the voluntary carbon markets, which is a way to claim carbon credits,” Mathieu Ruillet, Southeast Asia director of GERES, said during a roundtable discussion on climate finance in Phnom Penh yesterday.

But when asked if GERES would take the same carbon-trading path again, Ruillet was not so convinced.

“Would I do it the same way again? No, I would not go the same way,” he said, citing a decline in the price and demand for carbon credits since the GERES project peaked in 2011.

“You should not let carbon finance change your business model. But maybe you can take it into account as a premium.”

Carbon credits are generated by emission-reducing projects, often in developing countries. They can be purchased via a carbon-trading scheme to offset a company’s allowable emissions in countries where a pollution cap applies. Credits are also bought on the voluntary market by organisations or individuals who, although are not mandated to do so, still want to manage their carbon footprint.

Securing buyers of carbon credits for Cambodian projects is a well-known difficulty.

In 2009, environmental sustainability NGO Pact Cambodia ventured into the UN-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation program, better known as REDD+. The program, which earned a “Triple Gold” rating from the Community, Climate and Biodiversity Alliance, aimed to sell carbon credits in exchange for reduced logging in Oddar Meanchey province.

Pact, however, left the project in July 2013 when the sale of up to $1.2 million worth of generated carbon credit sales, which were intended to fuel the continuation of the REDD+ project, failed to materialise.

Despite the REDD+ program’s complications, Kim Sour, research associate at the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, said work continues in Oddar Meanchey to earn carbon credit sales.

“The REDD+ community is still working hard to protect the forest and, based on our experience, they are still awaiting to have any income,” Sour said at yesterday’s roundtable discussion, welcoming the results of GERES’ cooking stove project as a success story for the Kingdom.

Similarly, Julien Chevillard, Cambodia Climate Change Alliance and development finance specialist for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said Oddar Meanchey and the REDD+ program is ongoing despite the long wait for buyers.

“On the UN side, there is a bit of support going to the UN REDD+ up in the forests for carbon credits, but there is still a little way to go before Cambodia can access that,” he said.

From overall environmental project funding, Chevillard said Cambodia received about $180 million on “climate relevant” projects in 2013.

“But if you look only at the labelled, climate change priority actions, then it is about $85 to $90 million, with about $25 to $30 million of that coming from the climate investment funds,” he said, adding that the government’s budgetary commitment to climate mitigation is limited to disaster response measures.

“I think it is really important to integrate climate concerns into the national budget . . . and for the private sector, they should be allowed regulatory frameworks that help to facilitate investments in those climate impact areas.”

Chevillard conservatively est-imates that the Kingdom’s GDP could decrease by 3.5 per cent annually by 2050 if access to climate concerned finance is not made a priority.

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