Since 2014, Chieftainess Mpanshya of the Soli people in Rufunsa district and her subjects have received annual payments from carbon trading. However, the amounts fluctuate depending on the carbon sales each year.

Chieftainess Mpanshya explained that BioCarbon Partner (BCP), a leading REDD+ carbon developer in Africa, was granted land for carbon trading several years ago, although their trading operations began specifically in 2014. She emphasised that the land was provided to them free of charge, with a 30-year tenure.

She said BCP, one of the organisations involved in carbon trading in her chiefdom, provides explanations regarding the outcomes of the sales. However, she expressed concern over the lack of transparency about the carbon trading process, including where the carbon is sold and the financial details.

“We're in the dark about carbon trading—where the carbon is sold and the financial transactions involved. This lack of transparency is a major concern for us,” she stated.

The MakanDay Centre for Investigative Journalism's attempts to get an explanation from BCP have been unsuccessful. This raises questions about BCP's commitment to transparency in its dealings with rural communities.

Although the carbon market is small and new in Zambia, few Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and companies are investing in this burgeoning market.

Climate Solution Company Zambia Limited is another company involved in carbon trading in Zambia. In Mpanshya chiefdom, the company started its operations in 2023 and has set up a community forest management group to oversee Fulamponge Forest.

According to James Mwanza, the CEO of the company, their approach is centered around farmers and they value the important role played by local communities in the carbon market.

“… the actual rural suffering communities are the ones who are cutting trees, they’re the ones that (who) are pouring fertilizer and chemicals, they can add or they can avoid carbon, while government plays a role, of course, to facilitate the processes,” said Mwanza.

In addition, he confirmed that the company has successfully drilled four boreholes and worked on two trading markets. Currently, the company is also renovating a classroom block at a local school in the area.

MakanDay found that despite the active participation of most traditional leaders and their subjects in the carbon market, there persists a lack of understanding about how carbon credits are generated and managed, as well as the extent to which companies operating within their communities profit from it.

Do people and climate benefit?

In communities like Chief Bunda-Bunda’s chiefdom, where BCP has partnered with Sable Transport on a 40,000-hectare land owned by the company, it remains unclear how proceeds from this initiative are shared among Sable, the community, and BCP itself.

MakanDay reached out to both BCP, which works in 17 other chiefdoms and Sable regarding their partnership, but as of now, no response has been received.

The company’s website provides limited information about Sable Transport's engagement in land conservation, mentioning only that they are "in an investment agreement with BioCarbon Group Pte Limited (BCP), developing and operating the Lower Zambezi REDD-Project under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB Standard)."

The project covers 38,781 hectares of land and aims to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, generating GHG reductions with environmental conservation financed through the carbon markets.

Chief Mburuma's involvement in carbon trading

BCP initiated carbon trading in Chief Mburuma's chiefdom after approaching the traditional leadership. At the time, 17 other chiefdoms were already engaged in carbon trading. The chief granted BCP 66,520 hectares of forest land for a carbon project, without a purchase transaction but with an agreement on percentage shares allocated to the Chief and the Community.

Despite the project's commencement in 2021 and the completion of all necessary documentation, tangible benefits have been minimal. BCP assured them of funds in January 2024, but disbursement delays occurred, leading to concerns about potential deception. However, officials reassured them of eventual benefits and urged patience.

Chief Mburuma expressed uncertainty about the carbon trading process, including buyer locations and calculation methods. Nonetheless, the community is actively engaged in forest protection, collaborating with entities like the Forest department and Zambia Wildlife Authority.

Analysis of carbon trading in Zambia

As Zambia participates in the world of carbon trading, it becomes important to understand how carbon credits are generated, traded and appropriated in carbon markets and how they benefit stakeholders, especially the rural communities, which largely consist of individuals with limited education and financial resources.

Furthermore, as the appetite for participation in carbon markets increases, the questions also increase. How effective are carbon markets in reducing global emissions? Do they actually benefit those who need benefits the most?

In Zambia, skepticism and mistrust surrounding carbon markets have surged in recent years. There are growing allegations that only NGOs and influential private entities are reaping the benefits, fueled by a lack of information and transparency.

Carbon trading

The concept of carbon offsetting is to hold greenhouse gas emitters accountable for their emissions. In essence, they compensate for their emissions by financially supporting projects that either reduce or remove carbon emissions.

A carbon offset involves reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions through various projects to balance or "offset" emissions elsewhere.

For example, a company aiming to decrease its carbon footprint but unable to do so directly (due to technological limitations or high costs) can offset its emissions by investing in projects that either reduce emissions (such as replacing a fossil fuel-based power plant with a solar project) or increase carbon storage (like land restoration or tree plantation projects).

This concept originates from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), particularly Articles 6.1 and 6.2, which address carbon trading. Both emission reduction strategies and offsetting measures are crucial in addressing carbon emissions, guided by regulations such as Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

Developed countries, historically higher emitters, are tasked with offsetting their emissions under the Paris Agreement's polluter pays principle. Often, these offsetting projects target regions with significant forest cover, like Africa, aiming to maintain carbon sinks.

Carbon capture & storage

Carbon capture & storage projects can be categorised based on two factors: the sectors from which the credit originates and the intended outcomes—either removing carbon from the atmosphere or reducing emissions from existing activities.

In Zambia, forest community projects are prevalent types of carbon credit initiatives. These projects involve capturing and storing carbon and often involve local communities as key stakeholders.

Stakeholders' concerns

While stakeholders welcome Zambia's interest in carbon trading, driven by its abundant forest resources, there are challenges in understanding the operational and regulatory aspects of carbon trading.

Civil society organisations such as the Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN) advocate for a legal framework to guide climate change adaptation and mitigation. Lydia Chibambo, ZCCN's acting country coordinator, underscores her organisation’s longstanding advocacy for such a framework.

ZCCN and their partners have submitted several recommendations to the drafters of the 2024 Climate Bill, including the need for individuals or organisations intending to trade in carbon credits to involve beneficiaries when applying for a certificate of authorisation. The proposed Bill introduced in 2024 aims to address carbon market regulation.

Lessons from across the south neighbouring country

Dr. Wayne Malinga, Policy and Research Manager at the Public Policy and Research Institute of Zimbabwe (PPRIZ), emphasised the urgent need for the Zambian government to implement clear policies on carbon trading and invest in relevant technologies.

In an interview with MakanDay, he highlighted the lack of clarity in the entire carbon market and the importance of raising awareness among key stakeholders, including Members of Parliament and civic leaders. Dr. Malinga suggested collaborating with experts to develop a robust framework for carbon credits.

Regarding Zimbabwe's approach, he explained that they have established a framework for carbon credits, allowing companies from the West to pay for certain activities. However, ongoing discussions question whether allowing companies to pollute the region's environment and compensate for it is justifiable.

“In Zimbabwe, carbon trading framework in Zimbabwe attempts to allocate generated funds to various groups such as the government, while another percentage is allocated to communities adding that a major concern is that communities receive a disproportionately low share, typically between 30 and 40 percent,” he explained.

The Ministry of Green Economy and Environment has not yet responded to a number of questions from MakanDay. These include questions regarding why the government does not oversee carbon trading activities in the country to guarantee that communities in areas where carbon trading occurs fully benefit from such initiatives.

Despite the limited understanding of carbon trading in Zambia, it continues to flourish as a burgeoning growing industry. However, its benefits to the community remain minimal. MakanDay has discovered that for local communities to fully benefit, individuals like Chieftainess Mpanshya and her subjects must be involved from the project's inception and have accessto agreements signed between buyers and sellers.

“At first, BioCarbon Partners indicated that if the forest was well protected, the allocated funds would increase,” she explained. “However, they later changed their stance, suggesting that if one chiefdom failed to maintain the forest properly, all chiefdoms would suffer in fund allocation.”