Analysing the carbon market and co-benefits of carbon offset projects in South Africa: functioning, implementation, adoption and impact

Hofmann, Jana (2021) Analysing the carbon market and co-benefits of carbon offset projects in South Africa: functioning, implementation, adoption and impact. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Under the Paris Agreement 2016 most national governments have committed to transition to a low-carbon economy to mitigate climate change. Currently reliant on coal-based energy, South Africa is Africa’s major GHG emitter, and in pursuit of its commitments, has been developing policies, including a carbon tax and carbon offset regulation. Carbon offset projects have emerged, although they have been criticised as distracting from fundamental reform.

This study assessed the appropriateness of carbon offsetting as a policy tool to enable a lowcarbon transition, in a developing-country context where ‘co-benefits’ are considered desirable to improve livelihoods of poorer households. The study applied a research approach which integrated the ‘Multi-Level Perspective’ framework with the ‘Sustainable Livelihood Approach’, to assess purposefully selected case studies of carbon offset projects. Four projects were studied, across five sites (in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Ermelo, and Tzaneen) during 2017-18. Twentyseven market actors and 24 project actors were interviewed, and 113 households were surveyed.

Market actors themselves generally regard carbon offsetting as a flawed policy tool, primarily because the incentives to maximise profits are poorly articulated with the incentive to reduce emissions. Further, project actors are non-transparent to local communities; partly obscuring their carbon rights, and the market value of credits, current and potential. All carbon offset projects studied do provide co-benefits to households, including reduced energy use, cost- savings (about 41%), and convenience. But continued technology use is uncertain: they are abandoned as soon as they are no longer useful (82% in one site).

In conclusion, the projects studied represent tokenistic transition gestures, involving high costs, but low emission reductions and temporary co-benefits. Carbon offsetting is demonstrably an inappropriate means to promote a fundamental energy transition. Rather than diverting attention with such token activities, governments must develop more appropriate policies and tools to decarbonise the energy sector.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Global Development (formerly School of International Development)
Depositing User: Nicola Veasy
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2023 08:10
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2023 08:10


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