‘The goal in the climate response is not to decarbonize poverty,’ explains Anton Cartwright, CEO and Founder of Credible Carbon. ‘We need to use the decarbonization process to address poverty. For climate reasons we have to do both at the same time.” 

Credible Carbon is one of the most inspirational organisations that we work with. They are a South African carbon registry enabling businesses and individuals to reduce their contribution to climate change, while at the same time alleviating poverty.

When we spoke to Anton Cartwright and fellow Director Peter Atkins, they explained that they are in the midst of a pivotal moment for the voluntary carbon market. The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in November in Glasgow looms large over the whole industry, and the hope is that the world will finally figure out how the so called “voluntary carbon market” fits into the international climate change effort.

The world of greenhouse gas accounting has been split into two halves. In the compliance market, every country is required to comply with their internally set goal – their Nationally Determined Contribution – and this legal obligation is transferred to sectors and companies that may purchase carbon credits to assist them in meeting the goal.  At the other end of the spectrum is the voluntary market. Here, there are no legal obligations – carbon offset happens more for brand positioning, reasons of conscience or in anticipation of future legal obligations. That’s the space that Credible Carbon operates in.

“For us it began around 2008,” says Cartwright. “After the Kyoto Protocol had been in effect for a few years, people were asking ‘why is there no carbon from Africa?’ After all, it was meant to be a clean development mechanism but fewer than 1% of the projects were from Africa.”

It took a while before the Credible Carbon team realised that “no matter how hard we try, this isn’t going to work. For example, we had a solar stove project which was exactly the kind of project that should have qualified. But there was no way they could pay $5000 to register, $30 000 for an audit and then wait and see if they qualified to issue credits. The numbers did not stack up and it just wasn’t going to happen. So we set up a carbon registry which tried to not compromise the integrity of the system but make it quicker and cheaper.”

Over and above the regular carbon market requirements of “permanence, additionality and measurability”, there are 5 broad requirements for any Credible Carbon project: 

  1. It must be an existing project with real people. Too many people are trading business plans. 
  2. The technology in place must be functioning according to its design specification, and technology could be a photovoltaic panel or a tree. 
  3. The quantification of carbon savings must draw on the best available information.
  4. The project must make a discernible impact on poverty.
  5. There needs to be a 3rd party check on all of this. Someone with a reputation and the necessary skills must come in and check the project is doing what you say you are doing. 

That fifth point is where Carbon Calculated comes in and engages with Credible Carbon. 

A great example of a Credible Carbon project is Walkers Recycling. ‘Two brothers started by taking ferrochrome and glass out of the waste-stream,’ Cartwright explains. ‘They collected the waste, sorted it and sold it on as recyclable materials. They have since grown into an industrial scale recycler. The greenhouse gas saving comes from avoided landfill emissions, and the carbon footprint that comes from extracting virgin material.’ 

They also work closely with a soil carbon project on Spier farm. The farm stores atmospheric carbon dioxide in the soil. Soil laboratory tests conducted every few years tracks the build up of soil organic carbon – carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere as CO². 

“The farm has sequestered 6 493 tons of carbon dioxide in its soil, which is cultivated using regenerative farming practices like high density grazing,” said Spier Wine Farm’s livestock farm manager, Angus McIntosh in 2016.

While much of South Africa struggled in 2020, Credible Carbon enjoyed their best year ever. 

They now have over  1 100 different buyers, which includes people going on holiday and offsetting their flights as well as large companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Nedbank, Cape Town’s Red Bus company, the Table Mountain cable car, Comair Charter, and companies in Europe and the US have all offset with Credible Carbon.

“We are most proud of being able to support what we think  is the smallest carbon trading project in the world. That’s the Hout Bay recycling cooperative, which is on the edge of Imizamo Yethu. We audit it, cover the cost of the audit and help them earn some money. They do approximately 350 tons of savings per year, which is two orders of magnitude smaller than what is considered viable in the global market,” says Cartwright. 

The lesson here is that successful carbon trading can be done small if you focus and see the carbon market through the lens of the project. “We pay them on average about R15 000 per year even after deducting their audit fees and registry fees.” 

Peter Atkins adds that “Too often carbon is an abstract commodity on a spreadsheet. But the people who run the projects are real characters. We’re brokering two parties that both need something and bringing them together in new and real ways” 

What becomes clear in talking to the team is that carbon transactions can be a social bridge. Any market requires rules but the rules should not exclude good projects just because they are small. That’s the line that Credible Carbon is trying to navigate.