Africa is seen as the next frontier for investment in carbon offset projects while China and India prepare to roll out their own cap-and-trade schemes.
Africa a frontier carbon market
Developers see Africa as the next frontier for cutting greenhouse gases as Europe considers buying carbon credits from only the world's poorest countries.
Today, EU companies offset their carbon dioxide emissions, which many scientists agree contribute to climate change, by buying credits from developing nations that prove they have reduced their pollution.
Now officials are considering restricting the list of countries allowed to sell credits on to its US$142 billion (Dh521.55bn) market to the 49 nations the UN classifies as the least developed - and 34 of them are in Africa.
"If the future market actually exists at all, it is going to be in Africa," said Shuvendu Bose, the former project manager at the carbon unit of Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government-owned clean energy company.
Between now and the end of next year Africa will earn more than €291 million (Dh1.51bn) worth of carbon credits, according to the UNEP Risoe Centre on Energy, Climate and Sustainable Development in Denmark that operates in cooperation with the UN Environment Programme.
All eyes will be on the continent in November as South Africa hosts the final round of international climate change negotiations before the Kyoto Protocol expires next year, the binding agreement to cut emissions among 37 industrialised nations that forms the basis for the carbon credit system.
This month in Abu Dhabi, African energy ministers issued a call for more investment in renewable energy and emissions abatement projects.
One of the developers exploring Africa is Masdar, which in January registered a project at two yarn and cloth factories on the outskirts of Alexandria in Egypt to replace heavy fuel-oil with cleaner-burning natural gas.
Such projects are the backbone of the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the scheme that awards credits to developing countries for emissions reductions that can in turn be sold on the EU market.
China and India dominate it. In the first half of the year, China attracted $14.3bn of investment in CDM projects, accounting for nearly 80 per cent of global investment, and India came in second with $855m. Africa is at the bottom of the list with $603m in project investment, but it stands to benefit if India and China follow through on plans to break away from the CDM by launching their own cap-and-trade schemes.
India is due to begin rolling out an energy efficiency trading programme in September, and China is trying to speed up the introduction of domestic carbon trading originally scheduled for 2015.
"China and India, which up until now has been the most attractive CDM potential market historically, will basically take their supply from the market," said Marisa Beck, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London.
Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and the state of California are also working on separate cap-and-trade schemes within their borders.
That leaves more opportunities for Africa to attract projects such as solar arrays or the replanting of deforested land.
But obstacles remain.
Project developers such as Masdar have to pay to register and verify emissions cuts at each project, so they prefer targeting large-scale industrial sites such as large factories or power plants, which are not as plentiful in Africa.