Carbon finance funds revolutionary water purification project in Africa

Vestergaard Frandsen’s LifeStraw® Carbon For Water programme has become the world’s first safe water project to generate Gold Standard Voluntary Emissions Reduction (VER) credits. The project has resulted in the avoidance of almost 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in its first six months of operation, and has thereby earned an equivalent number of carbon credits.

LifeStraw® Carbon For Water is a cutting-edge demonstration of how carbon finance can enable, at scale, some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities to treat their water through the provision of zero-carbon purification technology. Proceeds from the sale of the credits, which Vestergaard Frandsen expects will be issued on a semi-annual basis, will help to sustain the programme over the course of a decade.

LifeStraw® Carbon For Water, launched last year in western Kenya, is the largest water treatment project ever undertaken in a developing country without government or public sector funding, and Vestergaard Frandsen plans to replicate the model elsewhere in the world. In doing so, it will help millions more people in developing countries to improve their health and reduce carbon emissions.

The LifeStraw® Carbon For Water programme has distributed 877,505 LifeStraw® Family water filters in Kenya’s Western Province. As a result, more than 90 percent of the province’s population now enjoys the ability to consume safe drinking water at no cost to themselves or their government.

One of the ways to treat potentially contaminated water in Kenya is by boiling over an open fire that produces carbon emissions through burning mostly non-renewable wood, which also contributes to a serious deforestation problem in the region. LifeStraw® Family meets World Health Organization standards for “highly protective” means of household removal from water of the bacteria, viruses, and parasites responsible for common diarrheal diseases—without the need to burn and boil. This produces significant carbon savings, and each filter will purify at least 18,000 litres of water—enough to supply a family of five for three years. Safe drinking water is of critical importance to development in places where waterborne illness is the cause of many missed educational and economic opportunities, and, in too many cases, death.

The sustainable programme will repair and replace the water filters as needed, at no cost to users, at service centers throughout the province. Vestergaard Frandsen has employed thousands of local residents to assist with the ten-year programme.

“With millions of people in developing countries still lacking safe drinking water, and increased pressure on development aid to do more with less, innovating new ways to finance solutions to these problems is absolutely critical,” said Vestergaard Frandsen CEO and owner Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen. “I believe that our LifeStraw® Carbon For Water programme blazes a trail for a wide range of projects that bring the public and private sectors together using carbon financing to address multiple public health and environmental issues.”

The innovative financing mechanism behind the LifeStraw® Carbon For Water programme holds public and private sector organizations to greater accountability and ensures that maximum impact is delivered on the ground. Funding for the project is contingent upon use of the filters by recipients, so Vestergaard Frandsen is incentivized to promote filtering of water and avoidance of burning biomass by educating households on the importance of drinking safe water and training them on the filter itself.

LifeStraw® Carbon For Water is designed around the unique Gold Standard climate finance platform, which has been critical to the programme’s success. The new Gold Standard methodology developed for the project includes a calculation of suppressed demand – an area in which The Gold Standard has led the carbon markets. The Gold Standard is used by the NGO community and many governments as a policy tool for demonstrating best practice in carbon finance, giving further assurance and credibility to such innovative approaches and methodologies. The Gold Standard is working with the German government to explore ways of applying suppressed demand to expand access to carbon finance in Africa and other poor regions that have historically been excluded from its benefits.

The Gold Standard Foundation CEO Adrian Rimmer said, “This is a blueprint for how climate finance projects should look—because it moves beyond a pure focus on carbon. Buyers of Gold Standard credits recognize the need for sustainable development to be delivered alongside emissions reductions, and because The Gold Standard uniquely provides assurances of this, they are prepared to pay a higher price that makes these projects viable.”

ClimateCare, one of the world’s leading climate and development specialists, was lead author of the new Gold Standard methodology and will commercialise the credits. CEO Edward Hanrahan added: “ClimateCare are delighted to have been able to support this truly groundbreaking project. Traditionally carbon finance has been used to reduce emissions from large single point sources, the difference here is that you have hundreds of thousands of small interventions, working together to achieve a highly significant reduction, all adding up to what is one of the largest carbon reduction projects in the world. This project is achieving what ClimateCare believes that climate and development finance is all about – and provides a fantastic model for developing dual and triple impact projects in the future.”

Accredited London-based firm ERM Certification and Verification Services verified the project’s emission reductions and sustainable development monitoring activities.