The Great Cash-for-Carbon Hustle

One evening in November, 2021, a group of men assembled at sundown on the terrace of the Ruckomechi Camp, a safari resort on the Zambezi River. Since arriving by private plane, they had gone out lion-spotting, boated down the river, and landed a giant tiger fish; now they were clinking gin-and-tonics. Hippos wallowed in the water below.

The party was led by Renat Heuberger, a forty-four-year-old Swiss entrepreneur with narrow eyes and a cropped copper beard. Heuberger was the chief executive of South Pole, the world’s largest carbon-offsetting firm, and he had come to Zimbabwe to fight off an urgent threat to his company.

A decade earlier, South Pole had signed a deal to sell carbon offsets from an effort to protect a vast swath of forest on the banks of Lake Kariba, upriver from the camp.