Are carbon offsets a practical strategy for achieving net zero or are they merely another example of greenwashing?
Recent research from The Guardian, Die Zeit, and Source Material strongly supports the latter assertion. The analysis, which was released on Wednesday, revealed that more than 90% of the credits for removing carbon dioxide from the environment granted by leading carbon standard Verra are in fact “phantom credits,” according to The Guardian.
According to Barbara Haya, director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Carbon Trading Project, this finding has enormous ramifications. False claims are being made by businesses, who then persuade consumers that they can fly guilt-free or purchase carbon-neutral goods despite the fact that they aren’t.
According to the source material, Verra presently validates 75% of all carbon credits issued globally. This means that a planned carbon offset project is generally viewed as protecting an at-risk forest, and as a result, a particular number of carbon credits are granted to it in proportion to the amount of carbon dioxide it would remove from the atmosphere or prevent it from entering it.
Then, on the $2 billion voluntary carbon market, these credits are added to a global database from which businesses can purchase credits to offset their emissions.
As of November 2022, Verra verified one billion credits, which were acquired by significant businesses such as Gucci, British Airways, Disney, United Airlines, Air France, Samsung, Liverpool Football Club, Ben & Jerry’s, Netflix, and Chevron.
Protecting the rainforest produces 40% of Verra’s credits. Verifying that preserving a forest would actually reduce emissions is challenging since it requires demonstrating that the forest would undoubtedly be cleared without the credit’s financial backing. Source material noted that Gold Standard, a competitor of Verra, will not certify carbon credits based on averting deforestation.
The nine-month analysis focused on three studies that used satellite photos to confirm the efficacy of Verra’s forest-protection-based credits specifically, according to The Guardian. It provided on-site interviews and more research to support this.
According to Source Materials, two studies by an international team of academics examined forest projects totaling 95 million carbon credits, which should be sufficient to offset the yearly emissions of 25 coal plants. The analyses evaluated the amount of deforestation that the projects actually avoided and, as a result, the number of carbon credits that they should have gotten.
Journalists determined that 94% of the Verra-certified credits during the research period probably contributed nothing to addressing the climate catastrophe when they contrasted the experts’ data with Verra’s assertions.
According to The Guardian, the second study, conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge, examined 40 projects and concluded that only four were responsible for protecting 75% of the forest in reality. The journalists came to the conclusion that the probability of forest loss had increased by about 400% for 32 of the projects.
It’s safe to state that there are significant differences between our calculations and what is contained in their databases, and this is cause for alarm and more research. According to Professor David Coomes, a senior author on the Cambridge paper and a professor of forest ecology at the University of Cambridge, in the long run, what we want is a consensual set of techniques that are used across all locations.
There were human rights issues with at least one Verra project that the study took into consideration, in addition to giving businesses and customers the impression that they were truly offsetting emissions.
According to The Guardian, some forest inhabitants in Alto Mayo, Peru, claimed they were forcibly relocated as part of a Verra-certified forest protection project there that accounted for roughly 40% of Disney’s offsets between 2012 and 2020.
Abel Carrasco, a 39-year-old coffee farmer, and father of eight whose home was destroyed by police in 2021 were interviewed by journalists, according to a video of the encounter he shared with The Guardian.
Carrasco added, “My children implored them, but [the cops] claimed they had to fulfill their orders.” They instructed us to prepare our belongings and depart. No one is allowed to be in this forest, they claimed. You must leave for that reason.
In response to the probe, Verra said that the studies’ methodology no longer permitted them to accurately depict the situation as it actually was. This is so that the protected region may be compared to a control situation rather than actual, unprotected woods in the research, which employs synthetic controls.
Verra is saddened to see that an article written with Die Zeit and source material and published in the Guardian makes the false allegation that REDD+ projects frequently and significantly overissue carbon credits, according to the certifier.
In the lead-up to the publication, Verra worked extensively with both publications to explain why this claim is false because it is based on studies that use a synthetic control approach or comparable techniques.
Thales West, the principal author of the two international studies, stated that Verra needed to demonstrate that its system of allocating credits was more accurate.
West said to the source material, “I wanted to know if we could trust their projections. The data from the artificial controls indicate that we can’t. A major investigation finds that 94% of forest-based carbon offsets certified by the top global provider are fake credits.