Carbon Offsets: Do they Help?

Article by Patrick Greenfield in The Guardian

Patrick GreenfieldPatrick Greenfield
Our investigation into rainforest offsets approved by Verra, the organisation that operates the world’s leading carbon standard, was driven by a simple question: are the carbon credits trustworthy?Protecting the world’s remaining tropical rainforests will be crucial to meeting biodiversity and climate targets this decade. These ecosystems are home to some of the largest concentrations of life on Earth and the territories of numerous Indigenous communities who have repeatedly been shown to be the best stewards of nature. Conserving carbon-rich rainforests will require large amounts of money, improved governance in developing countries and changes to our economic systems.Nature-based offsets have been presented as a way to fund their protection while providing money for rural and Indigenous communities who live in forests and other important ecosystems, all paid for those who pollute.These credits are often used to substantiate the “carbon neutral” adverts we see everywhere: you can fly carbon neutral, eat carbon neutral ice-cream, watch a carbon-neutral TV programme and even make your entire life carbon neutral by paying for offsets, in theory cancelling out the emissions from greenhouse gases heating the Earth’s atmosphere, all for a few pounds, dollars or euros.But our joint investigation with the German weekly Die Zeit and SourceMaterial, a non-profit investigative journalism organisation, indicates the current system is broken.Based on analysis of a significant percentage of the Verra’s rainforest protection projects, more than 90% of their rainforest offset credits – among the most commonly used by companies – are likely to be worthless “phantom credits” that do not represent genuine carbon reductions. Verra strongly dispute these findings, arguing the conclusions reached by the studies are incorrect, and questions their methodology. The company point out their work since 2009 has allowed billions of dollars to be channelled to the vital work of preserving forests.In Peru, we found evidence that a flagship scheme operated by Conservation International and the country’s national park service had divided local communities and led to forced evictions of residents in the protected area.We spoke with Indigenous communities from across the Amazon who warned they were being targeted by “carbon pirates” by western businesspeople who want to setup more offsetting schemes.From Greta Thunberg to the office of the UN secretary general, the reaction to our nine-month investigation has been one of shock and incredulity. There are no easy answers about what happens next.Through the logic of offsetting, carbon is the main value of everything. The core finding of the investigation is that there are deep flaws in how we calculate the carbon value of conservation projects, not that they provide no benefit at all.For some, the investigation’s findings are yet more proof of a bad idea making climate change worse, while others acknowledge flaws but are fearful of the consequences of losing an important source of funding for conservation.Carbon markets are part of the Paris agreement and the unregulated voluntary sector is unlikely to disappear as more and more corporations make net zero commitments. However countries choose to respond to the environmental crises of our time, experts have repeatedly warned it must be science-based.“Many carbon offsetting claims are not real. This has to stop! We must ensure high integrity demand and supply on carbon and biodiversity,” said former WWF head Marco Lambertini in response to our findings.“Companies may compensate only for absolutely unavoidable impacts, after exhausting all avoidance and mitigation options.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *