Greenwashing concerns emerge in global carbon offset projects

Researchers have uncovered alarming greenwashing practises within carbon offset projects, with approximately a quarter of these initiatives susceptible to false claims. A recent study led by UC Berkeley Carbon Trading Project, supported by Carbo Market Watch, investigated rainforest carbon credits certified by Verra, a leading non-profit organisation responsible for environmental and social standards, including prominent carbon crediting standards like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). These projects aim to financially support forest preservation activities, primarily in tropical regions of the Global South.

The study assessed the quality aspects of Verra’s rainforest carbon credit systems, including durability, forest carbon accounting, community safeguards, deforestation leakage, and baselines. Researchers found widespread shortcomings across these areas, along with inadequate enforcement of Verra’s standards by project auditors.

Despite the substantial investment of over US$3 billion and the generation of nearly half a billion carbon credits over the past two decades, tropical forest loss continues at an alarming pace. Approximately 10 million hectares of trees are being lost annually for agriculture, livestock farming, and materials like paper, with 96% of deforestation occurring in tropical forests.

The study concludes that REDD+ projects fail to address the primary commercial drivers of deforestation, such as large-scale agriculture, cattle ranching, logging, and mining. Instead, it suggests that project developers, credit buyers, and auditors primarily benefit from these initiatives, often viewing them as a mere checkbox activity. In contrast, vulnerable rainforest communities can be negatively impacted, as some projects inadequately safeguard their interests.

To address these issues, the study recommends alternative measures to combat deforestation, including legislation to mandate sustainable trade, reducing the demand for deforestation-linked products, and supporting forest plans designed by Indigenous communities with expertise in forest protection. It also calls for climate finance to help developing countries comply with the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The study advocates for a shift in focus from mere credit accumulation to directing funds where they are most needed for meaningful forest conservation.

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