Renat Heuberger, CEO South Pole
As some of you may have seen, this week an investigation was published by The Guardian, Die Zeit and SourceMaterial, which is critical of the approach used to issue carbon credits for REDD+ projects designed to prevent deforestation. This references three recent studies, which question the effectiveness of projects designed to protect forests.
Over the past days, a heated debate has emerged among experts regarding the question, and to what degree the accusations are justified.
Verra – currently the only relevant global standard that certifies REDD+ projects – is heavily criticized. However, in a response Verra says that the conclusions of these studies are “incorrect” and “massively miscalculate the impact of REDD+ projects”. Also, project developer Everland, who is also mentioned, has written a rebuttal.
At South Pole, we take all scrutiny of voluntary carbon markets and projects very seriously. In light of the allegations in the articles, our experts will review all of our REDD+ projects, in addition to the Kariba REDD+ project that is already undergoing its planned revalidation review, and present our findings in a report which will transparently discuss any issues and the underlying data.
It is of course important to make sure that climate finance delivers genuine impact. So it is right that academia and media scrutinize whether carbon credits are really delivering additional value and social impact in its effort to protect forests.
However, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are under high pressure to unlock trillions to protect forests globally. As the Guardian itself has reported, another 7 million hectares of forest were cut down just in 2021. Nobody doubts that we urgently need to mobilize more resources to tackle climate change and that a central piece of that is slowing down deforestation.
Worryingly, the REDD+ mechanism is currently the only forest conservation finance instrument of any significant scale, and it is proving effective in protecting forests and biodiversity that would otherwise have already been lost. We have no readily available and tested alternative mechanism that is better in protecting forests.
While we wait for governments to step up to tackle the combined climate and biodiversity crisis, it is a good thing that the private sector is voluntarily choosing to put money into projects that keep native forests intact, and that carbon credit prices have finally started to increase towards the levels that will keep forests protected over the long term.
But let’s remember that the voluntary carbon market is still in its adolescence and while it expands, it experiences growing pains. There are going to be debates, hurdles, and constant improvements before it reaches maturity. And we should all work together to make sure that the voluntary carbon market operates as effectively as possible – incorporating continuous advancements in technology, methodology and science – and that claims based on the use of carbon credits are made with integrity.
The Guardian’s own environmental editor Fiona Harvey is right when she writes that some projects have a mixed record, “but the funds they raise are a vital part in the fight against deforestation.”
We can’t stop the bus. We have to fix it while riding on it, or we will never get to our destination on time.