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Why is the Guardian so negative about conserving rainforests?

The Guardian published an article this week that raised concerns about the effectiveness of rainforest carbon-offset projects, known as REDD+ projects, in reducing deforestation and carbon emissions. REDD+ projects are part of the Voluntary Carbon Standard and aim to protect and restore forests in order to reduce carbon emissions. However, the Guardian article suggests that the methodologies used in these projects are fundamentally flawed and lead to inaccurate conclusions. 

This is a serious concern, not only for companies that depend on carbon offsetting as part of their net zero and biodiversity strategies, but for the planet as a whole. Deforestation and biodiversity loss are major global issues, and it is crucial that any efforts to address them are based on sound science and accurate data.

As the CEO of DGB Group, a carbon project developer with a long history of working to protect and restore nature, I feel compelled to address the concerns raised by the Guardian. Furthermore, I want to provide some context to carbon offsetting and the voluntary carbon markets.

While DGB’s focus is on different categories of carbon dioxide emission reduction and removal projects, the Guardian’s reporting brings disrepute to the voluntary carbon market — to the detriment of genuine initiatives and nature conservation projects. Why are these journalists so negative about efforts to protect and conserve forests?

The concerns raised by the investigation

The article in question claims that over 90% of rainforest carbon-offset credits approved by leading provider Verra are “phantom credits” and may even contribute to global heating. The journalists question the effectiveness of credits purchased by several companies, naming Disney, Shell, and Gucci.

These claims are based on a new analysis of scientific studies of Verra’s rainforest schemes. The Guardian journalists claim that only a handful of Verra’s rainforest projects showed evidence of deforestation reductions, suggesting that 94% of the credits had no benefit to the climate. The consequence of this reporting will increase public scepticism and diminish the confidence of companies depending on offsets as part of their net zero strategies. 

The investigation raises questions about the effectiveness of carbon-offset credits and the potential for them to be used as a form of ‘greenwashing’. The problem with carbon offsetting is that it can be difficult to determine the true impact of a project and whether it truly results in genuine carbon reductions. Even though this is particularly relevant in the case of rainforest-offset projects, which can be complex and difficult to monitor, a single minded attack like this does not benefit anyone. Least of all the local communities living in these areas and the genuine efforts to help nature flourish and prosper.

Verra's response

Verra disputes the findings of the Guardian article, stating that the studies relied on are based on incorrect conclusions and flawed methodologies. Verra argues that the synthetic control approach used by the underlying studies does not accurately represent the pre-project conditions in the project area. Verra's methodologies are designed to take into account site-specific drivers of deforestation and compare projects to real areas, not synthetic controls.

Verra emphasises that their methodologies are based on the best available science and technology and continually improve through rigorous consultations with experts. They rightfully argue that their work has enabled billions of dollars to be channelled to the vital cause of preserving forests. Verified carbon credits are the world’s major funder of nature, funding the protection of endangered habitats and rainforests. What other mechanism enables billions to be spent on the protection of rainforests? 

It is important to note that the studies mentioned in the Guardian article are but a fraction of sources available on carbon offsetting and the effectiveness of Verra's methodologies. Other studies and experts in the field have shown that, when done correctly, carbon offsetting is a valuable tool in the fight against deforestation, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem restoration. The Guardian’s journalists seem to pick and choose their sources.

Response from others

Project developer Everland

Project developer Everland has also disputed the Guardian's article, noting it was based on three scientific papers that used a ‘pixel-matching’ approach, which they argue is fundamentally flawed and resulted in inaccurate conclusions. Everland point out that the studies do not compare ‘like’ with ‘like’ and that slight differences in the chosen matching criteria can produce substantial differences in the results of pixel-matching analyses. 

The carbon experts at Everland demonstrated five clear reasons why the analysis on which the article led to inaccurate and misleading conclusions:

  1. The studies do not compare ‘like’ with ‘like’;
  2. The results vary wildly;
  3. The underlying data is highly uncertain and simplistic;
  4. The study was not peer reviewed;
  5. A misrepresentation is made of key references.

Everland emphasises that carbon projects are one of the most effective mechanisms for providing economic value for conservation and that they must be scaled up urgently to end deforestation by 2030. We could not agree more. 

Carbon rating agency Sylvera

Sylvera has invested heavily in researching and validating carbon-credit claims. They use a combination of field research, data synthesis, and machine learning to ensure the accuracy of emissions reductions. Their frameworks are peer-reviewed by experts in the field. 

The team at Sylvera states in their response to the article that the Guardian’s claim is hugely overstated and not in line with their own deep analysis and research, or representative of some of the cited papers.  

‘This article risks damaging one of the best mechanisms we currently have for funding the wide-scale conservation of natural carbon sinks.’ - Sylvera

Trading platform Emsurge

The carbon trading experts at Emsurge state that the journalists should focus on the transformation that is taking place today. They point to the fact that the same technology the Guardian has used to critique projects is also being adopted by companies to understand which projects they should invest in, creating a market for higher-quality credits. Criticising carbon projects too aggressively makes it easy for executives to do nothing instead of improving. We need to better protect our rainforests and value nature.

‘It’s a shame the Guardian didn’t put more emphasis on the quality projects they found and how we can better protect our rainforests. Verra REDD+ may have its flaws but the bigger issue here is we are failing to value nature and carbon markets are at least trying to solve that.’ - Emsurge CEO, Melissa Lindsay

The importance of the carbon markets

The carbon market provides a mechanism for verifiable carbon-reduction efforts and scaling nature-based solutions. A degree of scrutiny helps to promote transparency, accountability, and the effectiveness of carbon offsetting projects, and can improve the growth of the industry. The Guardian raises important questions, specifically about the effectiveness of rainforest-offset credits provided by Verra. However, it is important to remember that carbon offsetting is not a simple solution and that like the methodologies and standards used to measure the impact of these projects, any analysis of same must be robust and based on the best-available science.

Carbon offsetting is a vital tool to protect the natural environment. By purchasing carbon credits, companies and individuals are funding projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. These projects not only have a direct impact on reducing emissions, but also provide important co-benefits such as increasing biodiversity levels, improving the livelihoods of local communities and protecting natural habitats.

The voluntary carbon market is still in its infancy, and it will take time to iron out the kinks. While the current market is just 2 billion dollars, exponential growth is predicted by almost all industry experts. In the meantime, it is essential that companies and organisations look closely at the carbon offset projects they are supporting and ensure that they are truly effective in reducing emissions and benefiting the planet.

Carbon offsetting is not the sole solution, but any rational person should understand that any efforts to protect habitats and help nature are better than none and do make a difference. The key is to ensure that carbon-offset projects are high-quality, transparent, and independently verified and act as a complement to other carbon reduction and adaptation strategies.

For a buyer, it is important to carefully evaluate carbon-credit projects and only purchase credits from reputable providers — ideally, directly from the source, i.e. the project developer. Carbon offsetting is essential in addressing ecosystem restoration, nature conservation, and deforestation. It is thus vital that we continue to support and improve these markets.

DGB’s response

At DGB, we believe that carbon removals through reforestation and soil carbon sequestration are essential nature-based solutions. These projects not only remove carbon from the atmosphere but provide tangible co-benefits, improving biodiversity conservation, soil health, employment for local communities, and water management.

We are dedicated to making a positive impact on the environment through the development and operation of large-scale, sustainable carbon projects. Our focus is on tree planting, restoring natural habitats, and helping the planet achieve net zero emissions through carbon removal via nature-based solutions.

As a for-profit organisation listed on the Amsterdam Euronext stock exchange, we are subject to strict rules and fierce compliance. Our goal is to make a real, visible impact on the environment and work towards a healthier, more sustainable planet for us and future generations. We take a boots-on-the-ground approach to ensure high-quality, large-scale carbon and biodiversity projects that make a positive difference for the planet.

'As a project developer of high-quality, large-scale carbon and biodiversity projects accredited by leading verification standards, we focus on nature conservation and helping biodiversity flourish by assisting governments and corporations in achieving net zero via verified emission reduction credits. Carbon offsetting is the best way to finance large-scale ecosystem restoration.' - DGB Group CEO, Selwyn Duijvestijn

Conclusion

Carbon projects are currently the best way to invest in conservation, reforestation, and other initiatives that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon projects are crucial in the fight against deforestation and biodiversity loss. 

The discussions that flare up from time to time about the accuracy of carbon offset projects highlight the importance of ensuring that projects are held to high standards of scientific and journalistic integrity. It is important to have transparency and accurate measuring and reporting of their progress. However, this debate must not detract from the overall importance of these projects and the vital role that carbon offsetting plays in addressing ecosystem restoration, nature conservation, and the fight against deforestation, desertification, and biodiversity loss.

At DGB, we are dedicated to making a positive impact on the environment through carbon removals and the development and operation of carbon projects. Carbon offsetting is one of the best tools we have to preserve nature and biodiversity. We are committed to bringing excellence to carbon projects and nature conservation. Our projects in Kenya, Uganda, and Cameroon have a significant positive impact on the environment, wildlife, and communities at large. 

We are on the ground to ensure our projects are executed to the highest standard and that they make a real difference. Our goal is to positively impact the environment and work towards a healthier, more sustainable planet for us and future generations. 

 

Further reading and references:

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