Earlier this week, (October 3, 2023), CCAP hosted a webinar on a recent controversy regarding REDD+ projects (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries), titled “Possible Overestimations: Carbon Reductions in REDD+ Projects and Their Impact on Carbon Markets in Latin America.”
REDD+ projects generate the most carbon credits in Latin America, due to the vast forest cover and deforestation risks in the region. Likewise, they bring important co-benefits to biodiversity conservation, ecosystem restoration and for local communities that call these regions home.
However, in recent months these types of projects have been the subject of criticism in studies published by the press and academia, where the methodology used by REDD+ projects to estimate projected deforestation is questioned, which would imply a considerable overestimation of forestry carbon credits generated by these types of projects.
To understand the implications of these studies, CCAP invited Dr. Thales A. P. West, who led a recent study published by Science Magazine, that indicates that 94% of the carbon credits analyzed in 18 REDD+ projects do not represent reductions of real carbon. West's presentation focused on the results of his study in Latin America.
Subsequently, a panel discussion was held with representatives from various carbon markets sectors to understand the implications that these studies have had on the voluntary carbon market and to identify alternatives to improve confidence in carbon credits coming from REDD+ projects.
The webinar featured the following speakers and panelists:
Thales A. P. West, Assistant Professor | Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam)
Sebastian Lema, Carbon Markets Director | CCAP
Naomi Swickard, Senior Director, REDD+ Program Development and Innovation | Verra
Martin Camilo Perez Lara, Director of Forest Climate Solutions Impact and Monitoring | WWF
Andrés Bermúdez Liévano, Managing Editor and Journalist | Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP)
Deborah Lawrence, Chief Scientist | Calyx Global
Key Takeaways from the webinar:
Professor Thales A.P. West stated that voluntary REDD+ projects in tropical countries often underperform, casting doubt on their additionality and environmental integrity, primarily due to unrealistic ex-ante baselines influenced by poor foresight and flexible methodologies. He noted the potential of dynamic ex-post methods for constructing deforestation baselines to enhance additionality assessments by capturing contemporary deforestation drivers, calling for an improved understanding of mitigation factors, effective partnerships and rigorous deforestation baselines to achieve REDD+'s global goals while ensuring project transparency.
Naomi Swickard discussed the evolution of the voluntary carbon market, initially shaped by limited data and financial risks. She pointed out challenges related to selecting reference areas, which affects project evaluations and emphasized ongoing efforts to establish precise methodologies, prioritize forest protection, transparency and sustainable development impact assessment. However, she also addressed the legal complexities regarding retroactively altering market rules and the need to explore opportunities like aligning with the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market's Core Carbon Principles and applying new methodologies to older projects to enhance accessibility.
Deborah Lawrence recognized the importance for carbon market buyers to gather information from diverse sources, including ratings agencies, academics and project data, to make informed decisions. She emphasized a healthy skepticism towards minimum standards and the continuous need to enhance methodologies for carbon offset credit credibility. Additionally, she highlighted the significance of assessing the long-term sustainability of carbon projects, safeguarding against future threats and maintaining transparency to uphold credit integrity.
Martin Perez stressed the significance of adopting a community-centric approach to address reputational challenges in carbon markets. He emphasized that while enhancing the quality and utilization of synthetic control methods is important, it's equally critical to consider broader reputational issues affecting carbon markets, particularly those related to transparency and community benefits. According to Martin, placing communities at the center of these efforts and creating agendas to tackle reputational problems are essential for a holistic market improvement strategy. Additionally, he highlighted the need to develop tools and methodologies, like synthetic control methods, to complement existing approaches for demonstrating additionality and establishing baselines, especially within forestry sectors. However, Martin noted that the universal applicability of synthetic controls remains uncertain, particularly at different project and jurisdictional levels, underscoring the necessity for further research and prompt action in building and implementing these new approaches.
Andrés Bermúdez Liévano's investigative work in Colombia revealed significant issues in carbon offset project implementation. These included overclaiming of environmental results, disparities in forestation hotspots, road access and land tenure between project and reference areas. He also addressed problems in the relationship between projects and local communities, emphasizing concerns about transparency and accountability in the carbon credit value chain, including auditors, consultants and buyers. He called for increased transparency, accountability, and scrutiny to ensure that carbon offset projects effectively contribute to climate goals and benefit local communities.
Stay tuned for Verra's upcoming methodology for REDD+ project baselines, which will shift to a more national perspective.
It starts with a country's overall deforestation rate and allocates it to specific areas based on factors such as historical proximity to deforestation. This ensures that activities are aligned with the country's deforestation rate, supporting national programs and Paris Agreement accounting, while improving accuracy.
Want to learn more about voluntary carbon offsets? Explore this podcast episode about double counting https://www.volts.wtf/p/voluntary-carbon-offsets-are-headed#details.
CCAP’s mission is to support every step of climate action, from ambition to implementation. A recognized world leader in climate policy and action, CCAP creates innovative, replicable climate solutions, strengthens capacities, and promotes best practices across the local, national, and international levels to accelerate the transition to a net-zero, climate resilient future. CCAP was founded in 1985 and is based in Washington, DC.