Press Release: Gabon’s rainforest carbon credits set a precedent that could worsen climate change

Marzo 1, 2023


As world leaders including Emmanuel Macron gather in Libreville for the ‘One Forest Summit’ [1], convened jointly by the governments of Gabon and France, a new investigation by the Rainforest Foundation UK has found that the recent issue by Gabon of more than 90 million carbon credits [2] for supposedly saving its forests are likely worthless. 

Analysis by RFUK of the method used by Gabon to generate the carbon credits has revealed they do not appear to represent any real reductions in carbon emissions or additional capture of carbon in its forests [3].  

In December 2022, Gabon became the first country to make carbon credits available under a system set up by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to count ‘emissions reductions’ by preventing deforestation or by planting and growing more trees. Gabon claimed that it had stored 90.6 million more tons of carbon in its forests between 2010 and 2018 than would have been the case without policy decisions it took in the 2000s, such as banning the export of raw logs.  

However, the figure of 90.6 million ‘extra’ tons has been created by first, reducing by an arbitrary 10% the amount claimed to have previously been stored in the forests, and then adding an extra arbitrary 10% to the actual amount of carbon stored during 2010-2018. Without these ‘adjustments’, which have no basis in science or UN policy, it appears that Gabon’s forests actually emitted an extra 16.5 million tons of carbon across the same period. 

Technical Experts commissioned by the UNFCCC questioned whether Gabon could arbitrarily manipulate its figures in this way, but in the end they do not have a mandate to “reject” a claim made by a government such as this, only to “engage” with it. Ultimately, the country can simply ignore the UN’s expert assessors. 

In addition, by asking to be paid for forest-protection actions that had already happened long ago, the Gabonese claim goes against a fundamental precept of carbon offsetting, which is that the action creating the credits has to be ‘additional’ and would not have happened without the income from the carbon credits. Clearly this could not be the case, as Gabon’s log export ban, for example – which probably did help protect some of its forests – happened in 2010, long before the UN’s forest carbon crediting system became operational.  

Moreover, there is evidence that most of the logging reduced in Gabon from 2010 simply shifted to neighbouring Cameroon, causing more carbon emissions there instead. This ‘leakage’ of carbon emissions further undermines the plausibility of Gabon’s 90.6 million carbon credits representing any real carbon emissions reductions or extra carbon storage. 

Using Gabon’s forest carbon credits to ‘offset’ real emissions elsewhere would mean that those real emissions would continue to add to climate change without actually being compensated for, thus continuing to contribute to climate change. 

Joe Eisen, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, said, “Rainforest countries need additional financing to help protect their forests, but this should not be done through mechanisms which will only serve to extend the danger of climate change, which in itself is a huge threat to the world’s forests. Far from being applauded for the creation of these apparently worthless carbon credits, Gabon’s case raises serious questions about the integrity of international carbon trading schemes.” 



[1] The ‘One Forest Summit’ will take place in Libreville from March 1st-2nd. 

[2] Technically, the credits are called ‘REDD+ Reductions Units’, where REDD+ means ‘Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks’ 

[3] The full analysis will be included in a forthcoming report from the Rainforest Foundation UK, which will examine the integrity of all the main systems, including that of the UNFCCC, which are being used to produce carbon credits from the world’s forests. 

Share this: