New analysis finds leading global carbon offset schemes are failing forests, people and the climate

July 26, 2023

A first-of-its-kind comparative analysis finds that world-leading forest offsetting and REDD+ schemes – used by some of the world's biggest polluters – are failing forests by allowing millions of credits to be generated that simply do not represent real emissions reductions.

Research by the Rainforest Foundation UK into Verra, the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the UNFCCC REDD+ Results system and the ART-TREEs standard has found that all of them fell short against a set of 13 social and environmental criteria developed for the study. Among the report’s key findings are that:

  • All, to a greater or lesser extent, allow or actively rely on inflation or artificial ‘adjustment’ of baselines in order to create the impression of, or to increase, the claimed emissions reductions. 
  • The systems are susceptible to conflicts of interest. For example, Verra receives significant commissions on every project verified, which leaves limited incentive to carry out thorough verification and validation processes.
  • Verification and Validation bodies – who exist to check projects are delivering what the developers and certifiers say they are – are, in many cases, completely ignoring ‘red line’ problems with the emissions reductions claims being made.
  • None of the schemes fulfils the UN requirement for ‘predictable, continuous and equitably distributed benefits’. An oversupply of credits is leading to a price crisis in the voluntary markets where carbon prices have crashed to below $2 per tonne - far less than is needed to keep forests standing. 

Joe Eisen, Executive Director of RFUK, said, “As forests continue to burn in Canada and elsewhere, tinkering with different schemes that promote the use of forests to offset fossil fuel emissions is like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. We urgently need to unlock funding for forest protection and Indigenous Peoples rights but this cannot come at the expense of decarbonising the global economy.”

There is clearly a need for a ‘predictable’ kind of financing to assist in the protection of forests in poorer countries and to achieve true REDD+, which goes beyond carbon offsets and credit generation. Most urgently, a global framework for climate funding using non-market mechanisms needs to be completed and advanced under Article 6.8 of the Paris Agreement, which could include debt relief for poorer countries and global levies on fossil fuel extraction, international air travel and speculative financial transactions.

This funding should be used to enhance support for Indigenous Peoples and other frontline communities, particularly in recognising and strengthening their land tenure. We also need to ramp up efforts to reduce consumption of forest-destroying commodities through the new EU Deforestation Regulation and other tools.

See Credits Where They Are Not Due report

See Map Story

See Carbon Offsetting and REDD+ Unpacked brief

JA-557 Carbon credits report cover

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