A new study released on August 24th is questioning the integrity of forest carbon offset projects, showing a lack of attribution to emissions reductions for some of them. The research is carried out by an international team of scientists and economists led by the University of Cambridge and VU Amsterdam and has found out that millions of carbon credits are based on crude calculations that inflate the conservation successes of voluntary REDD+ projects.
The study examines the effects of 26 carbon offset project sites in six countries on three continents and uses synthetic control methods for causal inference. It concludes that most projects have not significantly reduced deforestation and for projects that did, reductions were substantially lower than claimed.
That means some carbon offsets bought by companies to balance out emissions are not tied to real-world forest preservation and in fact are adding to the world’s carbon emissions budget as those companies are factoring them as a cut in their carbon footprint – which is unreal.
“Carbon credits provide major polluters with some semblance of climate credentials. Yet we can see that claims of saving vast swathes of forest from the chainsaw to balance emissions are overblown,” said the study co-author Andreas Kontoleon, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Land Economy.
He also explained that the method the credits are calculated is basically predicting whether someone will cut down a tree, and then selling that prediction. “If you exaggerate or get it wrong, intentionally or not, you are selling hot air,” he added.
The lead author of the research Dr. Thales West, a Fellow of the Center for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance at Cambridge, now based at VU Amsterdam also commented on the findings, explaining how they have been derived.
“We used real-world comparison sites to show what each REDD+ forest project would most probably look like now, rather than relying on extrapolations of historical data that ignore a wide range of factors, from policy changes to market forces,” he explained.
Exaggerating the emissions reductions achieved by REDD+ projects (short of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries) is a dangerous trend that is seriously affecting the world’s efforts to tackle climate change and devaluing the countless benefits otherwise coming from tangible reforestation projects.
The carbon market needs to become regulated and the project developers need to close the loopholes allowing some actors to exploit the carbon credits market in order for it to serve its purpose to address the climate crisis.