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Report: 94 Percent of Big Provider’s Rainforest Carbon Offsets Don’t Cut Carbon

A new analysis suggests corporations’ climate commitments are based on a deeply faulty carbon market.

A new report reveals that the vast majority of the rainforest carbon offsets offered by the world’s biggest provider are functionally worthless – allowing major companies like Disney and Shell to tout their supposed commitment to combating the climate crisis while not having a real impact in reducing carbon emissions.

An analysis published Wednesday by The Guardian, in which a team of investigative journalists analyzed data gathered by a group of international scientists, found that a whopping 94 percent of carbon offsets approved through Verra, the world’s leading carbon offset standard, are “worthless.” Many of the credits offered by Verra are likely “phantom credits” which “do not represent genuine carbon reductions,” the Guardian wrote.

Non-profit Verra, utilizing its verified carbon standard, has issued over a billion carbon credits claiming that such credits combat deforestation. It is responsible for approving three-quarters of voluntary offsets in an industry that’s worth $2 billion and growing; corporations like Gucci, Netflix, Salesforce, fossil fuel company BHP and the band Pearl Jam have bought credits approved by Verra. These offsets represent a certain amount of carbon that would be saved by a theoretical amount of prevented deforestation, as determined by groups like Verra.

Climate activists have long spoken out against such carbon credits, which are used in forest offsetting projects under the UN-backed REDD+ program. They say that such credits don’t actually reduce emissions – and could actually harm the climate movement by allowing companies like fossil fuel giants to continue to lie about their supposed commitment to mitigating the climate crisis while continuing business as usual.

The Guardian analysis lends yet more evidence to climate advocates’ arguments. Using satellite images to assess two-thirds of projects claiming to stop deforestation using Verra’s framework, scientific researchers found that only a handful of projects for which substantial data was available had shown a significant decline in deforestation.

Journalists then took that data to look further into the credits associated with the projects, and found that the vast majority of these credits were not effective in their supposed goal; 21 projects had credits that offered no climate benefit and seven had a 52 percent to 98 percent lower impact than what was claimed in the Verra analysis. Only one project in this portion of the analysis had more impact than the Verra system purported.

Further, in 32 projects for which detailed data was available, the business-as-always scenario that was used for comparison with the project’s results was about four times the real forest loss scenario. This could have allowed for the purported benefits of these projects to be overstated.

Climate and environment researchers unaffiliated with the work looked into the analysis and concluded that it appears sound, the Guardian said. Verra has responded to the work, saying that the claims are based on methods that don’t fully account for project effects, but the researchers who did the scientific studies say that Verra’s claims about their methodology are false.

Climate and environment experts say that the research shows what climate advocates – and perhaps Verra itself – have said about carbon credits, and that it perhaps points to a need to pivot away from the reliance on the REDD+ framework and the carbon market in the fight against the climate crisis.

Rainforest carbon credits are “a sizable part of the carbon offset market, and should provide a wake up call on the need for reform,” wrote climate scientist Zeke Hausfather.

Even for those who haven’t given up on the concept of carbon markets – which some climate experts say are a false solution to the climate crisis – the analysis showcases the severe flaws inherent to such methods.

“One strategy to improve the market is to show what the problems are and really force the registries to tighten up their rules so that the market could be trusted. But I’m starting to give up on that,” Berkeley Carbon Trading Project Director Barbara Haya told The Guardian. “I started studying carbon offsets 20 years ago studying problems with protocols and programs. Here I am, 20 years later having the same conversation. We need an alternative process. The offset market is broken.”

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