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How many “successful” REDD projects are there? Verra claims “more than 150”, but the reality is only 32 (according to Verra’s own project database)

Recently, ProPublica published a well researched article on the pitfalls of generating carbon credits from forest conservation: “An (Even More) Inconvenient Truth: Why Carbon Credits For Forest Preservation May Be Worse Than Nothing”. The article caused quite a stir and generated a series of responses from REDD proponents.

Lisa Song, the journalist at ProPublica who wrote the article, replied with another article: “These 4 Arguments Can’t Overcome the Facts About Carbon Offsets for Forest Preservation”.

One of the responses to Song’s “Inconvenient Truth” article came from David Antonioli and Naomi Swickard of Verra, the carbon standards and certification company.

“More than 150 REDD+ projects certified by VCS”

Antonioli and Swickard write about the “strict requirements of robust standards like the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)”. They point out that VCS is the “standard most often used to certify REDD+ projects around the world”.

They claim that there are “more than 150 REDD+ projects certified by the VCS”.

Antonioli and Swickard add that,

A simple search of our publicly available database would have also revealed that there are more than 150 successful REDD+ projects in operation around the world and that the details for each one, including full auditor reports, are readily available.

I was intrigued by this claim of more than 150 successful REDD+ projects. So, I opened up the VCS database website, and searched for all projects listed under Sectoral Scope 14: “Agriculture, Forestry, Land Use”.

The search returns a list of 167 projects.

Not all REDD, not all certified

As Antonioli and Swickard are fully aware, not all Agriculture, Forestry, Land Use projects are REDD projects. Many are afforestation or reforestation projects, for example.

And not all of the projects listed on the VCS database have gone through the VCS verification process.

Under the VCS system, auditors (called validation/verification bodies, or VVBs) assess projects against VCS rules and the requirements of the methodology used.

VCS has a two-step certification process.

The first step is validation, in which the auditor assesses the project description to check that it complies with VCS rules and methodology, and that the methods set out in the project description will generate verifiable greenhouse gas data when the project starts.

The second step, verification, takes place once the project has started. The auditor evaluates the monitoring report to check that methods and procedures have been carried out as described in the project description. The auditor also assesses whether the greenhouse gas emission reductions reported in the monitoring report are accurate.

So, Antonioli and Swickard should exclude the REDD projects that have not yet been through the VCS verification process. After all, their claim is that there are “more than 150 successful REDD+ projects in operation around the world”.

Working with communities?

Antonioli and Swickard write that,

One of the key insights we have drawn from the more than 150 REDD+ projects certified by the VCS is that successful projects most often work closely with the communities that live in and around forests to address core livelihood needs.

Verra also runs the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards certification process. According to Verra, CCB certified projects, “empower local communities to help mitigate climate change,” and support “land use projects benefiting climate, community and biodiversity”.

Similar to VCS, CCBS also has a two-step certification process: validation and verification.

VCS is a technical standard, aimed at assessing whether projects are achieving emissions reductions. CCB is a social and environmental standard, aimed at assessing whether communities and their environment are benefiting from the project.

Antonioli and Swickard cannot make the claim that projects are working closely with local communities if those projects are not certified under the CCB Standard.

So they should also exclude REDD projects that have not yet been through the CCB verification process.

How many REDD projects are left?

I thought it might be interesting to make my own list of REDD projects in operation around the world using Verra’s definition of “successful”, verified under VCS and CCBS.

(For this post, I’m setting aside the problems of counterfactual baselines, re-adjusted project areas to exclude large-scale industrial plantations, and flawed certification processes that fail to uncover, or fail to take seriously, problems faced by local communities as a result of the project.)

Here’s the list of the REDD projects on the VCS database that have successfully gone through the VCS verification process, and the CCBS verification standard:

  1. * The Envira Amazonia Project, Brazil
  2. * The Valparaiso Project, Brazil
  3. * The Russas Project, Brazil
  4. * The Purus Project, Brazil
  5. Southern Cardamom REDD+ Project, Cambodia
  6. Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
  7. Avoiding planned deforestation and degradation in the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, Chile
  8. The Chocó-Darién Conservation Corridor REDD Project, Colombia
  9. Isangi REDD+ Project, Democratic Republic of Congo
  10. The Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project, Democratic Republic of Congo
  11. Bale Mountains Eco-region REDD+ project, Ethiopia
  12. Lacandon – Forest for life REDD+ Project, Guatemala
  13. Reduced Emissions from Avoided Deforestation in the Multiple Use Zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala (GuateCarbon)
  14. * REDD+ Project for Caribbean Guatemala: The Conservation Coast, Guatemala
  15. Katingan Peatland Restoration and Conservation Project, Indonesia
  16. Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve Project, Indonesia
  17. Chyulu Hills REDD+ Project, Kenya
  18. The Kasigau Corridor REDD Project – Phase II The Community Ranches, Kenya
  19. The Kasigau Corridor REDD Project – Phase I Rukinga Sanctuary, Kenya
  20. The Makira Forest Protected Area, Madagascar
  21. Kulera Landscape REDD+ Program for Co-Managed Protected Areas, Malawi
  22. The Paraguay Forest Conservation Project – Reduction of GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the Chaco-Pantanal ecosystem, Paraguay
  23. The Paraguay Forest Conservation Project – Reduction of GHG Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in the Parana Atlantic Ecosystem – Forest Protection in the La Amistad Community, San Rafael, Paraguay
  24. Cordillera Azul National Park REDD Project, Peru
  25. Biocorredor Martin Sagrado REDD+ Project, Peru
  26. * Reduction of deforestation and degradation in Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park within the area of Madre de Dios region, Peru
  27. Madre de Dios Amazon REDD Project, Peru
  28. * Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative, Peru
  29. Gola REDD project, Sierra Leone
  30. Mjumita Community Forest Project (Lindi), Tanzania
  31. Lower Zambezi REDD+ project, Zambia
  32. Kariba REDD+ Project, Zimbabwe

That, then, is the result of a “simple search” on the VCS Database: 32 VCS certified REDD projects. A far cry from “more than 150”. (Seven of these projects, indicated by an asterisk, are verified under the CCBS, but are marked as “under verification” in the VCS Database.)

A search on REDD-Monitor reveals problems with several of these projects – see the links in the list above.

The fact that I’ve not written about all of the projects above, does not suggest that I endorse them. All of these REDD projects are carbon trading projects that, at best, reduce emissions in one place while allowing emissions to continue somewhere else.

Carbon offsets are a dangerous distraction from the urgent need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

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  1. With assessing project level REDD+ initiatives, ProPublica is fighting last year’s, if not, last decade’s fight. Suggest they read up on ‘national REDD+’, which is not subject to the structural difficulties of projects which they present as Arguments: setting reference levels, (inter)national leakage, additionality, and permanence. For example, Strassburg et al 2009, doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.11.004 Overman et al 2019, and references therein. The latter paper moreover quantifies the true cause, malignancy and cure (instead of the next band-aid or painkiller) behind the poor progress of the chronically ailing patient ‘tropical forests and its people’.

    Regarding ‘degradation emissions’ : rapid advances in remote sensing (eg. 30 centimeter resolution) may soon be used to spot individual tree gaps, and link it to volume and carbon emissions (Overman et al 2018, doi:10.3390/f9050231 )

    Regarding offsets: the perception of offsetting in discussions seems to have quietly moved from its original intent (to help emitters reach their targeted reduction in emissions to, say, 1990 level), towards helping emitters increase their current emissions. As a simplified illustration, say a carbon emitter (company, country) currently emits 1,000 units per year and tropical deforestation is 2000 units per year. Then current normal emissions are 1000 + 2000 = 3000 units per year. If the emitter pledges (better ‘is finally obliged’) to reduce its emissions to 400 units (say, ‘its 1990 level’, or ‘what is needed for 1.5 °C’), it can achieve this by continuing to emit 1,000 units at home while funding 600 units reduction through REDD+ (annually). The 400-cap means emissions have become: 1000 (home) + [2000 – 600] (in the tropics) = 2,400 units/yr. The emitter now on balance emits at 1990 level, his contribution to 1.5 °C. This needs to be repeated every year.
    The caveat is that these 600 credits can then not be used for any Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of REDD-credit producing countries. And obviously, REDD+ offset credits should not be allowed to be used to increase a company’s current level (in our example, from current 1000 units to 1600). He has pledged / is obliged to emit at 1990 level (or lower) from now on.
    In fact, without offsetting through REDD+, the global 10-15% emissions from forested developing countries will continue, as they’d have no incentive to / financial compensation for reducing forest emissions which is (allegedly—Overman et al 2019) developing their country. Does not sound very smart to try reforest (at ~1 tC/ha/yr) against deforestation (emitting 150-300 tC/ha).

  2. Thanks for an interesting article.
    I’m curious to know the significance of the *’s by some of the projects listed.

  3. @Clare Wigg – The stars indicate that these are projects that have been verified under the CCBS system and are currently being assessed for re-verification.

    As the article states, “Seven of these projects, indicated by an asterisk, are verified under the CCBS, but are marked as “under verification” in the VCS Database.”

  4. Thanks! Sorry, I didn’t see the explanation.

    It’s also interesting to look at the vintages of the issuances eg the Russas Project in Brazil has only issued credits for the period 2011-13 according to the VCS database.