In April 2019, George Monbiot said, “I believe the age of offsets is over – I don’t think it should ever have begun – because it’s now clear that we have to decarbonise our economies pretty comprehensively across all sectors.” He’s written the same thing a couple more times recently.
Unfortunately, Monbiot’s belief is misplaced. The age of offsets is far from over. If anything, it might be just getting started.
The aviation industry’s plans to fry the planet, by pretending to address climate change with carbon offsets, are bringing us ever closer to climate breakdown.
In March 2019, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council unanimously approved the Emissions Units Criteria that are supposed to ensure the environmental integrity of carbon credits to be used in the aviation industry’s carbon offsetting scheme: Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
Technical Advisory Board: Predictably loaded with carbon trading proponents
The ICAO Council also set up a Technical Advisory Body consisting of 19 experts, nominated by governments. The experts’ job is to decide which carbon credits will be allowed to be used in the CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme.
Members of the Technical Advisory Body include José Domingos Miguez from Brazil. He spent 20 years working for the Brasilian oil company Petrobras, and was one of the negotiators that helped get carbon trading into the Kyoto Protocol.
From Norway, we have Peer Stiansen, from the Ministry of Climate and Environment, and the ex-chairman of the Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board.
Sweden put forward Ulrika Raab, of the Swedish Energy Agency. She was the manager at the Swedish Energy Agency of the notorious carbon offset tree planting project in Uganda run by Green Resources. The project resulted in serious land conflicts with the local communities. In its report about the project, the Oakland Institute coined the term “Carbon violence” to describe the impact of the plantations on local communities and their environment.
And from the USA, we have Molly Peters-Stanley, director of Ecosystem Marketplace, an organisation that exists to promote “market-based approaches to conserving ecosystem services”.
Earlier this year, the Technical Advisory Body invited programmes to apply for assessment against the CORSIA Emissions Unit Eligibility Criteria. It received 14 applications.
Until 5 September 2019, ICAO is inviting public comments on the applications “including regarding their alignment with the EUC [Emissions Units Criteria]”. Comments should be sent by email: email@example.com.
It’s all a bit of a whitewash. The Technical Advisory Body will not rule out applications that do not meet the Emissions Units Criteria. Instead it will meet with programme representatives and suggest changes. Even if a programme is not accepted, it can re-apply. The Technical Advisory Body is planning another round of applications in March 2020.
The 14 applications and REDD
Here are the applications, with a brief description of each of the organisations making the applications. I’ve highlighted which of these include REDD carbon credits. Obviously, the aviation industry should not be allowed to continue its pollution by buying carbon credits from tropical forests.
Just to be clear though, I’m not arguing that REDD credits should be specifically excluded from the aviation industry’s carbon trading scheme.
The entire insane carbon trading scheme should be scrapped.
And we need a real way of addressing the aviation industry’s ever increasing impact on the climate. Stopping flying would be a good start.
- American Carbon Registry: Founded by Environmental Resources Trust in 1996 as the GHG Registry, ACR was the first private voluntary offset programme in the world. In 2007, ERT and the GHG Registry became part of Winrock International and the following year the name was changed to the American Carbon Registry.
The American Carbon Registry has developed REDD Methodology Modules to include REDD projects in the scheme. But all except one of the forest carbon projects on the American Carbon Registry are in the USA. The exception is the Boa Vista Afforestation and Reforestation project in Roraima State in Brazil, run by a company called F.I.T. Timber Ltd.
- British Columbia Offset Program: In November 2007, British Columbia passed a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, that sets targets for reducing emissions from all government operations in British Columbia. Initially, schools, hospitals and other public bodies bought carbon offsets from the Pacific Carbon Trust. In 2013, following a critical report by British Columbia’s auditor general, John Doyle, the Pacific Carbon Trust was closed down and the offset programme was brought into the government.
Almost all of the projects generating carbon offsets under the scheme are either fuel switching or forestry projects. All the projects are in British Columbia.
- China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction Program: In 2012, China’s National Development and Reform Commission set up the China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction Program. It is now managed by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. In 2013 and 2014, the Chinese government launched emissions trading pilots in five provinces and two cities.
Most of the methodologies are taken from the Clean Development Mechanism. Only offsets generated domestically (called China Certified Emission Reduction) can be traded in China’s emissions trading system. Forestry projects are included in the emissions trading system.
But in its application to CORSIA, China states that,
Project activities types supported by this program that may present a potential risk of reversal of emissions reductions, avoidance, or carbon sequestration, i.e. activities in the afforestation and reforestation agriculture and CCUS [Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage] sectors are excluded for consideration under CORSIA.
- Clean Development Mechanism: The Clean Development Mechanism was created by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. It is the world’s largest offset mechanism. It has been in operation since 2001, and 1.9 billion certified emissions reductions have been issued.
The CDM has been a disaster for the climate, and in far too many cases for the people living near CDM projects.
Coal-fired power plants have been issued with carbon credits. CDM led to increased emissions, as factories in China and India released, or threatened to release HFC-23 (a by-product of the production HCFC-22, primarily used in air-conditioning and refrigeration) unless they received payments for CDM offsets. CDM was tangled up in human rights scandals in Panama, Guatemala, Uganda, to name just a few.
A 2016 report by the Öko-Institut found that,
Overall, our results suggest that 85% of the projects covered in this analysis and 73% of the potential 2013-2020 Certified Emissions Reduction (CER) supply have a low likelihood that emission reductions are additional and are not over-estimated.
- Climate Action Reserve: Launched in 2008, as the California Climate Action Registry, the Climate Action Reserve is an offsets programme, mainly focussed on the USA. It is an approved Offset Project Registry for California’s cap-and-trade scheme. It has issued a total of more than 100 million offsets, called Climate Reserve Tonnes (CRTs).
In its application for inclusion in CORSIA, the Climate Action Reserve states that,
The Reserve requires that credited GHG reductions and removals be effectively “permanent”; for forest and avoided grassland conversion projects, this requirement is met by ensuring that the carbon associated with credited GHG reductions and removals remains stored for at least 100 years.
- Forest Carbon Partnership Facility: At the launch of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility in 2007, the World Bank announced that “ultimate goal is to jump-start a forest carbon market”. Twelve years later and FCPF is still trying to jump-start a forest carbon market.
While the FCPF has mobilised more than US$1 billion in commitments and contributions (largely from the governments of Norway, Germany, and the UK), it has utterly failed to address the underlying causes of deforestation.
Almost two-thirds of the money going to the FCPF between 2009 and 2015 was spent on administration within the Bank, consultants, and transaction costs.[*]
A 2017 guest post on REDD-Monitor described the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility as “The most cost-inefficient tree-saving scheme ever”.
- Global Carbon Trust: The Global Carbon Trust is a voluntary offsetting programme based in Qatar. It was set up in 2016 by the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development, which is owned by the government of Qatar.
On its website, Global Carbon Trust lists “Approved Projects” and “Submitted Projects”. Both lists are completely empty.
In its application to CORSIA, the Global Carbon Trust states that,
Given the region in which GCT Program primarily operates, there is less potential for Afforestation & Reforestation projects. GCT Program will develop this capability in future based on demand received from project owners.
- Gold Standard: The Gold Standard was set up in 2003 by WWF, SouthSouthNorth, and Helio International. It is based in Switzerland, and aims “to ensure the highest levels of environmental integrity and sustainable development outcomes” for carbon offsets.
After the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted, the Gold Standard developed the Gold Standard for the Global Goals.
The Gold Standard certifies controversial monoculture plantation projects. For example, carbon offsets from Global Woods’ monoculture plantations in Uganda are certified by the Gold Standard. In a report for the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Göran Eklöf writes that, “Communities around the project area complain about a high level of conflict with the project.”
- myclimate: Formed in 2002, myclimate is a Swiss not-for-profit organisation. In its 2018 Annual Report, myclimate states that “6,240,000 tons of CO2 [have been] compensated for in myclimate carbon offset projects.”
In its application to CORSIA, myclimate states that,
Afforestation and reforestation – projects under planvivo – so not eligible for CORSIA!
- Nori: Nori claims to be “the world’s only carbon dioxide removal marketplace”. Nori was incorporated in 2017 and aims to start its blockhain-based marketplace in 2020.
Nori’s website explains that its platform will make it “straightforward for companies to pay farmers for storing carbon in soil”.
Nori is one of the 2019 Techstars Sustainability Accelerator companies. Techstars is partnering with The Nature Conservancy on its sustainability programme, that looks for “for-profit entrepreneurs with commercially viable technologies that can rapidly scale to help sustainably provide food and water and address global issues like climate change”.
- REDD.plus: According to its website, “The REDD.plus platform is a digital marketplace that enables corporations and individuals to decarbonize with high-quality, UN-approved, REDD+ carbon credits.”
Created by Kevin Conrad of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, the application is a follow up to Conrad’s attempt to register “REDD+” as a trademark in November 2017. At the time, Conrad explained to REDD-Monitor that,
The objective simply is to register a REDD+ logo to distinguish REDD+ actions that are compliant with UNFCCC decisions vs. those that the Voluntary Carbon Standards falsely call REDD+ based on project standards long rejected by the UNFCCC and the international community for poor environmental and atmospheric integrity.
In the application to CORSIA, REDD.plus writes that,
REDD.plus provides the necessary infrastructure to ensure comprehensive governance of all emission reductions under the UNFCCC REDD+ Mechanism. REDD.plus will also help to facilitate a centralized marketplace where nations, and airlines, can access UNFCCC REDD-plus results for CORSIA compliance….
For clarity, any forestry units generated under voluntary standards, such as the World Bank’s FCPF, VCS, GS, CAR, ACR, Plan Vivo, etc. are not REDD+ by definition as they do not fulfill the necessary requirements outlined within relevant UNFCCC decisions. Thus, unless such units have been canceled and exchanged for REDD.plus results units (RRUs) under REDD.plus they will effectively be double counted and fail to meet CORSIA environmental safeguards.
- Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization: The Thailand Voluntary Emission Reduction Program (T-VER) is a domestic carbon offset mechanism. It is project-based, and it uses methodologies derived from the Clean Development Mechanism. T-VER was launched in 2014 by the Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization, an autonomous governmental organization under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
In its application to CORSIA, T-VER states that,
The forestry and agricultural projects (carbon sequestration and reducing emission in orchards) are sectors that present a potential risk of reversal of emission reductions. The carbon credits from these sectors are planned to offset domestically only.
- The State Forests of the Republic of Poland: The government of Poland is planning to use its forests to generate carbon credits for use by the aviation industry.
In its application to CORSIA, Poland describes the programme as follows:
The pilot project is realized in 23 forest districts (out of 430 total) of the State Forests in chosen tree stands, altogether on an area of 12 thousand hectares, however, as separations are in homogenous pirs, around 6,000 ha are active and other 6,000 ha, with treatment as usual are reference areas. In comparison, the forest are in Poland accounts to 9,3 million hectares, out of which 7,6 million hectares are managed by the State Forest. Around 1,000,000 ha qualifies for future designation as Carbon Forests, so future project is viable and easy for us.
- VCS Program (managed by Verra): Verra was founded in 2005 as the Voluntary Carbon Standard, which subsequently became the Verified Carbon Standard. Verra now runs several standards, including the Climate, Community & Biodiversity (CCB) Program. The VCS programme is the largest voluntary carbon market in the world, with more than 1,500 carbon projects registered.
Another Verra standard is the VCS Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ Framework, which Verra highlights in its application to CORSIA:
JNR aligns with the UNFCCC Warsaw REDD+ Framework and aims to go beyond that to meet the needs of emerging demand and finance through opportunities such as the CORSIA, Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs) and domestic markets.
CORRECTION – 21 August 2019: This sentence previously stated, “More than two-thirds of the money going to the FCPF has been spent on administration within the Bank, consultants, and transaction costs.” The actual figure is 64%, between 2009 and 2015.