By Chris Lang
In October 2019, Andrew Penman, a journalist at The Mirror contacted REDD-Monitor. I’d been in touch with Penman a few times in the past, mainly because he’s one of the few journalists in the UK who has regularly exposed the boiler room scams selling carbon credits as investments to retail investors.
This time, Penman was working on an article about climate change. His article came out in November 2019 under the headline, “Licence to pollute: the sham of carbon offsetting”.
It’s an excellent article. Penman interviewed me about the airline industry’s ridiculous plans to fry the planet with its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). I’ll save my comments on CORSIA for a future post.
In his article, Penman writes about a series of problematic carbon offsetting projects. One of them involves the Australian airline Qantas, which is offering carbon offsets from the April Salumei REDD project in Papua New Guinea so that Qantas customers can offset their emissions from flying.
On its website, Qantas claims to be “empowering rainforest communities” by buying carbon credits from the April Salumei REDD project. Yet in August 2019, PNG’s environment minister, Geoffrey Kama, stated that communities “have yet to receive the benefits” from the REDD project.
No monitoring since 2013
Penman writes that Verra, the company that certified the April Salumei project told him that,
The April Salumei project proponent has not submitted any monitoring documentation since 2013, therefore we have no record of activities at the project site since then.
Despite this, the project is still on the VCS Project Database.
In a response to Penman’s article, Verra points out that the April Salumei carbon credits “were originated between 2009 and 2012”:
An independent auditor issued a verification report in December of 2012, confirming that these emission reductions or removals were quantified in accordance with the methodology and the project’s monitoring plan and conform to all Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) requirements.
So Verra has absolutely no idea what has happened to the project since December 2012.
In January 2018, I asked Kate Heller, VCS Communications Manager, whether the April Salumei project still existed. “Yes,” she replied, without giving any evidence, other than having “been in contact with the project proponent in January 2018”.
A very big REDD carbon credit scam
Not only does Verra (which was previously called VCS) not know what happened since 2012, it doesn’t seem to care too much about what happened before 2012.
In 2011, a Swiss company called World Markets bought five million “carbon benefit units” from the April Salumei project. These “carbon benefit units” were bought up by a series of boiler room operations in London that fraudulently sold them to retail investors at inflated prices. The “carbon benefit units” turned out to be worthless.
Sean Lewis and Stephen Hooper, the developers of the April Salumei REDD project were chairman and director of World Markets.
A solicitor called Robert Mannering Sedgwick, at Buss Murton Law LLP, helped the boiler room operations sell the April Salumei “carbon benefit units”. Payments for the “carbon benefit units” were made to Buss Murton Law’s bank account. More recently, Sedgwick was deeply involved in a more than £230 million investment scheme with London Capital & Finance. Regulatory, statutory and criminal investigations are now underway after the scheme collapsed and more than 11,000 members of the public lost their money.
I asked Heller whether the fraudulent sale of carbon benefit units had any impact on the carbon credits, certified by VCS, that were sold from the April Salumei project after 2012. Here’s her response, in full:
We are aware of these events from seven years ago. Those credits have nothing to do with our program. The VCS program exists to counter questionable accounting claims and transactions, ensuring that carbon credits are backed by robust accounting, third-party auditing, a system of ongoing monitoring and verification, and a transparent registry platform.
When Qantas bought carbon credits from April Salumei, where did the money go?
Verra similarly washes its hands of the question of where the money goes when Qantas sells carbon credits from the April Salumei project. Verra told The Mirror that, “It is not under our purview to monitor financial flows. We recommend contacting the project developer to obtain a response to this question.”
Penman tried to contact Stephen Hooper of Rainforest Project Management, the developer of the April Salumei REDD project. Hooper did not reply to Penman’s questions. (That’s no surprise. I asked Hooper a two sets of questions back in 2017. He did not reply.)
In August 2019, the Papua New Guinea government announced that the project had not been operational for “some time” because of landowner disputes.
The PNG TV station EMTV, reports that a new company, called PNG REDD+ Asset and Project Management, took over the project in August 2019.
In its response to The Mirror article, Verra writes that,
It would not be appropriate for a standard-setting organization to be involved in, or have detailed knowledge of, financial transactions such as credit sales or the use of revenues, as it would constitute a conflict of interest.
But wouldn’t it, just maybe, be helpful if the “standard-setting organization” knew which company was running the project? And whether that was a legitimate company, or not?
And when an airline such as Qantas claims to be “empowering rainforest communities” wouldn’t it be nice to know that the “standard-setting organization” has some sort of mechanism to check whether corporations are making this sort of misleading claim about the project?
There is another certification scheme, the Climate, Community & Biodiversity (CCB) Standards (also run by Verra – obviously no conflict of interest there, then) that is supposed to check, amongst other things, whether communities are benefitting from the project.
The April Salumei project’s status under the CCB Programme is “validation expired”.
In other words, Qantas has no evidence on which to base its claim that by selling carbon credits generated more than seven years ago from the April Salumei REDD project it is benefitting local communities in Papua New Guinea.
What is beyond doubt is that every flight that Qantas makes burns fossil fuels and results in more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And burning fossil fuels is precisely what is driving the climate crisis.