By Chris Lang
In May 2021, a mangrove conservation project covering 7,646 hectares in Colombia started selling “blue carbon credits”. The Blue Carbon Project in the Bay of Cispatá is funded by Apple and run by Conservation International, Colombia’s Marine and Coastal Research Institute, the Omacha Foundation, and Colombian government environmental authorities. The project started in 2015.
The carbon credits are generated from the carbon stored in the mangrove forest, including the carbon stored in underwater soils. The project is the first to sell carbon credits from underwater soils, and the first to do so for conserving, rather than replanting, mangroves.
In September 2020, carbon trading standards organisation Verra published a “blue carbon conservation methodology”, which involved a revision to one of Verra’s existing methodologies (VM0007).
Verra’s website tells us that Apple has so far bought 17,000 carbon credits from the project which were “Retired on behalf of Apple’s FY20 CCF” – CCF stands for “comprehensive carbon footprint”.
The project made three other sales in May 2021, totalling 42,363 carbon credits, but Verra’s website doesn’t tell us who bought those credits.
The Blue Carbon Initiative
Mangroves can store up to 10 times more carbon per hectare than land-based forests. Which means that for a smaller area, more carbon credits can be sold. Conservation International is part of the Blue Carbon Initiative, along with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO).
The Blue Carbon Initiative is yet another carbon trading mechanism that equates carbon stored temporarily in trees and soils with carbon stored permanently below ground in the form of fossil fuels. Permanently, that is, until corporations and governments come along, extract the fossil fuels and burn them. The Blue Carbon Initiative’s carbon credits allow the continued burning of fossil fuels – and burning fossil is, of course, what’s driving the climate crisis.
Of course, protecting mangrove forests is important. But protecting forests cannot be an excuse for continued environmental destruction elsewhere, whether in the form of continued greenhouse gas emissions, or extractivism.
A flood of blue carbon credits?
One of the consulting firms hired to write the new Verra methodology was Silvestrum Climate Associates. Steve Crooks, a coastal geomorphologist with Silvestrum told Hakai Magazine that,
“This is a big deal. Creating a network of such projects around the world will be hugely important in contributing to tackling climate change, conserving coastal ecosystems, and supporting sustainable livelihoods of coastal communities.”
Conservation International is hoping to generate a flood of blue carbon credits. In its 2020 Annual Report, Conservation International writes that blue carbon ecosystems “have been shut out of carbon markets, precluding incentives to protect them while depriving coastal communities of economic opportunities”.
Jennifer Howard, marine climate change director for Conservation International, told Hakai Magazine that they won’t sell blue carbon credits to just anyone.
“Companies have asked to purchase them, and we have said no. We’re going to be doing an invite-only auction to create competition between companies we want to sell to. Not everyone does that.”
Unfortunately, Howard doesn’t mention which companies Conservation International said no to. It’s difficult to imagine any company that Conservation International wouldn’t want to greenwash. Conservation International currently works with Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nissan, Toyota, Unilever, Disney, Northrop Grunman, BHP Group, Sime Darby, among other massively polluting and destructive corporations.
Apple is not green
Apple is also one of Conservation International’s “corporate engagements”. Apple is the opposite of a green corporation. Overconsumption is its raison d’être. In 2020, the company sold almost 200 million iPhones, and a total of more than 80 million computers and iPads. But Conservation International isn’t interested in pointing out the craziness of marketing a new iPhone every year.
Zhengzhou is one of the most polluted cities in China. It’s also a major production site for the iPhone. The pollution increases every year as factories ramp up production before the latest iPhone goes on sale.
Apple assembles almost all of its products in China. There’s the problem of the labour conditions in the factories making components for the iPhone – low wages, long working days, and bad working conditions.
Data centres in Guiyang and Inner Mongolia will store the personal data of Apple’s Chinese customers. The computer servers are run by a state-owned Chinese firm. As the New York Times reported recently,
Apple has largely ceded control to the Chinese government. Chinese state employees physically manage the computers. Apple abandoned the encryption technology it used elsewhere after China would not allow it. And the digital keys that unlock information on those computers are stored in the data centers they’re meant to secure.
And there’s the mining needed for the large number of minerals used in the iPhone. In 2019, Apple was named in a lawsuit brought by families of children killed or injured while mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But Conservation International doesn’t mention any of the problems that Apple’s shiny products create. Instead, Conservation International tells us that the mangrove project in the Bay of Cispatá, “aims to reduce emissions by at least 17,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the entire emissions of the fleet of vehicles updating Apple Maps over a decade”.
As if the fleet of vehicles updating Apple Maps were the most serious environmental and social problem caused by Apple’s operations.
As with all offsetting projects, Conservation International’s blue carbon mangrove project in Colombia is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need to stop extractivism and to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
This post is part of a series of posts on REDD-Monitor looking at REDD and environmental injustice in the Andes Amazon.